Rights Groups Launch Campaign to Press for Darfur Arrests
Saturday, April 26, 2008
One year after the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for a Sudanese minister and a militia leader on 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, human rights and international groups yesterday launched a campaign to force the Khartoum government to stop blocking attempts to bring to justice those responsible for atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region.
The Justice for Darfur coalition, cobbled together during meetings in Paris last month, comprises about 30 organizations, including Amnesty International, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and groups from Canada, Britain, the Middle East and Africa.
"By blatantly obstructing justice, Sudan's President Bashir and his underlings are parading their pariah credentials before the world community," said Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch's international justice program director. "We look to the [U.N.] Security Council and other states to make clear that stonewalling accountability for horrific crimes comes close to active complicity in these deeds."
Some international experts estimate that as many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence and that more than 2.5 million have been displaced since the conflict in Darfur began in 2003, when rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government. The government puts the death toll at 9,000.
Last year, the court sent to Khartoum arrest warrants for then-Interior Minister Ahmad Harun, accused of financing, arming and inciting the horse-mounted Janjaweed militia that carried out mass killings of civilians in Darfur in 2003-2004, and for Ali Kushayb, a Janjaweed leader. Both men are still at large. Harun has been named Sudan's state minister for humanitarian affairs, putting him in charge of the same people the Janjaweed had driven into camps. Kushayb has been released from a Sudanese prison after being convicted of unrelated offences.
"The thousands of people who suffered the murder, rape and persecution in Darfur deserve justice," said Dismas Nkunda, co-chairman of the Darfur Consortium, a group of African and Middle Eastern nongovernmental organizations that has also thrown its weight behind the coalition. "Instead, all they have had is disdain from their own government and empty words from the international community."
Arab and African governments have been reluctant to publicly condemn Sudan's role in atrocities in Darfur or to back motions to that effect before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The new coalition could change that, Dicker said.
"The campaign can be the vehicle to engage both African and Arab civil society to help our NGO partners in their regions to raise their voices against Sudan's lack of compliance," he said.
Prince Zeid al-Hussein, a former president of the International Criminal Court's governing board, said: "Any action that complies with Security Council resolutions to assure that no one escapes the responsibility for having committed massive crimes is worthy of our support. We support the ICC and believe that all countries must cooperate with its decisions and requests for arrests . . . including Sudan."
At a conference in Chicago yesterday sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo branded Harun "a fugitive" and disclosed that he is ready to present evidence from a second probe into who is responsible for allowing Harun and Kushayb to remain active and who bears the greatest responsibility for ongoing and systematic attacks against civilians in Darfur, a reference to Sudan's top leadership.