Another significant ruling regarding war crimes committed in Darfur was handed down by the International Criminal Court this week, on the heels of the court’s decision last week to reopen the possibility of charging Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with genocide.
International judges decided unanimously on Monday to dismiss charges against Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, a Darfur rebel leader charged with war crimes for his alleged involvement in a 2007 attack that killed 12 African Union peacekeepers in North Darfur. According to the ICC judges, the charge that Abu Garda was linked to the attack was unsubstantiated.
The Abu Garda case represented two firsts for the international court—it was the first Darfur case to progress to the point of confirming charges and the first instance in which an individual would have been held accountable for attacking peacekeepers, a war crime under international law. Of the four people wanted for crimes in Darfur, Abu Garda is the only defendant delivered to The Hague – and he willingly brought himself there last May. The case was momentous, viewed as a symbolic step toward accountability and justice for Darfur. Yet the Prosecution appeared to have dropped the ball at this early stage, failing to provide adequate evidence to substantiate the three charges for war crimes it felt Abu Garda had committed.
According to (legally-trained) blogger Bec Hamilton’s summary of the ICC decision, the court was convinced that the 2007 attack was a crime, but remained unconvinced that Abu Garda played a part in it. The judges found that the prosecution team, led by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, did not provide enough evidence demonstrating Abu Garda had either planned the attack, issued orders for the attack, or was directly involved in the attack.
Bec also made an astute point regarding the political ramifications of the ICC decision:
As a public relations matter this is a disastrous decision for the Court vis a vis the Sudanese government. Until today this case – the only one of the Darfur cases to date that has gone to the confirmation of charges stage – could be used by ICC advocates as the counter-argument to Khartoum’s propaganda about the ICC being a tool of western imperialism focused on attacking the Sudanese government. A case against a rebel showed even-handedness on the part of the Prosecution.
Whether justice will be done for the 12 peacekeepers is now in the hands of the Prosecution, who can present further evidence to the court. For the families of the peacekeepers and for the broader goal of holding people responsible for crimes in Darfur, let’s hope the prosecutors actually have a case.
Photo: Darfur rebel leader Bahar Idriss Abu Garda at the ICC