Global Policy Forum

Sudan Rejects ICC Extradition Calls


By Mark Oliver

June 29, 2005

Sudan confirmed its unwillingness to cooperate with the international criminal court yesterday when a Sudanese minister rejected calls to extradite suspects accused of crimes in Darfur. The justice minister, Ali Mohammed Osman Yassin, told BBC radio that 10 suspects, most of them accused of rape, were already on trial in Sudan, repeating Khartoum's line that suspects would be dealt with domestically. "We are very transparent, we are cooperative, and we would like to use all the rational logic to convince the ICC that this matter can be retained locally," Mr Yassin told the BBC World Service's Newshour programme.

The minister spoke after the ICC's lead prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, had given a brief outline to the UN security council of his plans to pursue war crimes suspects from the Darfur crisis. The prosecutor accused Sudan's government of failing to take action. A UN commission concluded in January that crimes against humanity had occurred in the Darfur region and recommended suspects be tried by the ICC, which is based in The Hague. A list of 51 potential suspects was drawn up, including army and government officials.

Since then, Sudan has established a new domestic court that it says will try 160 suspects. Human rights groups said the move fitted a pattern of trying to repel efforts by the ICC, which has been created to try war crimes suspects when courts in a particular country are unable or unwilling to do so. Earlier this week, Sudan sent a letter to the Security Council promoting its new domestic court. Legal experts said the moves by Khartoum made it unlikely that the ICC would end up prosecuting any more than half a dozen of the most senior suspects. Sudan's UN ambassador, Elfatih Mohamed Erwa, said yesterday that his government believes that the new Sudanese court will be able to handle the bulk of the cases. "We are doing our work and we believe in Sudan that we should end impunity and we believe that any people who committed atrocities should be brought to justice," he said.

The ICC has also had problems establishing itself because of opposition from the US, which fears what it describes as "frivolous" prosecutions of its citizens. However, the US relented in referring the Sudan case after coming under heavy pressure from France and the court's other supporters.

At least 180,000 people have died in Darfur - many from hunger and disease - and two million have been displaced during violence that began in 2003. The crisis began when rebels took up arms because of what they considered to be years of state neglect and discrimination against Sudanese people of African origin. The Khartoum government is accused of responding with a scorched earth counterinsurgency campaign using Arab militia as its proxies.

Mr Ocampo gave few details of the ICC's plans in his presentation to the Security Council but he did indicate the types of crimes he will pursue. They include the killings of thousands of civilians, widespread rape and attacks on humanitarian workers. Mr Ocampo said that although work had only just begun, the tribunal had already collected some 3,000 documents and interviewed more than 50 people. He said he had made no specific requests for assistance from Sudan, but had held two meetings with Sudanese government officials in the Netherlands. Speaking to reporters after the UN meeting, Mr Ocampo said Sudan's cooperation would be vital in progressing prosecutions and providing security. "Security is the first big issue and of course we will need cooperation from Sudanese authorities and the African Union to ensure security on the ground," Mr Ocampo said.

Richard Dicker of New York-based Human Rights Watch criticised the Sudanese government's position on the ICC. "What we've seen again and again on the part of the authorities in Khartoum is stall, delay, while all the while at the same time making it seem as if they are willing to co-operate," he said.

Britain's UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, said a domestic court to handle minor offences was fine but the ICC was the only body that could tackle the more significant cases. "The reason the ICC is there is because no one has confidence - victims or even other people in Sudan or certainly the international community - that any local court would be prepared to deliver justice."

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