The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for the Sudanese government’s humanitarian affairs minister and a janjaweed militia leader suspected of committing war crimes in Darfur, the court said Wednesday.
Sudan responded that it had no intention of handing over the two men, and it appeared unlikely either suspect would surrender.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo called the warrants a crucial step toward bringing atrocities in the Sudanese region before a panel of international judges in The Hague.
“The judges have issued arrest warrants. As the territorial state, the government of the Sudan has a legal duty to arrest Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb,” he said in a statement. “This is the International Criminal Court’s decision, and the government has to respect it.”
Sudan’s justice minister, Mohamed Ali al-Mardi, said his government would not do so.
“Our position is very, very clear: The ICC cannot assume any jurisdiction to judge any Sudanese outside the country,” al-Mardi told The Associated Press in Khartoum. “Whatever the ICC does is totally unrealistic, illegal and repugnant to any form of international law.”
Sudan was not party to the treaty that set up the court, he noted.
Asked whether Sudan would continue its past sporadic cooperation with the court, al-Mardi answered: “What cooperation? It’s over.”
First action by global forum
Although human rights groups have long complained about atrocities being committed in Darfur, Wednesday’s action by the court was the first time a panel of international judges issued a ruling on the strength of the evidence.
In February, Moreno-Ocampo named Harun, Sudan’s minister for humanitarian affairs, and Kushayb, a janjaweed militia leader, as suspects in a total of 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including the murder, rape, torture and persecution of civilians in Darfur.
Moreno-Ocampo said the issuing of warrants underscored the strength of his case.
“We completed an investigation under very difficult circumstances, from outside Darfur, and without exposing any of our witnesses,” he said. “We transformed their stories into evidence, and now the judges have confirmed the strength of that evidence.”
Al-Mardi previously said that Sudanese authorities conducted their own investigation into Harun’s activities and found “not a speck of evidence” against him.
At the time of the alleged crimes, Harun, considered part of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s inner circle, was interior minister responsible for security in Darfur. Prosecutors charge he helped recruit, arm and fund the janjaweed.
Harun retains his government post in Harun. The government says it arrested Kushayb pending an internal investigation, but several witnesses told AP in Darfur that he was freely traveling from one Darfur town to another under police protection.
Kushayb has denied leading a group of janjaweed militiamen in attacks on civilians in Darfur. He told the pro-Arab, pro-Islamist newspaper Al Intibaha that he “did not kill any innocent people” and “did not cause the displacement of any people.”
Alleged attacks in four towns
The atrocities allegedly were committed during attacks on four towns and villages in West Darfur between August 2003 and March 2004. Harun and Kushayb were part of conspiracy to “persecute civilians they associated with rebels,” Moreno-Ocampo alleged following a 20-month investigation ordered by the U.N. Security Council in 2005.
Their methods were “indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population, murder, rape, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, unlawful imprisonment, pillaging, forcible transfer and destruction of property,” according to a 94-page prosecution document outlining the allegations and seeking a judicial order for the men to be handed over to the Hague-based court.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million made refugees in Darfur since 2003, when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-led Sudanese government, accusing it of neglect and discrimination.
The government has been accused of arming the janjaweed as a counterinsurgency tactic, and the militiamen are blamed for widespread rapes and killings against Darfur civilians that the U.S. government has described as genocide. Sudan’s leaders deny helping the militias.
The ICC judges, however, said evidence pointed to a “unified strategy” by Khartoum of fighting rebels using troops, police, intelligence services and the janjaweed.
Evidence also points to janjaweed acting jointly with Sudan’s army and often being integrated into police units, the court said. Janjaweed fighters trained at government camps and received pay and arms from Sudanese authorities, the judges said.
Although Sudan does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, the 2005 U.N. Security Council resolution that triggered the Darfur investigation calls on Khartoum and all other groups in the conflict to cooperate fully with the court and the prosecutor.