The International Criminal Court's prosecutor in The Hague outlined what he called operational, logistical and command links between Sudan's government in Khartoum and horse-mounted nomadic militias it recruited and bankrolled to carry out mass killings in the Darfur region, and he named a member of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's inner circle as a suspect in the atrocities.
In a 94-page prosecution document filed with the court's judges, Luis Moreno-Ocampo singled out Ahmad Muhammad Harun, now a state minister for humanitarian affairs who was state minister of the interior, along with Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman (also known as Ali Kushayb), a leader of the Darfur militia known as the Janjaweed, in a total of 51 crimes against humanity and war crimes. The filing marked the first accusations against named individuals as a prelude to a trial.
The chief prosecutor's accusations -- which fall short of a formal indictment -- come after a 21-month investigation that led to 60 countries and focused on the worst crimes committed in 2003 and 2004. The prosecutor also said his office was expanding its probe to look at current crimes, and in a teleconference with foreign journalists, he warned that other Sudanese government officials could be held responsible.
"We will exonerate no one," he said. "I did it with Harun, and I will follow the evidence wherever it is going."
The prosecutor described what he said was a pattern of incitement and recruitment that allowed the crimes to be committed. The U.S. government has labeled the killings in Darfur a genocide.
"The system produced massive crimes in Darfur, and evidence shows how Harun personally led the effort and how he and Kushayb joined together to commit the worst atrocities against villagers in Darfur," Moreno-Ocampo said. "They bear criminal responsibility for 51 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and we have very strong evidence."
In Khartoum, Sudanese Minister of Justice Mohammed Ali al-Mardi rebuffed the prosecutor's accusations as "lies" and said his government would not hand the men over for trial in response to Moreno-Ocampo's summons.
"We are not concerned with, nor do we accept, what the ICC prosecutor has opted for," Mardi said in Khartoum yesterday. He also said the two suspects named in The Hague had already been questioned.
"The Sudanese government will not allow any Sudanese to be tried and punished outside the national justice framework," the justice minister said.
Moreno-Ocampo confirmed that Rahman (Kushayb) had been in custody in Sudan since November. He said the Sudanese government had arrested Kushayb for incidents committed when he participated in the Popular Defense Forces, which the prosecutor said was integrated into the army.
But Moreno-Ocampo said the international court's case against Kushayb was different. "It is not just about Ali Kushayb but about how they worked together to attack civilian populations," he said.
Moreno-Ocampo's filing said, "The evidence shows that Ali Kushayb issued orders to militia/Janjaweed and armed forces to victimize the civilian populations through mass rape and other sexual offenses, killings, torture, inhumane acts, pillaging and looting of residences and market places, the displacement of the resident community" and other criminal acts.
The prosecutor said that during a public meeting, Harun was heard boasting that his appointment to the Darfur Security Desk gave him "all the power and authority to kill or forgive whoever in Darfur, for the sake of peace and security."
The United States is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court and does not officially cooperate with it. But Washington refrained from blocking a U.N. Security Council move to refer the Darfur case to the international court, which human rights groups and others said signaled a turning point in U.S. relations with the new tribunal.
Moreno-Ocampo said the court had neither requested nor received any assistance from the U.S. government in its investigation. He said it would not turn down any evidence that would help its case.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick said, "We fully support bringing to justice those responsible for crimes and atrocities that . . . have occurred in Darfur. We are at a point in the process now where we could call upon the Sudanese government to cooperate fully with the ICC."
Humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations here and in Europe welcomed Moreno-Ocampo's announcement and pressed for further measures against more, and more senior, Sudanese officials.
Richard Dicker, head of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, said the prosecutor's court filing "signals the beginning of the end of the impunity associated with the horrific crimes in Darfur. The two individuals named were major players, but this can only be the first of many cases, and we expect the ICC prosecutor to press his investigation further up Khartoum's chain of command."
Dicker said Kushayb was connected to a "large set of summary executions in several villages, and Harun played a central role in arming the Janjaweed. These are serious players, not minor thugs."
John Prendergast, an Africa specialist and senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said, "Finally, after four years of total impunity from the international community for the immense crimes committed in Darfur, the ICC has struck the first blow for accountability." He added, "The fact that the prosecutor went up the food chain right into the presidential palace is significant, as it sends a message to the other orchestrators of these horrific crimes."
News of the prosecutor's finding was also welcomed by some residents of Khartoum. In a cafe, Ali Mansur, who fled to the capital from the Darfur region two years ago, said, "There are more criminals than two." He added, "The situation on the ground is worse than what the government says."
Tariq Said, a retired Sudanese military officer, expressed hope that "this will give Sudan a chance to go in the right direction. This issue is the concern of all Sudanese. Everyone wants peace in Darfur."
The prosecutor also said that in addition to the investigation of Darfur, "we are monitoring the spillover of violence into Chad and the Central African Republic." He said that because both countries are among the 104 full members of the international tribunal, he did not need a special referral to investigate what was happening there.
"We are getting information about current crimes, of what happens today, because this will affect the lives of the victims," Moreno-Ocampo said. "The court has to contribute to the prevention of crimes, because people who are displaced are now exposed, and it is my responsibility. We are just doing our job. Our mandate is to investigate and end impunity."