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ICC chief prosecutor in landmark visit to Sudan’s Darfur

Published: Updated:

International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda urged Sudan Sunday to hand over suspects wanted by the ICC for crimes committed in Darfur, during a landmark visit to the conflict region.

“It is like a dream come true,” Bensouda said of her visit, which is taking place 16 years after the UN tasked the ICC to probe the Darfur conflict, according to the official Sudanese news agency SUNA.

The United Nations says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million were displaced in the conflict.

A handout picture released by the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) on July 27, 2012 shows a UNAMID peacekeeper from Ethiopia getting inside an armoured personnel carrier (APC) before going on a night patrol in Gereida, South Darfur, on July 25, 2012. The UNAMID has deployed a battalion of 800 soldiers from Ethiopia to protect civilians in Gereida, months after clashes between Sudanese government troops and the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA). (AFP)
A handout picture released by the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) on July 27, 2012 shows a UNAMID peacekeeper from Ethiopia getting inside an armoured personnel carrier (APC) before going on a night patrol in Gereida, South Darfur, on July 25, 2012. The UNAMID has deployed a battalion of 800 soldiers from Ethiopia to protect civilians in Gereida, months after clashes between Sudanese government troops and the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA). (AFP)

Fighting broke out in 2003 when African minority rebels, complaining of systematic discrimination, took up arms against the then Arab-dominated regime of ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir.

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Khartoum responded by unleashing a notorious militia known as the Janjaweed, recruited from among the region’s nomadic tribes.

Bensouda arrived Sunday in Darfur for a 48-hour visit, travelling there from Khartoum, where she had a “productive first meeting” with Darfur governor Minni Minnawi, she tweeted.

“I’m inspired by the resilience and courage of Darfurians,” Bensouda said in the tweet after talks with Minnawi, who was a former leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army rebel group.

In El Fasher, capital of North Darfur State, she met the governor Mohamed Hassan Arabi and other officials, SUNA said.

She also toured a camp for internally displaced people and met with families seeking justice for atrocities allegedly committed against them, the agency said.

SUNA quoted Bensouda as saying that the ICC would continue to demand the Sudan government hand over people wanted by the court for crimes committed in Darfur.

She said that Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, a leader of the Janjaweed also known as Ali Kushayb, who was the first person to appear before the court last month on charges over the conflict, would “not be the last.”

Abd-Al-Rahman was in court at The Hague on May 24 for a hearing to decide if there is enough evidence for a full trial on 31 charges.

Prosecutors have said that Abd-Al-Rahman, an ally of Bashir, was an “energetic perpetrator” of murders in the Darfur war in 2003-04.

The 70-year-old suspect, who handed himself in last year, after years on the run, denies the charges.

Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades, was deposed in April 2019 following months of protests in Sudan and is wanted by the ICC for genocide.

Sudan’s transitional administration is still in talks with the ICC about options for trying Bashir and his aides.

Bensouda, who steps down next month, stressed on Sunday that the ICC was determined to achieve justice for Darfur, SUNA said.