An Important Breakthrough in the Long-Awaited Justice for Darfur Genocide Victims

On Saturday, October 17, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC),  Fatou Bensouda, and her team paid a historic visit to Sudan and met with various members of the interim government of Sudan to discuss possible collaboration on the way forward for the case of Darfur.

Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG) welcomes this important development in  ICC  relations with  Sudan and applauds the persistent  work of their office  to create this breakthrough. DWAG also expresses support of Prosecutor Bensouda’s  demands that former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir must face immediate justice for his alleged war crimes and genocide in Darfur. We further call on all international actors working in the ongoing peace process to continue to expose al-Bashir’s crimes and hold leaders accountable for delaying to bring him and others responsible for the genocide in Darfur to justice.

Prosecutor Bensouda arrived in Sudan last Saturday to commence several days of discussions about bringing three internationally wanted individuals, al-Bashir and two other former officials, to trial for accusations of war crimes and genocide in Darfur. This trip was significant because it was the first visit to Sudan in over a decade and first time that an ICC delegation had visited Sudan since al-Bashir was overthrown last year.

On Sunday, October 18, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdock, Cabinet Affairs Minister Ambassador Omer Manis, and Justice Minister Dr. Nasr-Eddin Abdel-Bari met in-person with  Prosecutor Bensouda. Prime Minister Hamdock announced that his transitional government was committed to bringing justice to those responsible for the genocide in Darfur, not only because justice is central to the international obligations of his transitional government, but it is also a reflection of Sudanese popular demand. On Monday, October 19, 2020, Prosecutor Bensouda separately met with Sovereign Council Deputy Chairman and RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan and member of the Sovereign Council Mohamed El Taayshi.

Following these meetings with senior officials in Sudan’s transitional government and civil society organizations, Bensouda expressed on Tuesday, October 20, that she “welcomed the assurances of support and cooperation” by these authorities. The productive discussions about cooperation between her and officials on long overdue legal accountability for war crimes encouraged both the ICC and international community seeking to finally bring al-Bashir to justice.

The ICC first opened an investigation into the conflict in Darfur back in 2005, following a referral by the United Nations Security Council. In March 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrent for al-Bashir on 7 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, which was extended in July 2010 to include 3 additional counts for of genocide waged against the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa tribes. As President of Sudan in 2003, Bashir ordered the Sudanese Armed Forces and allied janjaweed milita to commit genocide against the indigenous African populations in Darfur. Rape was strategically used as a weapon of genocide, disproportionately against Darfuri women but also against boys and men.

Last April 2019, Bashir was finally ousted from power, following months of mass protests in the Sudanese capital city, Khartoum. The end of his rule, which had begun in 1989, was initially celebrated by the international community. Yet immediate concerns began to be raised over many officials from his government, themselves accused of commiting war crimes and genocide in Darfur, being included in the new transitional government.

It is now 2020, 11 years after the ICC first indicted al-Bashir, and he has yet to be handed over to The Hague. To date, more than 4.7 million people have been impacted by the genocide in Darfur and over 3 million have been displaced, many of which are currently living in IDP camps. Violent conflict still erupts in Darfur to this day, often in the form of sexual and gender-based violence against women, which is also being fueld by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We at DWAG believe that the genocide in Darfur cannot go unpunished. Perpetrators of crimes against humanity must be held accountable and brought to justice. DWAG calls on the Sudanese transitional government to cooperate with the ICC so al-Bashir can finally be brought to justice for his heinous crimes in Darfur. DWAG urges the international community and regional actors to increase their support to the ICC to continue investigating and exposing  the systematic attacks against the Darfur people, carried out by al-Bashir’s government military and the janjaweed.

DWAG would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to our partners, supporters and allies who have tirelessly supported our quest for justice. While this visit is only one step forward out of many necessary for justice and peace, this great step would not have been possible without your dedicated efforts to making accountability a priority in Sudan.  This development is an  assurance to those of you who believe in justice and that change will only take place if we demand it. Therefore, we commend your courage to stand by our side to advance our effort, and we assure you that your voices matter. We further call  on you to join us in speaking up  to make our voice louder and to hold our leaders accountable until justice for genocide crimes  take its course in Darfur, Sudan at large, and elsewhere in the world.