By Janet Sankale
The first trial in the situation in Darfur, Sudan, is scheduled to start before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on April 5, 2022.
Former Janjaweed commander Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman will face the court, charged with 31 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including torture, rape, and murder, in connection with the Darfur conflict.
“Having heard all the submissions, we feel that this trial should commence on April 5, 2021. It will run daily until the recess on April 14, 2021. We expect that during that period, opening statements can take place and the calling of at least one witness,” Trial Chamber I Presiding Judge Joanna Korner said on September 8, 2021.
The decision came after the trial chamber, composed of Judge Korner, Judge Reine Alapini-Gansou, and Judge Althea Violet Alexis-Windsor, were notified of the disclosure of evidence by the prosecution.
The Presidency of the International Criminal Court (ICC) constituted the chamber on July 21, 2021.
In this first case on Darfur that has reached this far in the trial process, Abd-Al-Rahman has been accused of committing the offences against civilians in the Wadi Salih and Mukjar localities of West Darfur State, between August 2003 and April 2004.
The journey of the initial six Darfur cases started in 2005, when the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), through Resolution 1593, referred the Sudan situation to the Prosecutor of the ICC. This was the first UNSC referral to the ICC and the court’s first investigation on the territory of a non-state party to the Rome Statute, although Sudan has recently started the process of ratifying the statute. It was also the first ICC investigation dealing with allegations of the crime of genocide.
Warrants of arrest against alleged perpetrators were issued as early as 2007. Two such warrants were issued against then Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, on March 4, 2009, and July 12, 2010, making him the first sitting president to be wanted by the ICC, and the first person to be charged by the ICC for the crime of genocide. However, apart from Abd-Al-Rahman’s case, three of the other five cases are still at the pre-trial stage since the alleged perpetrators are still at large. The ICC’s policy is that it does not try individuals unless they are present in the courtroom. One of the cases, against Abu Garda, was closed on February 8, 2010, when Pre-Trial Chamber I decided not to confirm the charges against him and later rejected the Prosecutor’s application to appeal the decision.
The charges of war crimes were confirmed against Abdallah Banda on March 7, 2011, when he voluntarily appeared before Pre-Trial Chamber I. However, the trial judges issued an arrest warrant against him on September 11, 2014 to ensure his presence at his trial, which has stalled as he is still at large.
Violence broke out in Darfur in 2003 when rebels protested what they contended was the Sudanese government’s disregard for the western region and its non-Arab population
The government, under the leadership of Bashir, responded by equipping and supporting Arab militias – which came to be known as the Janjaweed – to fight the insurrection in Darfur. The militias also terrorised civilians and prevented international aid organisations from delivering much-needed food and medical supplies to the region.
The United Nations says that about 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million more displaced during the conflict that lasted between February 2003 and 2009.
The ICC has continued to urge the Sudanese government to hand over the other war crimes suspects, including former President Bashir, who has been accused of orchestrating genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur. He was removed from office in April 2019 and has been in Sudanese custody pending his transfer to the ICC.
The confirmation of charges hearings for the Abd-Al-Rahman case were held from May 24-26, 2021, at the seat of the ICC in The Hague. On July 9, 2021, the ICC judges unanimously issued a decision confirming all the charges brought by former Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda against Abd-Al-Rahman and committed him to trial.
The former militia leader voluntarily surrendered himself in the Central African Republic and was transferred to ICC custody on June 9, 2020. His initial appearance before the ICC took place on June 15, 2020, to verify his identity and ensure that he was informed of the charges against him and his rights under the Rome Statute.
In the trial stage, the Prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. The judges will consider all the evidence and issue a verdict.
Abd-Al-Rahman is represented by Cyril Laucci and Iain Edwards.
The judges have authorised 151 victims to participate in the case. They are represented by lawyers Paolina Massidda, Amal Clooney, and Nasser Mohamed Amin Abdalla.