THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor on Tuesday linked Sudan’s government to atrocities in Darfur, naming a minister close to the president as a war crimes suspect who helped recruit, arm and bankroll the murderous desert fighters known as the janjaweed.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made the allegations against Ahmed Muhammed Harun, now junior minister for humanitarian affairs and formerly junior interior minister for the western region of Darfur. The prosecutor also named Ali Mohammed Ali Abd-al-Rahman, saying he was a janjaweed militia leader known as Ali Kushayb.
A 94-page prosecution document said the two are suspected of a total of 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Moreno-Ocampo said. All but 10 of the 51 counts name both men.
In Washington, a spokesman for the State Department said the United States fully supports “bringing to justice those responsible for crimes and atrocities that have occurred in Darfur.”
While the prosecution document is not an indictment, it does say there are reasonable grounds to believe the two “bear criminal responsibility” for offenses including murder, rape, torture and persecution.
They were the court’s first accusations against individuals for war crimes in the 4-year-old Darfur conflict that has claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people in a vast humanitarian disaster.
Human rights groups welcomed the move but urged action against more senior figures.
“Officials at the highest levels of the Sudanese government are responsible for widespread and systematic abuses in Darfur,” said Richard Dicker of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
The announcement for the first time unveiled details of a 21-month investigation into Darfur. Moreno-Ocampo indicated more allegations could be levied, and could take in violence spilling over into Chad and the Central African Republic.
“I am following the evidence,” he said.
Tuesday’s announcement was a key step toward putting the suspects on trial in The Hague. But the court, which has no police force, faces an uphill battle to get custody of them.
Sudan’s justice minister, Mohammed Ali al-Mardi, rejected the allegations and said his government would not hand the men over for trial.
“We are not concerned with, nor do we accept, what the International Criminal Court prosecutor has opted for,” al-Mardi said in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. He was quoted by the Sudanese news agency as saying Harun had been questioned and “it was clear … he was not involved” in any incident.
Fighting in Darfur erupted in February 2003 when ethnic African tribesmen took up arms, complaining of decades of neglect and discrimination by the Khartoum government.
Harun and Kushayb were part of a conspiracy to “persecute civilians they associated with rebels,” prosecutors said.
They cited a rape victim in the town of Arawala in December 2003 who described how Kushayb “personally inspected a group of naked women before they were raped by men under his command.”
In another incident, Kushayb allegedly “personally participated” in the summary execution of at least 32 men.
Their methods were “indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population, murder, rape, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, unlawful imprisonment, pillaging, forcible transfer and destruction of property,” Moreno-Ocampo said in the prosecution document.
Harun, who is in his early 40s, is a member of President Omar al-Bashir’s inner circle and is regarded as among the most energetic of the younger leaders in Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party.
Moreno-Ocampo said that during a public meeting, Harun boasted that his appointment to the Darfur Security Desk gave him “all the power and authority to kill or forgive whoever in Darfur, for the sake of peace and security.”
Harun is accused of overseeing and facilitating atrocities – ferrying arms and ammunition to the janjaweed and paying them from an “unlimited and not publicly audited” fund.