In The Hague today, Darfurian rebel leader Bahr Idriss Abu Garda became the first person to to appear before the ICC for crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Abu Garda, who surrendered himself to authorities in The Hague over the weekand, is one of three rebels accused of killing African Union peacekeepers in 2007, in what AU officials said was the bloodiest attack on peacekeepers since the Darfur crisis began in 2003. Twelve peacekeepers were killed and eight severely wounded in the assault on the AU’s Haskanita camp in September 2007.
Abu Garda denies the allegations and explained his willingness to appear before the court by saying: "I will go, no problem. I know I was not involved.”
Tadjadine Niam, a member of the Darfurian delegation traveling with Abu Garda, sought to highlight the principle behind today’s proceeding, noting the stark contrast between Abu Garda’s response to the ICC’s warrant and that of Sudanese leaders such as President Omar al-Bashir. Speaking to the New York Times, Naim said: “We want to set an example to the Sudanese leadership and others accused in Sudan. We believe the court is independent and impartial. Let the others also come to the court.”
In a far-from-surprising official reaction, the Sudanese government said that it is “sticking to its position” that no Sudanese person should appear before the international court, stating that the Sudanese judicial system can handle all crimes related to Darfur. In addition to the president, two other senior Sudanese officials stand accused by the ICC for crimes in Darfur, including Ahmed Haroun, who was recent promoted from the ministry of humanitarian affairs to the post of governor of the critical state of South Kordofan.
Commenting about the news, Enough co-Founder John Prendergast said:
Bahr Idriss Abu Garda’s court appearance today proves the point that ICC Prosecutor Ocampo is pursuing justice for war crimes no matter who is the perpetrator. All those who said he had a vendetta against the Government of Sudan should rethink their position. And credit goes to the rebel leader for showing up; Bashir should do the same. International actors who support the ICC’s move to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir should pour on the pressure to see that justice is done for all those responsible for war crimes in Sudan.