Sudan rejects ICC authority over Darfur

Sudan on Monday rejected the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in pressing charges over the conflict in Darfur, still ravaged by war and famine four years after the violence erupted.

Last week the ICC—which is authorised to judge war crimes or crimes against humanity if national jurisdiction lacks the ability to do so—announced that its prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will present evidence on Tuesday of alleged war crimes committed in Darfur.

The judges will then decide whether to open an inquiry against the suspects with the aim of eventually issuing international arrest warrants.

But Sudan has rejected the ICC’s authority, arguing that the country’s judiciary is perfectly capable of trying its own criminals.

“The position of Sudan is that this court has no jurisdiction when it comes to trying Sudanese,” Minister of Justice Mohammed Ali al-Mardhi was quoted by the Akhbar al-Yom paper as saying.

This applies to Sudanese officials, members of the security forces as well as the rebel groups in the troubled western Sudanese region, Mardhi said.

Sudan’s judiciary is “sufficiently independent and impartial” and has the “will and capacity to try all persons responsible for crimes in Darfur”, he said.

Mardhi is currently in Darfur conducting an inquiry into violations in the region, but Sudanese authorities insist his visit is not related to the ICC report.

Most experts say the war in Darfur, an arid desert region the size of France, officially started on February 26 2003 when rebels attacked a garrison in North Darfur. Government forces backed by Janjaweed militia responded with a fierce scorched-earth campaign.

The human cost of what some observers describe as the first genocide of the 21st century has been huge. At least 200 000 people have been killed and more than two million displaced according to the United Nations, though some sources say figures are much higher.

Moreno-Ocampo has investigated accusations of presection, torture, rape and murder since June 2006.
He has focused on events alleged to have occurred between 2003 and 2004, considered the most violent period involving the crisis in Darfur.

His team has visited 17 countries and conducted more than 100 interviews.

However, he has been criticised by non-governmental organisations and the UN high commissioner for not sending investigators to Darfur itself, citing security concerns.

Violence has never ebbed since the start of the war four years ago, despite a peace deal signed under intense international pressure in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in May 2006 between Khartoum and one rebel faction.

The two groups which launched the rebellion at the start of the war have split into dozens of warring gangs, complicating the search for peace amid a profound humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations and other aid agencies are running the world’s largest relief operation in Darfur, with a budget of $1-billion and around 130 000 workers operating in an increasingly dangerous environment.

The African Union launched its first peacekeeping operation in Darfur in April 2004 but the ill-equipped and under-funded contingent has failed to quell the violence there.

At a November meeting in Addis Ababa, the UN decided to work with the AU on two main points: reviving the political process and getting Khartoum’s approval for the deployment of UN troops.

But Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has consistently resisted pressure, and has warned that Darfur would become a graveyard for all Western troops who ventured there. - Sapa-AFP

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