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Human rights groups say they hope the era of impunity is over for crimes committed in Darfur, Sudan. Today, the lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court presented evidence against a Sudanese government official and a militia leader, and accused them of working together to attack civilians in Darfur. Sudan immediately rejected the allegations and vowed not to hand over the two men.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo says he's trying to show how the system worked in Darfur. And to do that, he singled out two people: the former minister of state for the interior, Ahmad Haroun, and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb. The prosecutor formally asked the judges at the International Criminal Court today to issue arrest warrants, saying the two bear criminal responsibility in relation to 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Mr. LUIS MORENO OCAMPO (Lead Prosecutor, Darfur Case, International Criminal Court): Ali Kushayb and Ahmad Haroun are some of the most responsible for crimes committed in Darfur.
KELEMEN: The prosecutor gave reporters today some of the highlights of his nearly 100 pages of evidence. He accuses Haroun of delivering weapons and cash to the Janjaweed militia, which Sudan enlisted to quell an insurgency. Moreno Ocampo says the militia didn't fight rebels, but rather attacked civilians. And he described one instance in August 2003 when Haroun allegedly met with Ali Kushayb and then publicly incited the militia to go after the local ethnic group known as the Fur.
Mr. OCAMPO: He said that since the children of Fur have become rebels, all the Fur and what they had had become booty for the militias and Janjaweed.
KELEMEN: What followed, he said, is a brutal attack. Moreno Ocampo alleges that Ali Kushayb was personally involved in many other atrocities, including the execution of 32 men in one village, and in another, a case of mass rape.
Mr. OCAMPO: In Aguada, December 2003, the evidence show Ali Kushayb personally inspected a group of naked women before they were raped by men in military uniform.
KELEMEN: Sudan's justice minister said the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction in his country, and made clear Sudan won't hand over the two men. Haroun is still in government, a minister of state for humanitarian affairs. And Ali Kushayb has been in custody since November facing trial at home. Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch says Sudan hasn't tried anyone for serious crimes in Darfur, and that's one reason the ICC is stepping in.
Mr. RICHARD DICKER (Director, Human Rights Watch): There've been a few cases for theft of sheep and other minor property crimes. I'm hard-pressed to believe that the Sudanese authorities - with the spectacular failure to date to bring anybody to justice - is going to change overnight.
KELEMEN: Dicker says it won't be an easy task to bring these two people to justice. Still, he's encouraging the prosecutor to go further.
Mr. DICKER: It's imperative for the prosecutor to extend his neck higher up the chain of command in Khartoum.
KELEMEN: Investigating Darfur has been a big challenge, according to the lead attorney on the Darfur Case, Andrew Cayley. He told the Aspen Institute here in Washington that investigators didn't go to Darfur, because they couldn't protect witnesses there. Instead, they traveled around the world to speak to victims.
Mr. ANDREW CAYLEY (Lead Attorney, Darfur Case, International Criminal Court): We've also been operating in Chad, within the refugee community. That's been extremely difficult because we have to be very discreet. Other international organizations are working there. Obviously, one has to be discreet because of the difficulties that they operating there.
KELEMEN: The International Criminal Court is also looking into crimes in Chad and the Central African Republic, as the conflict in Western Sudan spills across borders.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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