The first Darfur case ever to be reviewed by the International Criminal Court began its preliminary hearing today. The hearing will decide whether there is substantial evidence to have rebel leader Bahar Idriss Abu Garda stand trial. He is accused of planning an attack that killed 12 African Union peacekeepers in late 2007 and faces three counts of war crimes including murder, intentionally attacking peacekeepers, and pillaging.
In her opening statement, Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda argued that Abu Garda had directed the attack deliberately. “The attackers were fully aware of the protected status of the African Union camp and personnel. They were part of the agreement establishing the base. They had been there before. They knew the markings. There was no mistake,” she said.
Bensouda also claimed that the attack was politically motivated: “They needed equipment and recognition as a fully-fledged rebel force and an invitation to participate in the upcoming talk in Sirte, in Libya.”
Karim Khan, who is leading the defense team, believes that the prosecution does not have enough evidence for a trial. He said that their case “does not pass muster; it does not withstand scrutiny.”
The hearing will also be the first ICC case involving crimes against international peacekeepers, marking an important step for fulfilling international law that makes attacking non-combatant peace forces illegal. Said Bensouda, “Peacekeepers must be protected by more than just weapons and armor of war. They must be shielded by all the power of international law, including this court.”
While today’s hearing is step in the right direction for strengthening international law and justice, it would be dangerous to forget that bigger fish (namely, Sudan’s president) and bigger crimes in Darfur have yet to receive due legal recognition. After all, we have yet to see anyone be arrested, let alone stand trial, for the 300,000 people killed in the Khartoum-backed genocide in Darfur.
The Abu Grada hearing is expected to last two weeks, after which the court has 60 days to issue a written decision on whether to proceed with a trial. Stay tuned.
(HT to Bec Hamilton for finding these great audio clips.)