|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT COALITION,
JUSTICE FOR DARFUR CAMPAIGN
With Security Council diplomats arriving in Sudan today as part of a high-profile mission to Africa, a coalition of human rights activists urged the officials to press Khartoum on handing over to the International Criminal Court two Sudanese men who have been indicted on charges of crimes against humanity.
During a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, representatives of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) and the Justice for Darfur Campaign said the Council must take advantage of its planned three-day stay in Sudan to raise not only the issue of the surrender of war crimes suspects Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb, but also the Government’s obstruction of the full deployment the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid to desperate people throughout the country’s war-torn western region.
“Despite the referral of the situation in Darfur to the Court by the Security Council via its resolution 1593 (2005) neither suspect has been arrested and handed over to the authorities in The Hague,” said William Pace, convenor of the Coalition. He added that the Court did not have its own police force and would need cooperation from States -– which bore the greatest responsibility –- as well as international bodies like the Security Council, to execute its outstanding warrants.
The Security Council must demand that Sudan comply with the International Criminal Court, he said, noting that, for the first time, the terms of reference for the Council’s trip to Sudan mentioned the problem of impunity for grave crimes, the need to implement past resolutions and the importance of due process and the rule of law. The Court, he said, was an independent body; not a political, but a judicial, institution. The job of Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and the Court judges was to “follow the evidence” and bring charges against any individuals responsible for the commission of the grave crimes that fell under the Court’s jurisdiction.
To that end, he reminded correspondents that Mr. Ocampo was set to present to the Council tomorrow his latest report on the investigation into the situation in Darfur. Calling the report “hard-hitting”, he said Mr. Ocampo planned to make it clear to the Security Council that Harun and Kushayb had not acted alone and that the commission of grave crimes was continuing in Darfur, where, over the past five years, hundreds of thousands of people were estimated to have been killed and millions had been driven from their homes.
“What an eventful and interesting moment this is,” said Richard Dicker, Director of the Human Rights Watch International Justice Programme. Joining Mr. Pace at the press conference, he said that, not only were human rights activists awaiting the outcome of tomorrow’s Security Council briefing, and the proposed meeting by Council diplomats in Khartoum with Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir, but that they were also following closely what was happening in Sudan right now.
He said that news reports were surfacing that the United States Special Envoy had broken off talks with Khartoum towards normalization, and that France’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Maurice Ripert, who was taking part in the Council’s visit to Africa, had earlier signalled the European Union’s willingness to consider sanctions against Sudan, if it did not cooperate with the International Criminal Court.
He echoed Mr. Pace’s appreciation of the Council’s decision to toughen the terms of reference for its visit so that members could raise issues that they could not last year, especially Sudan’s binding legal obligation to arrest the two accused. That obligation had not been imposed by the Court, but by the Council itself in its resolution 1593 (2005), which had initially referred the situation in Darfur to the Court for investigation and prosecution. “It is essential that the Council members do this and we hope that the Sudanese leadership understands which way the wind is blowing on the issue of impunity for the most serious crimes committed in Darfur,” he said.
While that would be an important step in putting public pressure on Khartoum, it was only a first step, he said. The next step would take place in New York, as Council members continued their negotiations, which would hopefully lead to the adoption of a presidential statement on the situation. He recalled that, when Mr. Ocampo had last briefed the Council this past December, it “was principally the obstruction of the China that prevented the Council from adopting a statement”.
The Coalition hoped that China -- “with its aspirations to play a leading role on the world stage, with the ‘coming out party’ for that role in the form of the Beijing Olympics just two months away” –- would take a more reasonable and nuanced view as to where it stood in relationship to bringing to justice those responsible for horrific crimes committed against the people of Darfur. “It would certainly be sorrowful to see the Olympic Games tainted with an example of Chinese support or complicity for the obstruction of justice by Sudan,” he added.
Further, the Coalition was also looking to France and the United Kingdom who had led the charge to get the issue of Darfur submitted to the Court in the first place. It was also looking to the United States, which, along with Washington’s stated commitment to support for the people of Darfur, held the Council presidency for the month and was, therefore, in a strategic position to help move the initiative through.
“Why a presidential statement? The crimes that led to the submission of the case to the [International Criminal Court] were continuing. There are signs that the Khartoum Government and its Janjaweed militia are still carrying out the sort of scorched earth policy employed in 2003-2004,” he said, citing aerial attacks carried out this past February and deadly raids carried out by the Janjaweed of several villages in recent months. “Clearly, clearly, the Government of Sudan needs to get the message that impunity for this type of action is winding down and that there will be accountability,” he said.
At the same time, he acknowledged that a statement would not lead to the Government deciding to immediately arrest and surrender Harun and Kushayb. “We’re not that naive,” he said. But, the Security Council’s silence during its last visit to Khartoum had led the Sudanese to release Kushayb from custody and promote Harun to a position on a “human rights commission” allegedly looking into rights violations. That act alone was “sticking a finger in the face” of the Security Council and the wider international community, especially since it had been done when the Secretary-General was there.
Silence had only emboldened Khartoum to obstruct justice, the full deployment of peacekeepers for UNAMID and delivery of humanitarian aid. “It’s going to be a long process, but the mood is changing,” he said, reiterating that a presidential statement would be an important step. He trusted that China, cognizant of its responsibilities, would not stand in the way of justice for the people of Darfur.
Niemat Ahmadi, of the Save Darfur Coalition, who had lived in northern Darfur, said that what was happening on the ground was the “complete extermination of the indigenous African people of the region”. It had been going on for six years. Everyone knew what was happening and it was clear that the Sudanese Government was undermining the edicts of the Court and the will of the Security Council.
“The Security Council now has a golden opportunity to urge the Government to surrender the suspects and bring justice to Darfur and its people,” she said, stressing that, indeed, for most Darfuris, justice was the key to the solution of the crisis. “We are being forced to sit and watch while the people who victimized us continue to run our affairs […] you can’t imagine how damaging it is,” she said.
Noting that the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was currently meeting at Headquarters, she said those States could also exert pressure on Sudan here at the United Nations. It was also time for world leaders to reaffirm the commitment to the people of Darfur they had shown three years ago, when they had referred the case to the Court, acknowledging that crimes against humanity were being committed in Darfur. “The Darfuri people still have hope, but they are aware that only justice could make that hope a reality,” she said.
Responding to questions, Mr. Dicker said that, while the Council indeed had a “full plate” when it came to Sudan “with the [North-South] Peace Agreement unravelling” and UNAMID’s deployment stifled, it must continue to press for movement on all fronts simultaneously. Too often, Khartoum had been allowed to divide and conquer the international community’s agenda. Giving justice and accountability issues a lower, rather than equal, priority to peace and security issues “is just playing into their game”.
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