17 May 2009 One of the three rebel commanders alleged to have directed the deadly September 2007 attack against peacekeepers in the war-ravaged Sudanese region of Darfur will voluntarily appear in the International Criminal Court (ICC) tomorrow, a move welcomed today by the Court's Prosecutor.
Some 1,000 rebels attacked the Haskanita camp in South Darfur state on 29 September 2007, killing 12 peacekeepers serving with the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) – a predecessor to the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission, known as UNAMID – and wounding eight others.
Last November, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo presented evidence against the three commanders, who “planned, led their troops and directed the attack and completely destroyed AMIS facilities and property, directly affecting aid and security for millions of people of Darfur who are in need of protection.”
The Prosecution said that there are reasonable grounds to believe the three commanders bear criminal responsibility for three counts of war crimes for murder, intentionally directing attacks against personnel and objects involved in a peacekeeping mission and pillaging.
Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, a member of the Zaghawa tribe of Sudan, will be the first person to appear before the ICC voluntarily in response to a summons and also the first to appear in relation to the investigation into the situation in Darfur, which was referred to The Hague-based Court by the Security Council in 2005.
He arrived in the Netherlands today and at his initial appearance tomorrow, he will be informed of the crimes which he is alleged to have committed and of his rights. After the hearing, Mr. Abu Garda is free to leave the country, but will be required to return to attend a confirmation of charges hearing after which it will be determined whether or not there are substantial ground to believe that he carried out the crimes he is charged with committing.
The names of the other two rebel commanders alleged to have led the Haskanita attack remain undisclosed.
An estimated 300,000 people have died and another 3 million have been displaced in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting Government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003.
Today, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo paid tribute to the fallen peacekeepers, underscoring that their deaths were tantamount to “the perpetrators [attacking] the millions of civilians who those soldiers came to protect.”
He added, “attacking peacekeepers is a serious crime under the [Rome] Statute and shall be prosecuted.”
The Haskanita incident is the third case arising from the situation in Darfur. The ICC's pre-trial chamber issued arrest warrants in May 2007 for Ahmad Harun, former Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior and now the Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs, and Ali Kushayb, a Janjaweed leader.
In March, an arrest warrant was issued for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, the first sitting Head of State to be indicted by the Court, for war crimes committed in the strife-torn Darfur region.
On the heels of the announcement that Mr. Abu Garda will appear of his own accord before the Court tomorrow, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said today that “voluntary appearance is always an option under the Statute including for President Al-Bashir should he elect to cooperate.”
Also welcoming the development is Silvana Arbia, Registrar of the Court. “The voluntary appearance of Abu Garda might serve to encourage other suspects currently at large to come before the Court to be heard with all guarantees of a fair trial,” she said.
Meanwhile, UNAMID condemned an attack yesterday against a Sudanese military position in North Darfur.
The three-hour attack was carried out by armed elements who are allegedly part of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) movement in the town of Kornoi and they are apparently in control of the area.
Soldiers surviving the attack retreated to the town of Tina and Um Baru, where UNAMID peacekeepers provided them with water and medical assistance.
UNAMID forces are monitoring the situation, but to date there is no confirmation of the identity of the attackers and no casualty toll has been confirmed.
North Darfur state's far west has recently witnessed deadly clashes between JEM and the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi (SLA/MM) faction.
Condemning yesterday's attack, AU-UN Special Representative Rodolphe Adada called “on all the parties to the Darfur conflict to refrain from the use of violence, to seek a peaceful resolution to their problems, notably through the Doha process, and to work towards a cessation of hostilities.”
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