The military coup in Sudan last year has slowed down the momentum of the International Criminal Court’s investigation in the Darfur situation, Prosecutor Karim Khan has said.
Delivering the ICC’s 34th report on Darfur to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on January 17, 2022, Khan said the landscape had changed in October 2021, when the military pushed out the civilians with whom it was sharing power in the transitional government that was installed after the removal of former president Omar Al 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,” he said.
However, the Prosecutor counted as an “upside” the assurances of the coup leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to him and to an ICC team visiting Sudan after the coup, in December, that the regime would honour a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed when Khan visited Khartoum in August 2021.
“The challenge now collectively for all of us is to make sure those assurances are translated into concrete, tangible partnerships and accountability.”
He urged the Sudanese government to provide the ICC safe access to crime scenes and witnesses, and emphasised the critical need for cooperation and concrete action, both by the authorities in Khartoum and the international community.
“We need collectively to do better – my office, of course, but also this council – to make sure the promise and the purpose of the referral is wedded with concrete action.”
He said 17 years had lapsed without any tangible accountability or justice for the Darfur people, and recalled the absence of cooperation on the part of Sudan under the leadership of former president Bashir, which had led the court’s former Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to hibernate the investigation.
“I share frustrations, the impatience, and the hopes of those survivors that that singular moment – the first referral by the council to the ICC – will reap dividends,” he said, adding: “But it is important, as I said in my interactions with Sudanese government members, that this referral cannot be a never-ending story.”
Khan reported that there is hope of progress because in July 2021 his office was able to secure confirmation of all 31 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, a former Janjaweed leader in Darfur.
He added that the trial, which will commence on April 5, 2022, is the first-ever stemming from the UNSC referral made in March 2005.
Khan emphasised the importance of working with the ICC Registry on outreach programmes to help the people of Darfur to follow the proceedings and know what is happening.
He also noted the four outstanding warrants of arrest in the Darfur situation. One is against Bashir, who was deposed in April 2019. The other three are for the arrest of former Interior minister Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein; a former governor of South Kordofan state, Ahmed Harun; and Abdallah Banda, a former commander of the Justice and Equality Movement.
The Prosecutor explained that he had recused himself from the Abdallah Banda case, which is at trial stage after Pre-Trial Chamber I confirmed charges of war crimes on March 7, 2011. However, the trial has not yet started as Banda is still at large.
Khan recalled his statement during his briefing to the council on the situation in Libya in November 2021, that during his term in office he wishes to prioritise cases referred by the UNSC, and said the process had already begun by conducting a review of the evidence to look at the strength of those cases.
He said he is certain about the strength of evidence related to the Abd-Al-Rahman case, but that the evidence against Bashir and Hussein needs strengthening. This requires the cooperation and collaboration of the Sudanese authorities, as well as that of the council and UN member states, he added.
Khan briefed the council about the strides he has taken towards greater effectiveness, among them additional resources such as allocating 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 travelled to Khartoum in August 2021, two months after taking up his appointment as ICC Prosecutor. He met with Darfur victims and survivors, and convened a meeting with civil society organisations.
The visit brought tangible results, including the signing of the MoU with the Sudanese government in relation to the four outstanding arrest warrants.
He 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.
In a statement posted on the UN website on January 17, 2022, several council members took the floor to praise recent strides made by the ICC and urged the government of Sudan to redouble its commitment to cooperating with the Office of the Prosecutor despite the turmoil that resulted from the October coup.
Others were reported to have voiced concern about external actors exerting undue pressure or influence in Sudan, noting that transitional justice arrangements were clearly laid out in the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement. They urged Sudan’s partners to give the country space to implement them. Other members raised long-standing concerns about the court more broadly, underlining the critical importance of respecting Sudan’s judicial sovereignty.
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 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.
In 2005, the UNSC referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC, which is investigating allegations of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The United Nations says that about 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million more displaced during the conflict that lasted until 2009.