International Justice Day- Justice Hangs in the Balance in Sudan

Image Credit: Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG)
Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG)
Ms. Niemat Ahmadi, Founding President, Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG), shares her views to commemorate the International Justice Day.

Today, July 17th, marks International Justice Day. This day commemorates the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the 1998 Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC), the prime mechanism for holding perpetrators of the world’s most serious crimes – genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – accountable. Despite the accomplishments of the ICC, we are reminded today of the shortcomings of the international community in holding those responsible for the crimes committed against the Sudanese victims of genocide in Darfur.

In its commemoration of International Justice Day, Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG) expresses unequivocal support toward the ICC and demands that the interim government of the Republic of Sudan takes concerted action to collaborate with the court and immediately surrender other wanted Sudanese officials. This includes former president Omar Al-Bashir. DWAG also wishes to take this opportunity to call on the member states of the Rome Statue and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to join us in solidarity by demanding the enforcement of accountability for Bashir and his cronies. We remind the global community that the ICC’s foundational mandate of justice has yet to be fulfilled in the case of Sudan. Former president Bashir and his henchmen have enjoyed more than a decade of evading trial, and ultimately, justice.

Although DWAG is pleased by the recent surrender of former Janjaweed captain Ali Kushayb to the ICC, we cannot lose sight of how Bashir and his allies still remain at large and have yet to be handed over to The Hague. Charged with five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes, Bashir stands accused of heinous crimes perpetrated against indigenous African people in Darfur. Ahmed Harun, Former Minister of State for the Interior, faces 20 counts of crimes against humanity and 22 counts of war crimes. Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, Former Minister of National Defense, faces 7 counts of crimes against humanity and 6 counts of war crimes. The freedom of these individuals creates a norm for the evasion of justice that sends an alarming message to the world: that genocide can go unpunished. 

Violence Persists in the Period of Transitional Government

DWAG wishes to highlight that atrocities are still occurring in Darfur, even in the aftermath of Bashir’s regime. Violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, continues to be perpetrated even in the midst of the current global pandemic. Bashir’s legacy persists through an apparatus and ideology of institutionalized violence. The Rapid Support Forces and affiliated Janjaweed militias continue to be active, terrorizing refugee and internally displaced communities. Communities in Sudan have suffered trauma for 18 years today, repeatedly plagued by torture, plunder, pillaging, and weaponized systematic rape. Survivors’ calls for peace, security, and justice have fallen on deaf ears for nearly two decades. The years of continuing impunity for perpetrators constitutes an erasure of the atrocities’ victims have suffered, as well as a gross neglect of survivors and the protection they require.

Sudanese protesters returned to the streets in late June of this year, demanding that transitional authorities bring justice to civilians killed in last year’s uprising leading up to and immediately after Bashir’s fall from power. In Khartoum, police used tear gas to disperse protesters and one civilian was shot in the chest. In, Kabkabiya, North Darfur, police opened fire to disperse protestors and wounded eight people, including a 12-year-old child. Two individuals were hit in the head by stray bullets.

Other protestors have called for changes to the deteriorating civilian situation in Darfur and across Sudan. Hundreds of mostly internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the town of Nierteti, Central Darfur, camped outside a government building protesting for better security conditions, the resignation of security officials in the province, and a halt to attacks by government-sanctioned armed groups. Multiple IDP camps in Darfur have reported several attacks in recent weeks by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and other groups affiliated with the Janjaweed militia.

Most recently, this week, the Sudanese government declared a State of Emergency in North Darfur on July 13th in response to the escalation of violence in Kutum. On Monday, a group of unidentified armed men attacked the Fata Borno IDP camp, looting homes, stealing livestock and vehicles, and burning the Fata Borno Market to the ground. Nine people were killed and 16 were injured. This incident comes a few days after a group of Fata Borno IDPs staged a sit-in protest on July 6th, demanding better security and protection from increased armed attacks. On July 12th, a demonstration in Kutum in solidarity with the Fata Borno sit-in turned violent when police dispersed peaceful unarmed protesters with tear gas and fired live ammunition. To this day, the people of Darfur have called for improved security and protection, only to be ignored and subject to further armed attacks by armed groups affiliated with the Janjaweed militia and excessive force by police.

In a desperate attempt to appease protestors, Prime Minister Hamdok has reassured them that their demands are legitimate and that responsive measures would be implemented. These words have yet to bring about any action. In another empty proclamation, Hamdok conceded that the civilian-military alliance currently in place in the transitional government is “sensitive and critical” and that many “difficulties” threaten the stability of the deal. This admission only underscores the precarious state of the transitional government and the subordination of the civilian sector of government by the Sudanese military. 

The overthrow of Bashir does not signal the end of the Darfuri struggle. DWAG expresses grave concern about the entrenchment of Bashir-era Rapid Support Forces and the violence it espouses, in the transitional government. The striking fact that General Hemedti, a former Janjaweed leader, now sits as the Deputy Head of the Sovereign Council clearly demonstrates how the Bashir-era sanctioned violence has infiltrated its way into Sudan’s institutions today.

We Call on Our Supporters to Remember Darfur and Mobilize for Action

The people of Darfur have awaited justice for 17 years. The myth that the Darfur genocide is over or solved has caused the international community to ignore the people of Sudan. Mainstream media today fails to report on institutionally sanctioned violence in Sudan and the ongoing conflict no longer makes headlines.

DWAG is disturbed by the Sovereign Council’s insistence on trying Bashir domestically instead of handing him over to the ICC. There is some discussion by critics that the ICC is biased, as many of their investigations have been focused on those occurring in African nations and allowing those that take place in other countries to escape with impunity. It is true that during the first ten years of the ICC’s existence, all of their investigations and prosecutions were focused on conflict situations in Africa. The African Union (AU) even backed a resolution in 2017 that supported African countries withdrawing from the ICC, however, Burundi is the only country that formally withdrew in late 2017. Despite these valid criticisms, DWAG stresses the importance of African countries, like Sudan, remaining steadfast in their commitment to upholding the mission of the ICC. In February, Prime Minister Hamdok supposedly reaffirmed his commitment to hold human rights abusers accountable by cooperating with the ICC. These statements, however, have not produced any corresponding action. DWAG and its Sudanese constituencies condemn the empty promises and demand effective action.

Last month’s Friends of Sudan conference in Berlin delegated $1.8 billion to Sudan for development, COVID-19 response, and humanitarian aid. Although DWAG welcomes such actions, we are still cautious that without accountability measures in place this donors’ fund may empower the Rapid Support Forces. Many Friends of Sudan in attendance of this Conference are also parties to the Rome Statute, and thus have an obligation to bring Bashir and his henchmen to justice. We demand that members of the United Nations Security Council and states parties to the ICC fulfill this obligation through pressuring the surrender of Bashir, Hussein, and Harun. We call on Prime Minister Hamdok to deliver Bashir and his allies to the Hague. We call on our supporters to raise awareness, spread the word, and compel leaders to act promptly. Ten years of impunity is too long. The ICC has been tasked to investigate any and all crimes occurring after July 1st, 2002, and it is the member states’ duty to ensure that they remain able to do so freely.

Challenges facing the ICC

DWAG is extremely concerned about the recent U.S. actions taken against the ICC. On June 11th, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order that imposed sanctions on several individuals associated with the International Criminal Court (ICC). These sanctions are accompanied by visa restrictions for individuals involved with the ICC’s investigation into possible war crimes that took place in Afghanistan. The Trump administration believes that this investigation would “impede the critical national security and foreign policy work of the United States Government and allied officials, and thereby threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

The ICC, however, is a court of last resort and will always work on the basis of complementarity. It can only be involved when a state is incapable or unwilling to pursue justice to its citizens. This is not the case for the US, which is a country that abides by the rule of law. Unlike Sudan or other countries lacking the capacity, the US has a strong legal system and institutions capable of delivering justice and accountability for all people. If the US is truly as committed to these principles as it has once stated, then the Trump administration must recognize that the ICC is not a threat.

The ICC, with a membership of 123 states including close allies to the US, has become a well-recognized institution that fights against impunity. It has collaborated with the US across two previous administrations in its investigations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. It has helped achieve critical progress in prosecuting the world’s most serious crimes and helping the victims recover. In Liberia, when Charles Taylor was arrested and surrendered to the ICC, the country was able to achieve peace and elect its first-ever woman president in a major breakthrough toward democracy. In Uganda, an ICC arrest warrant was the only deterrent to the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, a process that the US fully supported. In Sudan, where genocide victims have cried for peace and justice for years, the recent surrender of Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb to the ICC has brought renewed hope. 

Although the US is currently not a state party to the ICC, the case of Darfur has been referred to the Court by the United Nations Security Council. American support was instrumental in passing the resolution (SC/Res 1593) that authorized the ICC to investigate the case of Darfur. The Trump Administration ought to uphold a previous American commitment to the UNSC and not abandon the genocide victims in Darfur. Disparaging the Court over the Afghanistan investigation will have the highly detrimental consequence of preventing its crucial work in restoring dignity to the women of Darfur and other critical situations.

We urge the Trump administration to find a middle ground with the ICC whereby the court can continue to operate in areas where justice is desperately needed yet still preserve the lawful protection of American service members. Previously, many African states have made attempts to withdraw from and isolate the Court – particularly in relation to Bashir’s case – only to recognize that the ICC is indeed dedicated and successful in the fight for justice for victims in African and around the world. We hope that the US can find the same benefit in partaking in such processes of international law.

Ultimately, in the 21st century, the international community must not argue about pursuing accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. We need to collectively join to agree that such serious crimes must not go unpunished. We must continue the fight for justice together.

Justice for Darfur’s victims and survivors has been decades in the making. Join us to make this a reality for Darfur on this important day and beyond.

Thank you,

Niemat Ahmadi, President, DWAG

About: Darfur Women Action Group DWAG envision a world where justice for all, equal rights and respect for human dignity is a primordial ethic