February 7, 2008 (TAMPA, Florida) — In April 2007, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its first arrest warrants in a three-year investigation of war crimes in Darfur, Sudan, naming Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb and Sudanese official Ahmad Muhammed Harun, who is believed to have been one of the masterminds behind the well-reported mass killings and displacements in the region.
Nearly a year later, Sudan has not made any move to execute the warrants. The government, led by Omar Hassan al-Bashir, does not recognise the jurisdiction of The Hague-based ICC over crimes in Darfur — despite a Security Council resolution requiring Sudan’s cooperation — instead insisting that they be investigated and prosecuted locally.
“As minister of state for humanitarian affairs, Ahmad Harun, a man indicted by the International Criminal Court, is responsible for providing relief, for working with international aid organisations, and for coordinating with relevant security organs the security in the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps,” the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, told IPS. “Formally, he shares responsibility for the safety and well-being of the displaced population. In reality, he joins in constant abuses against them.”
“In Darfur in 2003-2004, we witnessed the first phase of the criminal plan coordinated by Ahmad Harun. Millions of people were forced out of their villages and into camps. In the second phase — happening right now in front of our eyes — the victims are attacked in the camps. Ahmad Harun is a key actor. But he is not alone. Failure to take any step to investigate or arrest him and failure to remove him from office are clear indicia of the support Harun receives by other high officials,” Moreno-Ocampo said.
IPS correspondent Mark Weisenmiller recently interviewed Moreno-Ocampo, 55, about the status of the case against Harun, and whether he will ever be brought to trial.
IPS: In a Dec. 5, 2007 meeting of the United Nations Security Council, you told all present that “the only realistic solution today is to request the removal and arrest of Harun as a first step…” Since then, have you or anybody from the ICC prosecutor’s office received any communication from the Sudanese government about this matter?
LM-O: The content of the Office of the Prosecutor’s communications with states is confidential. However, the prosecutor reported in December to the U.N. Security Council that Sudan was not complying with its obligation. The situation has not changed since. The government of Sudan, as the territorial state, has the legal obligation to arrest and surrender Ahmad Harun and has the ability to do so. Sudan is a member state of the U.N. Sudan cannot ignore the law.
IPS: Is there anything that any unit of the U.S. government [which is not a party to the ICC] could do to help bring Harun to justice?
LM-O: We cannot comment on our bilateral cooperation. Our requests are confidential so as to avoid any impact on our investigative activities. We have noted recent comments that the U.S. would provide assistance in response to an appropriate request…the U.S. is aware of our confidentiality requirements…What we need is for U.N. Security Council members — and among them, the U.S. — to demonstrate, publicly and proactively, now their support to arrest indicted individuals. This is the kind of concrete, immediate assistance we are requesting.
IPS: In last December’s Security Council meeting, you said that internally displaced persons who are living in camps “are deliberately kept in a state of destitution. Obstacles to the delivery of aid are part of the pattern of attacks.” What concrete evidence do you have for these claims?
LM-O: In relation to the first new investigation, we have consistent indicia showing a pattern of attacks by Sudanese officials against civilians, in particular those 2.5 million people forcibly displaced into camps. Far from disarming the Militia/Janjaweed as it committed to, the GoS [government of Sudan] has for the most part integrated them into its security apparatus and has stationed them in the vicinity of camps. Rapes of women when they leave the camps are systematic.
Instead of upholding their promises of facilitating returns, Sudanese officials are said to facilitate settlement of Militias/Janjaweed supporters on land inhabited previously by Fur and Masalit. In addition, approximately 35,000 Chadians have also been encouraged to settle in destroyed villages or surrounding land. Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa are thus deprived of a safe place to return. Resettlements are consolidating the displacements. Victims are faced with two options: remaining under attack in the camps or going back to hostile territory. They are left with no hope for the present and no prospect for the future. This is how the slow destruction of entire communities is pursued; in full sight of the international community.
IPS: If, as seems to be the case, Harun is not handed over to the ICC, then what happens? Can you proceed with a trial of Harun in absentia, or will there continue to be diplomatic and bureaucratic limbo?
LM-O: The Rome Statute [creating the ICC] does not allow for trial in absentia. It provides, however, for confirmation of charges in the absence of the accused, although this is not an option being pursued at the moment. Ahmad Harun will face justice. It is his destiny. Look what happened to Charles Taylor, Jean Kambanda, and Slobodan Milosevic; it is a clear trend; there is no more impunity.
IPS: After the trial of Harun is completed — if, indeed, a trial does take place — who do you and the ICC Prosecutor Office next plan to indict on human/civil rights charges, or war criminal-related charges ?
LM-O: In Darfur today, massive crimes continue to be committed… Failure to protect persons displaced from constant attacks by Militia/Janjaweed and GoS agents, failure to facilitate deployment of those peacekeepers who could protect the victims are clear indicia of endorsement, acquiescence or active participation by other high officials.
The office will proceed to investigate who is bearing the greatest responsibility for ongoing attacks against civilians; who is maintaining Harun in a position to commit crimes; who is instructing him. This is the second Darfur case. In relation to the other new investigation, on 29 October, 10 soldiers of the AU Mission in Sudan, AMIS, were killed, eight injured and one unaccounted for after the attack on their Haskanita base. The incident appears to have been committed by rebel forces. It represents an increasing trend in attacks against AU, U.N. and other international workers by various forces, a trend which the office is monitoring with concern.