Rights Group, War Victims Welcome Trial of Darfur Militia Leader

Years after atrocities took place in Sudan’s Darfur region, one of the key suspected perpetrators is about to face trial.

Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, goes on trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague on April 5.

An arrest warrant was issued by the ICC for the paramilitary leader in 2007. He faces 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 2003 and 2004. He surrendered in 2020 and was brought to The Hague, which confirmed his indictment the following year.

Kushayb has denied the charges and unsuccessfully challenged the court’s jurisdiction.

The ICC says Kushayb was one of the most senior leaders in the tribal hierarchy in the Wadi Salih locality and member of the Popular Defense Forces, a paramilitary group. He allegedly commanded thousands of janjaweed militias from August 2003 until March 2004 under former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in 2019.

Kushayb is alleged to have implemented the counterinsurgency strategy of the government of Sudan, resulting in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, according to the ICC.

Kushayb is accused of personally participating in some of the attacks against civilians between August 2003 and March 2004, when civilians were killed, raped and tortured, the ICC says.

On April 5, ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah told VOA, “The chamber will hear the prosecution’s opening statement first, followed by a short, unsworn statement by the accused and a short remark presented by the representative of victims.”

The first prosecution witness and experts will testify on April 6, he added.

Elise Keppler, an official with the Human Rights Watch International Justice Program, underscores the trial’s significance.

“It’s the first time that a leader is being held to account for massive crimes committed in Darfur,” Keppler told South Sudan in Focus. “This is a rare opportunity for accountability, a first crucial opportunity.”

Keppler said she hopes the trial will be the beginning of achieving justice in Sudan for victims as well as the perpetrators.

“This trial shows that even though it can be incredibly slow going for accountability to advance, it can and does happen.” And she warned that “would-be-perpetrators should take note that this person, Ali Kushayb, is being held to account.”

The delay in trying Kushayb and other accused individuals in Sudan is mainly because of former President Bashir’s refusal to cooperate with the court, Keppler said. She pointed out that Bashir also is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in Darfur.

Adam Rijal, a spokesperson for internally displaced persons in Darfur says war victims are excited that Kushayb is finally held to account.

“This is a triumph for all the victims, and it shows that their patience all these years, in the face of continued crimes committed against them, will be rewarded with justice,” Rijal said. 

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