The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Wednesday that he was opening new investigations in Darfur, one targeting Sudanese government officials for alleged violence against civilians in displacement camps and the other against those who have attacked aid workers and U.N. peacekeepers.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina also said that he would seek to hold senior Sudanese officials accountable for protecting two suspects indicted by the ICC this year.
The prosecutor said he hoped the inquiries would pressure Sudan’s leaders and play off diplomats’ frustration over their stonewalling. The investigations also put rebel groups on notice that their actions are being scrutinized, he said.
When Moreno-Ocampo announced his first two arrest warrants in June, United Nations officials and diplomats were reluctant to press the government in Khartoum to hand over the suspects, fearing it would upset negotiations over a peacekeeping force and talks for the troubled Darfur region.
But since then, Ahmad Harun, one of those indicted, has been promoted to coordinate aid and oversee peacekeepers for the displaced people in Darfur he is charged with helping uproot.
The ICC charged the other suspect, militia leader Ali Mohammed Ali Abdalrahman, better known as Kushayb, with leading mass attacks in Darfur on Harun’s orders. He was freed after a brief detention.
Since June, Khartoum has raised obstacles on the deployment of peacekeepers and access for aid workers, as well as cooperation with the ICC.
“The secretary-general and the Security Council have seen that trading peace for justice has not gained them much,” said Richard Dicker of New York-based Human Rights Watch. “Today, there is rising pressure on Sudan to arrest and surrender these guys, or the ICC will go after them too.”
Moreno-Ocampo has said his strategy in indicting two mid-level figures was to demonstrate the connection between the government and militias in systematic attacks meant to eliminate support for Darfur’s rebel groups. In 2003 and 2004, the ICC warrants allege, Harun and Kushayb coordinated attacks that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and forced about 2.5 million from their homes.
Moreno-Ocampo said that Harun was still involved in a campaign of harassment and violence against Darfurians in displacement camps to keep them from organizing politically and reclaiming their homes and land.
The new investigations are aimed at all those committing crimes against humanity, including rebels and Sudanese leaders who support Harun, Moreno-Ocampo said.
Sudan’s U.N. ambassador said that the prosecutor had politicized the international court and that his actions jeopardized the prospects for Darfur peace. “We are not going to surrender our people to the court. We don’t recognize it. Our own justice system will deal with them,” said Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem.
The ICC has no power to execute arrest warrants and must rely on governments to surrender suspects. Moreno-Ocampo asked the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to send “a strong and unanimous message” to Khartoum. That probably would take the form of a council statement with no teeth, though British Ambassador John Sawers said sanctions were possible if Khartoum remained defiant.
Moreno-Ocampo said that he was sure that slowly shifting political sands would result in the suspects ending up on trial.