After decades of civil wars in Sudan and years of mass atrocities in Darfur, one of the most frequent demands of survivors is that the individuals responsible for rape, murder and destruction of villages and livelihoods be held accountable. The pursuit of justice and accountability is about far more than exacting retribution or revenge for past crimes. Ending the current climate of impunity for perpetrators and providing measures of justice to survivors is essential for lasting peace in the region.
The Save Darfur Coalition supports the current work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has taken historic steps toward holding accountable those most responsible for mass atrocities in Darfur. After the United Nations Security Council referred the Darfur situation to the ICC in 2005, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo opened a formal investigation into war crimes in Darfur.
In April 2007, the ICC issued arrest warrants for two suspects on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur: former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and the current governor of a key border region between North and South Sudan, Ahmad Haroun, and janjaweed militia leader Ali Mohamed Ali ("Ali Kushayb"). Neither suspect has been turned over to the Court.
In March 2009, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of the president of Sudan, General Omar al-Bashir, on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Al-Bashir remains the head of state of Sudan and has continued to travel to countries that are not members of the ICC. He has so far refrained from travelling to states that are members of the ICC, where he could face arrest.
The ICC has also summoned one rebel leader, Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, to appear on charges of war crimes for a 2007 attack on African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Darfur. Abu Garda appeared at the Court in May 2009 - the first appearance before the Court of any suspect in the ICC's Darfur cases -- and his confirmation of charges hearing is scheduled for October 2009. The court's judges are also considering charges submitted by the prosecutor against two other rebels allegedly involved in the same attack on AU troops.
The Save Darfur Coalition calls on the U.S. and international community to fully support the ICC's work in Darfur and to press Sudan to enforce outstanding warrants. The ICC's work has put pressure on President al-Bashir and other members of his regime. It has the potential to contribute to a window of opportunity to broker peace in Darfur, especially if combined with strong diplomatic leadership by the Obama administration. World leaders, led by the United States, must pursue a comprehensive, negotiated peace for Darfur that builds on the framework of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Even after a negotiated peace is in place and atrocities have ended, work to heal and transform a society through the pursuit of justice and accountability for past crimes is never a quick or straightforward process. Ensuring justice and accountability for the grave crimes committed against the people of Darfur will likely take many years and require a variety of mechanisms. In other societies recovering from conflict and mass violations of human rights, these have ranged from criminal prosecutions at international and national levels, to truth commissions and reparations programs, to forms of traditional and/or community-level justice. Such efforts often continue for decades after atrocities and other mass violations of human rights have ended, and often must be preceded by or accompanied by reforms of national judicial and security structures.
The International Criminal Court's work in Darfur must continue unhindered and with the full backing of the international community. But the successful execution of its arrest warrants - and even future trials and verdicts - will mark only the critical beginning of a path to justice, accountability and reconciliation in Sudan.