Former Janjaweed commander Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman has termed the charges brought against him before the International Criminal Court as “false”, after denying 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“I came here to The Netherlands out of my own free will. No one forced me to come here. I came here to correct the false suits attributed to me,” he told Trial Chamber I’s Judge Joanna Korner (presiding), Judge Reine Alapini-Gansou, and Judge Althea Violet Alexis-Windsor in his unsworn statement on April 6, 2022, a day after the opening of his trial, the first in the Darfur situation, at the ICC in The Hague.
The crimes Abd-Al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, is accused of are alleged to have been committed in Darfur, Sudan, between August 2003 and at least April 2004.
His defence is led by Cyril Laucci, who has in earlier court appearances maintained that his client is wrongly accused and that he is not educated enough to understand that the orders he carried out could result in war crimes.
In his opening statement, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan QC termed the trial “an important moment in trying to wake peace from its slumber and move it, mobilise it into action” and “a momentous day… an Iftar of sorts for the millions of Sudanese throughout the world that have been yearning for this day to come…”
He showed several clips of interviews of alleged witnesses and victims of some of the attacks in Darfur as he sought to establish the context of the situation.
The trial comes about as a result of several historic firsts for the ICC. The situation in Darfur is the first to be referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), through Resolution 1593. It is the first ICC investigation on the territory of a non-state party to the Rome Statute. It is also the first ICC investigation dealing with allegations of the crime of genocide. It comes at a time of rising violence in Darfur and unrest across Sudan after a military coup in October last year.
In their opening remarks, Natalie Von Wistinghausen and Nasser Mohamed Amin Abdalla, the legal representatives of the 142 victims who will participate in the trial, told the court that the victims have great expectations and interest in an expeditious, fair, and clear outcome of the trial.
The first witness, P-1042, Professor Alex Del Waal, started testifying on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. He told the court about the root causes of the armed conflict in Darfur in 2003-2004 and the relationship between the militia/Janjaweed and the government of Sudan during the conflict.
He testified on the impact of the conflict on the civilian population, and the response of Sudanese government officials and forces to attacks by rebel armed groups.
The violence in Darfur began in 2003, when rebels started protesting against what they perceived as the Khartoum government’s disregard for Sudan’s western region and its non-Arab population. In response, the government, under the presidency of Omar Al Bashir, equipped and supported Arab militias – which came to be known as Janjaweed – to fight the insurrection in Darfur. The militias terrorised civilians and prevented international aid organisations from delivering much-needed food and medical supplies to the region.
The UNSC said about 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million more displaced during the conflict that lasted between February 2003 and 2009.
The ICC accused Bashir of orchestrating genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur, and issued warrants for his arrest on March 4, 2009 and July 12, 2010. Bashir was removed from office in 2019 and has been in the custody of the Sudanese government pending his transfer to the ICC, where his case remains at the pre-trial stage.
The cases of Ahmad Muhammad Harun, Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain, and Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, all suspects in the Darfur situation, are also at pre-trial stage as they are not in the court’s custody.
Pre-Trial Chamber I declined to confirm the charges against Bahar Idriss Abu Garda and his case was closed.
Abd-Al-Rahman was considered a senior Janjaweed member who allegedly played a key role in the militia’s attacks against Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar, Deleig, and surrounding areas.
The 31 charges against him include intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as a war crime; murder as a crime against humanity and as a war crime; pillaging as a war crime; destruction of the property of an adversary as a war crime; other inhumane acts as a crime against humanity; outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime; rape as a crime against humanity and a war crime; forcible transfer as a crime against humanity; persecution as a crime against humanity; torture as a crime against humanity and a war crime; cruel treatment as a war crime; and attempted murder as a crime against humanity and a war crime.
Prosecutor Khan told the court that Abd-Al-Rahman was the key militia leader that the government of Sudan relied upon and who participated knowingly and willingly in crimes.
“The information and the allegations that were in the public domain as of March 31, 2005 included rapes against women and girls, children being targeted and attacked and abducted. Men and boys, amongst others, being executed and killed. Homes being wantonly destroyed. People fleeing with nothing. For many, their lives would never to be the same again,” he said.
Giving an example of the human tragedy in Darfur, Khan quoted to the judges one witness statement: “ ‘I saw two corpses; one boy was breastfeeding from his mother while she was dead. They were shot with ammunition.’ And when the investigator asked for clarification about what he meant, the witness continued: ‘This little boy was … his mom was dead, and he was breastfeeding from her. His age should be four or five months.’”
“With the bringing and starting of this case, and by the end of this trial, I’m confident that the first few drops of justice will land on what has hitherto been a desert of impunity in Darfur,” the Prosecutor concluded.
On April 27, 2007, the ICC issued the first warrant of arrest against Abd-Al-Rahman. The second one was issued on January 16, 2018. He voluntarily surrendered in the Central African Republic and was transferred to ICC custody on June 9, 2020. He made his first appearance in court on June 15, 2020. Pre-Trial Chamber II confirmed the charges against Abdi-Al-Rahman on July 19, 2021.
Commenting on the trial, Elise Keppler, Associate International Justice Director at Human Rights Watch said it is “a long-awaited chance for victims and communities terrorised by the notorious Janjaweed militia and government forces in Darfur to see a leader held to account”.