World Court Official Reports Evidence on Darfur Criminals

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 25, 2006

The International Criminal Court has found sufficient evidence to identify the perpetrators of some of the worst atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region, and the probe offers "reasonable grounds to believe" that crimes against humanity were committed, chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the annual meeting of the court's member states in The Hague.

"We selected incidents during the period in which the gravest crimes occurred," he said Thursday in a report on his activities over the past year. "Based on the evidence collected, we identified those most responsible for the crimes." Moreno-Ocampo did not name the targets of the investigation, which he said is nearly complete.

In a telephone interview before he addressed representatives of the 103 nations that have ratified the 1998 agreement creating the court, he said the atrocities included "rape, torture, willful murder, sexual and inhuman violent acts, extra-judicial killings and the forcible transfer and persecution of civilians."

Moreno-Ocampo's investigators have collected thousands of documents and conducted 70 visits in 17 countries, including Sudan, since June 2005. His teams have interviewed judges, prosecutors and Sudanese investigators, as well as a top Sudanese military official and a senior political official. Sudanese officials shared the outcome of a government inquiry, and the Sudanese army provided its analysis of what had happened, he said.

"To define the truth is important, and to define the responsibility is important, to prevent it from recurring," he said in the interview. He added that court procedures required him to investigate "incriminating and also exonerating circumstances."

Moreno-Ocampo said a priority was reaching victims, although he chose not to go to the Darfur region itself, so as not to endanger victims or witnesses. However, he was able to find them elsewhere, he said, including in neighboring Chad and in Sudan outside Darfur. Investigators screened 600 potential witnesses and conducted in-depth interviews with more than 100 people. The prosecutor must determine whether the Sudan government is carrying out an inquiry into the same incidents and individuals. If there are not "genuine national proceedings," he said, he will present his evidence to the judges.

"We are almost ready," he said.

Moreno-Ocampo added that other challenges involving health, development and security needed to be confronted simultaneously by other world institutions and states.

As many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence, and 2.5 million have been displaced in the three-year-old conflict, which began when rebels from African tribes rose up against the Arab-led central government in a huge area of western Sudan. The government has been accused of supporting militias of Arab nomads known as Janjaweed in retaliation against civilians in Darfur. Government officials deny arming the militias, which the United Nations and others have accused of carrying out the worst atrocities.

Moreno-Ocampo's comments in The Hague coincided with charges by the top U.N. humanitarian official that Sudan is deliberately hindering relief efforts in Darfur and is arming militias.

The emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, told the Security Council that the coming weeks might "be make or break for our lifeline to more than 3 million people. The situation in Darfur is closer to the abyss than I have witnessed since my first visit in 2004."

"Time is against us," Secretary General Kofi Annan said.

Officials from the United Nations, Europe and the United States have expressed concern about what they describe as a recent shift in Janjaweed tactics, from attacking rebels to targeting people in refugee and displacement camps. Egeland, who recently visited Sudan, said the burning of villages and attacks on women and children reminded him of 2004, when the push to drive Darfur civilians from their homes was at its most violent.

A tentative agreement to boost the 7,000-member African Union force with 10,000 more U.N. troops was reached last week in Ethiopia. Sudan, which has opposed deployment of U.N. troops, has asked for a delay until Wednesday.

A senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Sudanese government fears that U.N. troops "will discover more evidence. What they don't realize is that there is more than enough evidence now."

Andrew Natsios, the U.S. presidential special envoy to Sudan, said the United States suspects that some Sudanese officials are bent on "a military solution," given three major defeats since August in their push against the rebels. He told a forum at the Brookings Institution this week that the Sudanese military has "now mobilized the Arab militias to attack soft targets, which is to say villages and the displaced camps." If this continues, he warned, no one in the United States would have faith in a negotiating process.

"There is no doubt that the Janjaweed and those who are committing atrocities are an extension of the Sudanese military," Natsios said.

In the interview, Moreno-Ocampo said he was struck that Sudanese witnesses said they were pleased and "honored" to provide testimony. "The hope for justice is one of the few things that the victims of Darfur still have," he said. "It is very important for us to keep this hope alive and show there will be justice for them. We care about that."

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