The International Criminal Court will soon establish an office in Sudan after winning the support of the ruling Sovereignty Council to maintain a continuous presence in the country, Prosecutor Karim Khan has announced.
During his recent visit to Khartoum, he also secured the government’s commitment to aid the ICC’s investigations into the Darfur situation by providing the court’s staff with multiple entry visas.
Khan explained that this will allow the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to deploy a greater number of investigators, lawyers, and analysts on the ground to hasten the progress of the cases of the remaining suspects in the Darfur situation.
“I was clear that full cooperation was now required from the Sudanese authorities in order to progress the cases concerning the remaining suspects in the Darfur situation,” Khan said as he outlined his meetings with General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the chairman of the ruling Sovereignty Council, and his deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The Sudanese authorities also committed to giving the OTP “unimpeded access” to documentation in Sudan relevant to the investigations it is conducting as well as to government, former government, and other material witnesses.
According to the Prosecutor, the Sudanese will give “effective, complete, and timely” responses to all the requests for assistance his office has made so far.
“We must use this as a moment of hope to deepen and broaden the process of accountability, including concerning those individuals that remain subject to outstanding arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court,” he said.
During his week-long visit, his second to Sudan since he assumed office in June 2021 and which included the Darfur region, Khan also met with survivors and affected communities in the Kalma, Hasahisa, and Hamidiya camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Kalma camp, established in 2004, hosts more than 300,000 people, most of them displaced as a result of the activities that compelled the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to refer the Darfur situation to the OTP.
The situation in Darfur was the first case referred to the ICC by the council (in 2005). It is the first ICC investigation on the territory of a non-state party to the Rome Statute.
The visit featured prominently in the Prosecutor’s 35th report on Darfur to the UNSC on August 23, 2022. Describing the occasion as the first time in the history of the ICC that the Prosecutor was briefing the UNSC from a situation country, Khan urged the council to consider holding a session in Sudan to hear from some of the survivors in the IDP camps.
The Prosecutor said the trial of Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (also known as Ali Kushayb), which started in April 2022, has brought real hope for many of the survivors. Describing the trial as “the beginning of a process towards broader justice”, he called for more concerted efforts to bring those still at large to face justice.
Deputy Prosecutor Nazhat Shameem Khan joined him in Khartoum and met with other senior Sudanese officials, including, Elhadi Idriss and Eltahir Hajar, members of the Sovereignty Council; Acting Justice Minister Mohamed Saeed Elhilou; Ministry of Foreign Affairs Under Secretary Dafallah Elhaj Ali; Attorney General Khalifa Ahmed Khalifa; and Darfur Governor Suliman Arcua Minnawi. She also met members of the Darfur Bar Association and civil society organisations.
The Darfur conflict began 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 then President Omar Al 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 UN says that about 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million more displaced during the conflict that lasted until 2009.
Abd-Al-Rahman, a suspected former Janjaweed commander, has denied 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the ICC in The Hague. The court has heard the testimony of 29 witnesses and the prosecution is expected to conclude its case early next year.
The ICC’s 35th report on Darfur is a stepdown from the strong period of cooperation enjoyed by the OTP from the Sudanese authorities between February and October 2021.
In August 2021, Khan met with Darfur victims and survivors and convened a meeting with civil society organisations in Sudan. The visit brought tangible results, including the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Sudanese government in relation to the four outstanding ICC arrest warrants against war crimes and crimes against humanity suspects including former President Bashir, who is currently in prison in Khartoum. The other three are former Interior Minister Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein; former South Kordofan State Governor Ahmed Harun; and Abdallah Banda, a former commander of the Justice and Equality Movement.
In the 34th report presented on January 17, 2022, Khan briefed the council about the strides he had taken towards greater effectiveness, among them allocating additional resources such as more investigators to the team, including people with Arabic language skills, and the appointment of pro bono Special Adviser Amal Clooney, a human rights lawyer.
He also told the Security Council that the Sudanese government had committed to working closely with his office and signing the Rome Statute, and had later agreed to facilitate the presence of a full-time ICC field office in Khartoum.
However, the landscape changed on October 25, 2021, when the military pushed out the civilians from the Sovereign Council. Led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the civilians had been sharing power with the military in the transitional government that was installed after the removal of Bashir in 2019.
“The hiatus from the 25th of October has meant we have lost focal points. We are trying to catch up. We have had to suspend active investigations, so this was a very troublesome, concerning turn of events,” Khan said in the ICC’s 34th report.