A former militia leader will be the first person to be tried before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday, April 5, for atrocities committed in Darfur, a region of western Sudan regularly bereaved by violence and theater of a bloodbath almost twenty years ago.
Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, 72, a collaborator of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, was the leader of the Janjawid militia, an auxiliary force of the Sudanese government accused of abuses during the conflict in Darfur. Also known by his nom de guerre, Ali Kosheib, he is accused of 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in 2003 and 2004 in Darfur.
At the time, the conflict erupted when members of ethnic minorities took up arms against the Arab majority-dominated regime in Khartoum. Khartoum had responded with the Janjaweed, a force drawn from the region’s nomadic tribes. According to human rights groups, they then carried out a “systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing” targeting the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups. The human toll of the conflict is estimated at 300,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the United Nations.
In April 2007, the ICC, headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, issued an arrest warrant against Mr. Abd-Al-Rahman. He fled to the Central African Republic in February 2020 when the new Sudanese government announced its intention to cooperate with ICC investigators. He surrendered to the ICC in June 2020 after thirteen years on the run and denies the charges against him.
Villagers murdered, women and girls raped
According to ICC prosecutors, the militia leader, backed by Sudanese forces, carried out attacks on villages in the Wadi Salih area of Darfur in August 2003. During these attacks, at least 100 villagers were murdered, women and girls were raped, and members of the predominant ethnic group, the Fur, were forcibly transferred and persecuted. Nicknamed “Colonel of Colonels”, he is also accused of having mobilised, recruited, armed and supplied the Janjawid militias under his command.
As Mr. Abd-Al-Rahman is the first suspect to stand trial for war crimes committed in Darfur, this trial represents “a rare and long-awaited chance for victims and communities terrorized by the Janjawid to see an alleged leader brought to justice”Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades before being deposed in April 2019 after months of protests, as well as two other leaders have been claimed for more than ten years by the ICC for ” genocide” and “crimes against humanity” during the conflict in Darfur.
ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said the military coup in Sudan in October 2021 marked a setback in the court’s work as the country was rocked by worsening unrest. Last week, at least 45 people died in Darfur, according to local security authorities.
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