The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court called the surrender of Sudanese militia leader Ali Kushayb to the war crimes tribunal “a pivotal development” for victims awaiting justice and urged Sudan to hand over former president Omar al-Bashir and two others wanted by the court.
Bensouda also called on Abdallah Banda, commander of the Justice and Equality rebel group in Sudan’s western Darfur region who remains at large, to follow Kushayb and surrender to the ICC.
The ICC said Kushayb, who is charged with 50 crimes against humanity and war crimes in the devastating conflict, surrendered to authorities in a remote corner of northern Central African Republic, near the country’s border with Sudan, and arrived at the court’s detention center in The Hague, Netherlands, on Tuesday evening.
Bensouda told the U.N. Security Council that she hopes Kushayb’s surrender sends an unequivocal message that her office will not stop pursuing alleged perpetrators of the world’s worst crimes “no matter how long it takes or the obstacles placed in our path.”
The vast Darfur region was gripped by bloodshed in 2003 when rebels from the territory’s ethnic central and sub-Saharan African community launched an insurgency accusing the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum of discrimination and neglect.
The government responded with a scorched-earth assault of aerial bombings and unleashed local nomadic Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, who are accused of mass killings and rapes. Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were driven from their homes.
The Darfur conflict took place under the three-decade autocratic rule of al-Bashir, who has been charged with genocide by the ICC for allegedly masterminding the campaign of attacks. Al-Bashir’s rule ended in April 2019 when the military ousted him after mass street protests by a pro-democracy movement which began in late 2018.
A power-sharing agreement signed in August 2019 between the military and protesters created a joint civilian-military transitional ruling “sovereign council,” but the civilians are struggling to assert authority in the face of the military’s power.
Bensouda said she placed a courtesy call to Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok about the surrender of Kushayb, a senior Janjaweed commander, and was encouraged by their “open and helpful conversation.”
“I remain hopeful that a new chapter of constructive ICC-Sudan engagement rooted in mutual respect and a genuine commitment to bringing justice for the victims of heinous crimes committed in Darfur may be on the horizon,” she said, stressing that a dialogue between her office and the government “is imperative.“
Bensouda noted that al-Bashir is serving a two-year sentence for a conviction relating to financial corruption and that Sudan’s public prosecutor has also reportedly announced additional charges relating to the 1989 coup that brought him to power. She said she is also aware of recent reports that the government anti-corruption body recently confiscated assets valued at $4 billion from al-Bashir, his family and associates.
Bensouda said two other suspects sought by the ICC are reportedly in government custody awaiting charges by the public prosecutor, Abdel Raheem Hussein and Ahmad Harun. She expressed concern at reports that both suspects are ill with the COVID-19 virus, saying “I trust that adequate measures are being taken by the authorities to attend to their health in detention.”
The prosecutor stressed that the 2005 Security Council resolution that referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC and subsequent orders from ICC judges state that “Sudan remains under an international legal duty to surrender all the suspects subject to an ICC arrest warrant to the court without delay.”
Kushayb will be the first Darfur suspect to be tried at the court, and Bensouda thanked all parties involved in his surrender especially the governments of Central African Republic, Chad, France and the Netherlands and the U.N. mission in the Central African Republic.
“A window of opportunity has been opened,” Bensouda said. “We must collectively seize it. Let us work together to finally bring justice to the victims of Darfur.”
Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Omer Mohamed Siddig told the council the government read the ICC statement on the surrender of Kushayb, who fled Sudan and went into hiding in the Central African Republic. “Definitely, his trial will indeed be a remedy to the victims,” Siddig said.
But the ambassador gave no indication that the government will hand over the other suspects in its custody to the ICC, telling the council: “Al-Bashir and those implicated in Darfur crimes will face justice and be tried accordingly.”
After the meeting, the 10 Security Council members that are parties to the Rome Statute that established the ICC welcomed the surrender, arrest and transfer of Kushayb to the tribunal, calling it “very significant development to advance justice for the victims in Darfur.”
Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Tunisia and the United Kingdom also renewed their resolve “to stand united against impunity.”