Darfur, 10 years after Al-Bashir’s indictment : will the international community continue failing victims ?

Press release
Karel Prinsloo - FIDH

Ten years ago today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a historic first arrest warrant against Omar Al-Bashir, sitting President of Sudan, for his alleged responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, a region that has been in conflict since 2003. At the time, the scale and gravity of the crimes had prompted the international community’s commitment to hold those responsible accountable by the Security Council referring, for the first time, the situation to the Prosecutor of the ICC. Over the past ten years, however, there has been nothing but lost opportunities for victims to obtain truth, justice and reparation, while the individuals suspected of bearing the most responsibility of the gravest crimes committed in Darfur are getting off scot-free.

Throughout the conflict in Darfur, civilians were the primary targets of killings, large-scale forced displacement, rape and other forms of sexual violence, destruction of villages and properties, pillaging, abductions, acts of torture, indiscriminate aerial bombardments, arbitrary arrests and detentions. United Nations (UN) agencies estimate that over 300,000 people died as a result of the conflict and nearly three million were forcefully displaced.

During a recent mission to eastern Chad, where more than 300,000 people affected by the conflict continue to live as refugees, FIDH and ACJPS were able to meet with nearly one hundred people who gave their testimonies and perceptions, ten years after issuance of the first arrest warrant against Al-Bashir. Most refugees described to us their disappointment that the international community has failed to abide by its commitment to hold accountable those responsible for the crimes they have endured” declared Mossaad Mohamed Ali , ACJPS Executive Director. “ While impunity and security challenges continue to prevail, we reiterate our call for African Union and UN member states to redouble efforts on behalf of justice for the people of Darfur ” he added.

In 2005, the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur concluded that crimes against humanity had been committed primarily against the civilian populations from the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit communities, and attributed primary responsibility to Sudanese defence and security forces and their allies from the Janjaweed militia.

The findings of the Commission served as a basis for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Darfur to the ICC on 31 March 2005. In a statement following the Council’s decision, Kofi Annan, the then UN Secretary-General, commanded members of the Council for using "[t]heir authority under the Rome Statute to provide an appropriate mechanism to lift the veil of impunity that has allowed human rights crimes in Darfur to continue unchecked". Similar declarations from State delegates were made. Since then, however, the Council’s support to the ICC in ensuring States cooperation with executing the pending arrest warrants has been minimal.

In April 2007, the ICC issued its first arrest warrants against Ahmad Muhammad Harun, former Minister of State for the Interior and Ali Kushayb, Janjaweed leader, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Additional arrest warrants were issued in March 2012 against Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, Minister of Defense and in September 2014 against Abdallah Banda, commander of the rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Omar Al-Bashir would face two arrest warrants: one for war crimes and crimes against humanity, issued ten years ago, and another for genocide issued in July 2010.

Over the past ten years, however, Omar Al-Bashir has defied the warrants against him and traveled across the world, including to States Parties to the ICC’s Statute who failed in their obligations to arrest and surrender him to the seat of the Court. All other indictees have also been traveling freely. Sudan has now emerged from isolation and has begun to act as a strategic partner, including acting on behalf of the European Union to control migratory flows to Europe, to facilitate talks particularly in relation to the conflict in South Sudan, and in participating, alongside Saudi Arabia, in the conflict in Yemen.

The situation of victims of the crimes committed in Darfur reflects a collective failure, as not a single perpetrator has faced justice ” lamented Arnold Tsunga, FIDH Vice President, who took part in the mission in Eastern Chad. “ The silence and inaction of the international community resonates even more today while Al-Bashir continues to prove how he can govern only through repression ”.

In December 2018, large-scale protests broke out across Sudan. While these protests initially focused on denouncing increases in prices of basic commodities, they quickly developed into calling for the resignation of Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir, leading to a violent response from security agencies. At least816 people have been arrested and detained and 57 others killed. It is feared that Al-Bashir’s recent proclamation of a year-long state of emergency, the dissolution of his government, the granting of increased powers to the defence and security forces, and the creation of special courts, will lead to intensified repression.

The FIDH and ACJPS joint mission report, containing testimonies collected from Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad, will be released in the coming weeks.

Read more