International Criminal Court investigates war crimes in Sudan

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened a new probe into alleged war crimes in Sudan, its chief prosecutor said Thursday, expressing “great concern” over escalating violence there.

Karim Khan made the announcement in a report to the UN Security Council, after three months of war between feuding generals that have plunged the northeast African country back into chaos.

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The ICC has been investigating crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region since 2005 after a referral by the UN Security Council, and the Hague-based court has charged former leader Omar al-Bashir with offenses including genocide.

“The current security situation in Sudan and the escalation of violence during the current hostilities are matters of great concern,” Khan said in the report.

His office “can confirm that it has commenced investigations in relation to incidents occurring in the context of the present hostilities,” it added.

The ICC prosecutor said there had been a “wide range of communications” about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan since the fighting broke out in April.

Alleged sexual and gender based crimes were a “focus” of the new investigation, he added.

Around 3,000 people have been killed since the violence erupted between Sudan army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group.

The pair were both key figures in a 2021 military coup that derailed the country’s transition to civilian rule, following the ousting and detention of Bashir in 2019.

Allegations of atrocities have mounted during the fighting, with the top UN official in Sudan calling on Wednesday for warring sides to face “accountability” for the fighting.

The UN has also warned of fresh crimes in Darfur, saying Thursday that the bodies of at least 87 people allegedly killed last month by the RSF and their allies had been buried in a mass grave in Darfur.

Khan said the risk of further war crimes was “deepened by the clear and long-standing disregard demonstrated by relevant actors, including the government of Sudan, for their obligations.”

The lack of justice for crimes in Darfur in the early 2000s, when Bashir had set his Janjaweed militia upon non-Arab minorities, had “sown the seeds for this latest cycle of violence and suffering,” he added.

Bashir was charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and the court has been demanding his extradition to The Hague ever since, without success.

After Bashir was toppled in 2019, Khartoum announced it would hand him over to the court for prosecution, but this never happened.

Even before the recent fighting there was a “further deterioration in cooperation from Sudanese authorities,” Khan said.

Bashir, 79, as well as Ahmad Harun and Abdel Raheem Hussein, two leading figures in the former government who are also wanted by the ICC, are still at large.

So far the only suspect to face trial for violence committed in Sudan is senior Janjaweed militia leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman, also known by the nom de guerre Ali Kushayb.

Rahman’s defense lawyers are expected to open their case next month, and Khan said the latest Sudan fighting “cannot be permitted to jeopardize” the trial.

The United Nations says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million people were displaced in the 2003-4 Darfur conflict.

While applauding the ICC’s investigation, the US State Department on Thursday condemned continued “atrocities and ethnically targeted killings” committed in West Darfur.

“The atrocities and violence in Darfur demand accountability, meaningful justice for victims and the affected communities, and an end to impunity,” department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Read more:

Sudan’s neighbors meet in Egypt at summit seeking to end ongoing conflict

UN: At least 87, including Masalits, buried in mass grave in Sudan’s West Darfur

Number of displaced by Sudan conflict surpasses 3 million: IOM

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