On July 17, the world marked International Justice Day, to commemorate the adoption of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is the first permanent international court with jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of international concern, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression.
Marking the day, Wayamo Foundation, a non-governmental organisation with an interest in promoting justice and accountability for international crimes held an International Justice Symposium on Sudan at the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi, Kenya.
The event brought together human rights defenders, civil societies, lawyers and journalists acting in the capacity of human rights monitors and focused on the documentation of international crimes and human rights violations in Sudan.
One of the speakers was Radhouane Nouicer, the UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Sudan. Mr Nouicer who has been monitoring the human rights situation in Sudan since 2019, highlighted the violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in Sudan, as well as, the lack of accountability and impunity for the perpetrators. He pointed out that Sudan is facing a “complex and multifaceted” crisis that requires a comprehensive and inclusive approach to address the root causes and consequences of the violations.
“The situation of human rights in Sudan remains critical and requires urgent attention from the international community,” he said. “The transitional authorities have made some positive steps towards democratic change and legal reforms but they have also failed to protect the people from violence to ensure their participation in decision-making and to address their basic needs and grievances.”
Mr Nouicer called on the importance of documenting and preserving evidence of international crimes and human rights violations in Sudan for future prosecution and transitional justice mechanisms. He praised the efforts of the civil society organisations, human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists who have been monitoring and reporting on the situation in Sudan despite the risks and challenges involved.
Commenting on the role of the ICC in the Sudan situation, Dr. Philipp Ambach, a representative from the ICC’s Chief of the Victims Participation and Reparations Section explained that the court’s mandate is complementary to national jurisdictions, meaning that it can only intervene when a country’s Judicial system is unable or unwilling to prosecute the crimes.
He also explained that the court’s jurisdiction over the atrocities in Sudan is currently limited to Darfur and that successful prosecution can only occur if the Office of the Prosecutor receives the utmost cooperation from the State and other actors to execute its arrest warrants and collect evidence.
“The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has been investigating the situation in Darfur since 2005 following a referral by the UN Security Council and is currently investigating contemporary crimes in Darfur. It has issued arrest warrants for five suspects, including former President Omar al-Bashir and two other former officials, as well as, a militia leader and a rebel commander. However, none of them has been arrested or surrendered to the court so far,” said Dr Ambach.
ALSO READ: State’s refusal to cooperate poses danger to justice in Sudan, Khan warns
The symposium came at a critical time for Sudan, which has been plagued by decades of conflict, violence and repression. The situation in the country has deteriorated into a violent conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and sparked allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Fighting began in April 2023 when the power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a former militia that was integrated into the security forces under a 2019 transitional agreement led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo erupted.
Gen. Dagalo is accused of orchestrating atrocities in the western region of Darfur during the previous conflict that started in 2003 and ended in 2008.
According to Sudanese Analyst, Kholood Khair, the current hostilities have spread across the country but have been intense in the Darfur region, where the RSF has reportedly attacked civilians belonging to non-Arab ethnic groups such as the Masalit and the Fur.
“More than 3.1 million people have been displaced by the conflict including over 700,000 who have fled to neighbouring countries such as Chad and Ethiopia among others,” said Mr Khair.
The United Nations also reports that it received credible reports of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arson, looting and crimes affecting children in Darfur and other areas.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that Sudan is on the brink of a full-scale civil war that could destabilize the wider region.
Meanwhile, peace prospects remain dim as both warring sides have violated several ceasefires leading to suspended peace talks. The international community has consistently urged the parties to resume dialogue and respect human rights but has not taken any concrete action to end the violence or bring the perpetrators to account.
While the role of the ICC in investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes may be crucial for ensuring justice and accountability for the victims, the court has continually faced many challenges such as securing cooperation from Sudan and other States, gathering evidence and protecting witnesses.
It also faces political opposition from some countries that are not parties to the Rome Statute or that accuse it of bias and interference. The ICC has been unable to arrest Al-Bashir who ruled Sudan for 30 years until his ousting by a popular uprising in 2019. He is currently detained by the Sudanese authorities on charges of corruption and killings but they have not agreed to hand him over to the ICC.
Wayamo Foundation, through the symposium, provided a platform for discussing critical processes that will expedite achieving justice and accountability in Sudan.
The session featured a panel discussion where the speakers raised concerns about how the lack of documentation and evidence of the crimes committed in Sudan has hampered justice processes.
Many victims and witnesses are afraid or unable to report or testify due to fear of reprisals or lack of access to justice institutions. Moreover, many incidents are not properly investigated or recorded by the authorities or independent bodies.
It was noted that social media platforms, satellite imagery, geolocation tools and other sources can provide valuable evidence of human rights violations in Sudan, especially in areas where access is restricted or dangerous for human rights monitors.
While digital open-source information has limitations and challenges such as verifying authenticity, reliability and relevance, the participants recommended the strengthening of co-ordination among different actors, developing common standards and methodologies, ensuring security and protection of sources and data, raising awareness and advocacy on human rights issues, and supporting victims’ participation and reparations as part of the solutions.
The foundation’s director, Ms Bettina Ambach, said the symposium was an opportunity to highlight the importance of international justice and accountability for Sudan and other countries affected by such crimes against humanity.
Ms Ambach called for the continued support and empowering the those working to document and prosecute human rights violations in Sudan and elsewhere, through capacity-building, networking, advocacy, and public outreach.