About 30 Sudanese citizens living in Europe demonstrated Friday outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, demanding that Sudanese officials surrender more individuals accused of committing atrocities in Darfur.
The ICC’s trial of suspected Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb got underway this week, with Kushayb pleading not guilty to 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, torture, pillaging and murder.
Darfur human rights activist Amaat Sefeldin, who traveled from Germany to The Hague to attend the protest, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that she wanted Sudanese officials to turn over former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was in power during the campaign that killed more than 200,000 people in Darfur nearly 20 years ago.
“We are demanding the handover of all criminals, especially Bashir, the president, and Abel-Raheem Muhammad Hussein, and Ahmad Muhammad Harun and others," she told VOA. "And we would also demand for the court to try the other criminals, because the genocide in Darfur and the crimes committed in Sudan are not done by those few people. It’s a long list of people who committed crimes. They have committed war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur since 2003.”
In 2012, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, former minister of defense and Bashir’s special representative in Darfur. In 2007, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Ahmad Muhammad Harun, former Sudan minister of state for the interior.
The protesters praised the ICC for putting Kushayb on trial. It's the first trial for anyone accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the Darfur conflict, which began in 2003 with a rebellion by armed groups against Bashir’s government.
Kushayb was a reputed leader of pro-government Janjaweed militia members who attacked and burned numerous villages in Darfur as part of attempts to crush the rebel groups.
Call for others' trials
“Sudanese are in support of the trial and accountability for crimes committed in Darfur, but in general for crimes committed in Sudan," said another protester, Neimat Ahmadi, president of the Darfur Women Action Group. "They also want to raise concern about the ongoing violence against protesters and the escalation of violence in areas like Darfur, South Kordofan, the Blue Nile.”
"Our message is also to the international community that it is important to try Kushayb, but it is more important to pursue others who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court and be brought to face the court,” Neimat told VOA.
Maisa Altayib, a member of the Sudanese diaspora who also attended the protest, said she wanted to see the “real criminals” brought to justice in The Hague.
"Not only Kushayb — he only executed orders given to him. The real criminals are in Khartoum and we will not be satisfied until they are brought here to the ICC. So Kushayb is only the beginning of achieving justice,” Altayib told VOA.
South Darfur-based human rights lawyer Abdulbasit Al Haj said the Kushayb trial should lead prosecutors to more evidence of crimes committed by former officials.
“This trial also should identify individuals who have been involved in funding and supplying the Janjaweed militia with the logistic process in Darfur," Al Haj told South Sudan in Focus, adding “they are crimes that have touched the humanity around the world."
However, another Sudanese human rights expert, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals from security operatives, said she did not think the government was willing to hand over others accused of war crimes because they include current top officials who took power in last year’s military coup.
"I don't think they will hand them [over]," the expert said. "I don't think they will hand [over] anyone. Now, after the coup that took place, I don't see it happening at all."
Army ties seen protecting Bashir
Sudanese political analyst and researcher Jihad Mashamoun told South Sudan in Focus he believed military leaders running Sudan would never turn over Bashir.
"I doubt it,” he said. “Omar Bashir, he hails from the army, so handing him over to a foreign judiciary, that tarnishes the image or integrity of the armed forces.”
The ICC indicted Bashir in 2009 over alleged atrocities committed by his government. He remains imprisoned in Khartoum after being found guilty on corruption charges.
The U.S. State Department also praised the opening of Kushayb’s ICC trial, noting it was the first against “any senior leader for crimes committed by the Bashir regime and government-supported forces following the genocide and other atrocities in Darfur.” The statement added, “This trial is a signal to those responsible for human rights violations and abuses in Darfur that impunity will not last in the face of the determination for justice to prevail.”
Carol Van Dam contributed to this report, which originated in VOA’s English to Africa Service.