August 5, 2008 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese justice minister Abdel-Basit Sabdarat announced today the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into rights abuses committed in war ravaged region of Darfur since 2003.
- Picture taken in April 2004 shows the village of Terbeba after being burnt by the pro-Sudanese government "Janjaweed" militias in the western Darfur region of Sudan (AFP)
Sabdarat named Nimr Ibrahim Mohamed as the Darfur prosecutor with 3 assistants; Kamal Mahjoub Ahmed, Al-Hadi Mahjoub Makkawi and Mamoun Mekki Hamid.
The ministerial decree requests the newly appointed prosecutor to report monthly on the progress of his work.
The development comes three weeks after the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that he is seeking an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president Omar Hassan Al-Bashir.
The ICC’s prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. Judges are expected to take months to study the evidence before deciding whether to order Al-Bashir’s arrest.
Sudan and a number of regional organizations including the African Union (AU), Arab League, Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) condemned Ocampo’s request and called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution deferring Al-Bashir’s indictment.
However the UNSC is deeply divided on the issue making it unlikely for an agreement anytime soon.
Jan Grauls the Belgian UN ambassador told reporters yesterday that none of the UNSC members requested a consultation session on stalling the ICC’s work in Darfur.
The Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa met with Al-Bashir last month and presented a proposal for national proceedings to prosecute Darfur war crimes suspects.
But this week the French-Libyan born lawyer Dr. Hadi Shalluf, who was the ICC appointed defense counsel for Darfur case last year, told Sudan Tribune in an interview that any step by Khartoum to investigate Darfur war crimes now is “too late”.
“There can be no internal proceedings and it will not be acceptable anyways. As a starter it will not guarantee the rights of the victims. I am not questioning the integrity of Sudanese judiciary but things have changed today. Sudan could have moved to prosecute war criminals a long time ago” Shalluf said.
The ICC Statute prevents investigation into crimes that were looked into by local judiciary under the concept of “complementarity”.
The judges of the ICC issued arrest warrants last year for Ahmed Haroun, state minister for humanitarian affairs, and militia commander Ali Mohamed Ali Abdel-Rahman, also know as Ali Kushayb in connection with Darfur war crimes.
Sudan must prosecute Haroun and Kushayb for the same accusations brought against them by the ICC in order for the latter to lose jurisdiction over their cases.
Last year the Sudanese prosecutor general Salah Abu-Zeid announced that Haroun would be probed on events relating to Darfur war crimes.
But a few days later after Abu-Zeid’s announcement the Sudanese president told the daily Al-Sudani newspaper in March 2007 that Haroun “will not resign and will not be dismissed”.
Al-Bashir also said in the interview that Haroun is cleared from any wrongdoings and that he was performing his duties in protecting the lives of citizens and their properties against rebel attacks.
“We don’t know how far up [chain of command] Ocampo’s intends to go to talk about Haroun’s resignation” he added.
Khartoum had long claimed that Kushayb was in custody since November 2006 for investigations into allegations of violations he committed during the peak of the Darfur conflict in 2004.
Sudan’s former Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi told a news conference in Khartoum in February 2007 that “"Ali Kushayb, along with two other individuals, was sent for trial. He was detained as a suspect, questioned, his statements were evaluated and witness statements recorded, and then the decision was taken to refer him to court".
But in March 2007 Kushayb’s trial was delayed when the defendants filed an appeal with the Justice ministry after which Abu-Zeid told reporters that Kushayb’s appeal was denied that there is “sufficient evidence to proceed with the case”.
Shortly afterwards the Sudanese justice ministry ordered a ban on publishing reports or details relating to criminal cases on Darfur conflict and many observers at the time voiced skepticism over Khartoum’s seriousness to try perpetrators of crimes in the war ravaged region.
In early October Sudan’s former foreign minister Lam Akol told the pro-government daily Al-Rayaam from New York that Kushayb was freed “due to lack of incriminating evidence against him”.
However Al-Mardi issued a quick denial to the Al-Rayaam report describing it as “false” without directly commenting on Akol’s statements.
The former Justice Minister was asked again by Al-Rayaam last November on the whereabouts of Kushayb and he reiterated that the militia leader was “never released” before saying that he refrained from commenting on the issue “because it is under investigation”.
Then in April the spokesman for the Sudanese embassy in London, Khalid Al-Mubarak was quoted by Voice of America (VOA) as saying that Haroun and Kushayb were not prosecuted “because there is no evidence against them”.
In June Amin Hassan Omar, a leading figure in the National Congress Party (NCP) and a state minister also confirmed Kushayb’s release.
Sudan’s penal code does not include punishment for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Moreover Sudanese military officials enjoy immunity from prosecution for acts committed during their course of duty.
Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency quoted the Sudanese Media Centre (SMC), which is close to the intelligence services, that the justice ministry is making arrangements to draft new legislation that would incorporate crimes listed in international law.
However it is not clear how long the process would take.
Sudan has not ratified the Rome Statute, but the UNSC triggered the provisions under the Statute that enables it to refer situations in non-State parties to the world court if it deems that it is a threat to international peace and security.