Hague Court Opens First Darfur War Crimes Trial

An alleged former militia leader in Sudan’s Darfur region has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The trial of the militia leader known as Ali Kushayb is the first at the International Criminal Court to deal with the Darfur conflict.

Wearing a blue suit, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman sat with folded arms as he listened to a long list of atrocities he allegedly participated in nearly two decades ago.

Speaking here through a translator, he denied the charges against him.

“I reject all these charges. I am innocent of all these charges. I am not accused of any of these charges.”

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan offered a very different take. He outlined brutalities supposedly committed by Abd-Al-Rahman and other alleged members of Sudan’s feared Janjaweed militia in 2003 and 2004.

“Rapes against women and girls, children being targeted and attacked and abducted, men and boys amongst others, being executed and killed, homes being wantonly destroyed, people fleeing with nothing. For many, their lives never to be the same again.”

This is the first trial at the Hague-based criminal court dealing with the Darfur conflict, which the United Nations says killed roughly 300,000 people and displaced some 2.5 million others. It’s also the first trial resulting from a U.N. Security Council referral to the ICC.

“This is a really important moment,” expressed Elise Keppler, the associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.

“It’s not the end, in fact it’s really just a beginning. But we have not seen any meaning accountability for crimes in Darfur and victims have been clamoring to see justice, that justice is such an important step,” she added.

Also known as Ali Kushayb, Abd-Al-Rahman was considered a senior Janjaweed member. The militia group was fighting non-Arab rebels, who had launched a revolt, complaining of discrimination.

Rights groups claim the Janjaweed’s response was a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing. Abd-Al-Rahman allegedly played a key role in Janjaweed attacks against at least four villages.

Prosecutor Khan aired clips of interviews of alleged witnesses and victims of the attacks.

“What has hit me every time I’ve interacted with Darfouris, and actually survivors throughout the world, is their dignity and remarkable resilience,” Khan pointed out.

The trial comes amid an uptick of violence in Darfur, and unrest across Sudan following a military coup last October.

Sudan’s former president, Omar al-Bashir, and three others are also being sought by the ICC for alleged war crimes in Darfur. Khartoum has yet to hand them over.