By Wasil Ali
September 14, 2008 (WASHINGTON) – Sudan 2nd Vice president Ali Osman Taha played a key role in mobilizing the notorious Janjaweed militias during the Darfur conflict, according to International Criminal Court (ICC) documents seen by Sudan Tribune over the weekend.
- Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha speaks in parliament in the capital Khartoum on July 14 2008 (AFP)
The ICC released a 113-page heavily redacted version of the application containing the request for an arrest warrant for Sudan president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir which was submitted under seal meaning it would not be released to the public in its original form.
Per ICC rules any application submitted by the prosecutor could be under seal in terms of its mere existence, content or both.
The ICC prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced in mid-July that he requested an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir.
Ocampo filed 10 charges: three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder and accused Al-Bashir of masterminding a campaign to get rid of the African tribes in Darfur; Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa.
Even though the prosecutor did not file charges against Taha, the application highlights his role during the violent conflict in Western Sudan.
Ali Osman Taha “played an important role in implementing Al-Bashir’s plan, in particular by assisting in the mobilization of Militia/Janjaweed” the application says.
“GoS officials released from prison tribal leader Musa Hilal and Col. Shukurtallah. Vice President Taha instructed Hilal to mobilize his tribesmen into the force that became known as the ‘Quick, Light and Horrible Forces of Misteriha’”.
The ICC prosecutor also mentioned names of other Sudanese officials that assisted in recruiting Janjaweed including Salah Gosh, the head of Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS), Presidential Assistant Nafi Ali Nafi, Defense Minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, Head of Military Intelligence and Deputy Chief of Staff General Awad Ibn Auf and State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Ahmad Haroun.
Taha was the top official in charge of handling the Darfur crisis during 2003-2005. He secured the release of Hilal from prison to help mobilize Arab tribes to crush the Darfur rebellion.
Hilal was serving a jail sentence for leading an armed robbery against the Central Bank of Nyala in which one policeman was killed.
Last June a senior Sudanese official told Sudan Tribune that Taha strongly opposed turning over two suspects accused of war crimes in Darfur to the ICC despite other National Congress Party (NCP) officials favoring that.
Taha was quoted in the ICC application as telling 15 Janjaweed commanders that the war in Darfur “had been imposed upon them and that, as Arabs, they should preserve the unity of their land and religion”.
“We are willing to supply weapons, ammunition, camels, salary and horses. Martyrs will get money. For every wounded personnel, we are ready to transport them to Khartoum and even send them abroad for medical treatment. Please also accept greetings from the President Omer Al Bashir.” Taha also said, “I don’t want one single village of Zurgas in Darfur. All the Zurga lands are yours”.
Zurga is a derogatory term used to describe members of the African tribes in Darfur.
Throughout the application the prosecutor provides numerous examples of the direct link between the Janjaweed and the government.
Ocampo alleged that Al-Bashir was maintained contact with Janjaweed leaders such as Ali Kushayb, Hamid Duwa’i, Musa Hilal and Mohammed Hamdan Himeiti.
Himeiti for instance was alleged to have met twice with Al-Bashir including once at his home “to receive orders to carry out campaigns in Um Sidr and Kiryari in Northern Darfur after they had been taken by Darfur rebels”.
In asserting Al-Bashir’s responsibility for the Darfur crimes the ICC showed how the Sudanese president had ultimate control over the progress of operations in Darfur.
Al-Bashir told the Sudanese army that he “didn’t want any villages or prisoners, only scorched earth”, the prosecution said.
“Speaking on national television in 2004, Al-Bashir told the Sudanese public that he had given the Armed Forces a carte blanche (in Arabic "atlakto yad al-jaysh") in Darfur not to take “asra” (war prisoners) or inflict injuries”.
The ICC prosecutor also said that Al-Bashir dismissed a number of officials who opposed using the Janjaweed militias in Darfur because it would lead to crimes.
“In June and December 2003, Al-Bashir also dismissed about 20,000 members of the Armed Forces, most of who came from Darfur”.
General Abd-al-Rahman Zayn al-Abidin told the ICC team in a testimony in Khartoum that he “encouraged the mobilization of the Militia/Janjaweed and provided weapons to them”.
He further accused the Sudanese head of state of protecting and rewarding individuals who committed crimes in Darfur.
In January 2008 Musa Hilal was appointed by Al-Bashir to hold the post of an adviser for the ministry of federal government despite his criminal background, drawing heavy criticisms from Western countries and human right groups.
Al-Bashir blocked a move by the Sudanese justice ministry to investigate Haroun after he was indicted by the ICC.
The prosecution said that Al-Bashir used the government agencies and the media to conceal crimes and to emphasize that the situation Darfur is stable and under control.
The National Commission of Inquiry (NCOI) formed by Al-Bashir to investigate war crimes in Darfur was “following strict limits”.
The ICC quoting an unidentified source/witness who claimed that “following orders from the President and/or the Vice President, the final report of the NCOI omitted reference to Musa Hilal and to the documented criminal activity of Col. Shukurtallah in West Darfur, Lt. Hagaw in Tawila and Adam Jama (the Commissioner of Nyala)”.
The NCOI identified militia leader Ali Kushayb and Military Intelligence Officer-Lt. Hamdi to be investigated. However Kushayb was released from custody after conflicting reports on his whereabouts.
The ICC application said that Al-Bashir blocked humanitarian aid for months after the eruption of the armed conflict despite the rising mortality rates among the displaced Darfuris.
“Between October 2003 and January 2004 the GoS almost entirely obstructed international assistance to displaced civilians and provided no aid of its own” the prosecution said.
The ICC cited numerous examples of brutalities conducted by the Sudanese army and the militias throughout the conflict in Darfur.
In one example of Kyla village in South Darfur inhabited by the Fur tribe in August 2003, Sudanese forces and Janjaweed militias “encircled the village as villagers fled to the mosque or the local school” according to an eye witness who visited the area from Nyala right after the attack.
The witness visited the village in the aftermath of the government attack where he and other locals “saw numerous dead bodies as they walked through the village, including that of his uncle and of two local women”.
“A baby had also been killed and was lying on his back with his penis cut off and stuffed in his mouth” the witness said in a testimony that withheld the names of the victims he encountered. The group discovered and buried a total of 67 bodies in the village.
The prosecution gave examples of specific incidents that crimes inflicted upon the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa satisfied the definition of genocide under the 1948 convention.
He also gave percentages of villages predominantly inhabited by the African tribes that were destroyed and/or abandoned as compared to those of the Arabs; Fur villages 81% (165 villages) were destroyed and abandoned, and 16% (33 villages) were abandoned but not destroyed; Masalit villages 57% (62 villages) were destroyed and 28% (31 villages) were abandoned but not destroyed; Arab villages - Fewer than 1% percent (1 village) were destroyed. Not a single village inhabited predominantly by Arabs was abandoned.
Moreover the application alleges that Sudanese forces targeted civilians in the villages despite the lack of presence by rebels in it.
“Al-Bashir’s forces singled out for attack those villages and small towns inhabited mainly by members of the target groups. The attackers went out of their way to spare from attack villages inhabited predominantly by so called “Arab” tribes aligned with Al-Bashir, even where they were located very near villages and towns inhabited predominantly by members of the target groups” the prosecutor said.
“Forces controlled by Al-Bashir consistently targeted not rebel forces, but civilians from the target groups. Attacks were typically launched against civilian targets, and did not cease until the town or village, as an entirety, had been victimized and its population forcibly displaced”.
The prosecutor then goes on to explain to the judges the issue of motive vs. intent in committing genocide using legal precedents and its application in the case of Darfur using the pattern of destruction and crimes that hit primarily the African tribes in Darfur.
The office of the prosecutor cited 10 sources used in his investigation including recorded interviews of Sudanese officials NCOI findings. However he redacted the names of two of the 10 sources.
At the conclusion of the application Ocampo made four requests of the judges including entering a finding “that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Al-Bashir committed the crimes charged in this application” and issuing an arrest warrant.
However the prosecutor withheld the other two requests he made to the judges of Pre-Trial Chamber I.
Ocampo left the door open for changing the arrest warrant to a summons to appear if circumstances change and Al-Bashir appears willing to appear before court.