Global Policy Forum

War Crimes Suspect Has Free Rein in Sudan


By Maggie Farley

Los Angeles Times
August 5, 2007

For a man accused of masterminding massacres, Ahmad Harun seems quite comfortable in the place he allegedly helped destroy. He strolls around the grassy compound belonging to the local governor in Sudan's deeply troubled Darfur region, embracing tribal leaders, soldiers and officials who have come to hear the president. Harun, a tall 42-year-old with high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes, was in charge of the region's security during the height of the violent attacks on farm villages that caused millions to flee their homes in 2003 and 2004. He allegedly recruited, funded and armed local militias to root out rebels who had attacked the Sudanese army, sweeping away their home villages, families and the intricate fabric of Darfur's identity along the way.

He publicly relished his command, telling an open meeting of hundreds of officials, tribesmen and soldiers in West Darfur in July 2003, "I have the power and the authority to kill or forgive whoever in Darfur." The rebels are like fish, Harun told a Sudanese committee that was investigating alleged war crimes in 2004, and "the villages are like water to fish." The objective, he suggested, was to eliminate the water that harbored the fish. And yet, on this day three years later, Harun glides unapologetic through the parched remains of Darfur. In fact, he is the state minister for humanitarian affairs in charge of caring for the very people he is accused of displacing. That he holds such a post says much about the limits of international power to cope with the festering crisis.

A Powerless Court

In May, The Hague, Netherlands-based International Criminal Court charged Harun and Arab militia leader Ali Mohammad Ali Abdalrahman with war crimes and crimes against humanity. But Sudan has rejected the arrest warrants, saying the country is not a signatory to the court and the charges against Harun are untrue. Instead of being behind bars, as the court asked, Harun has the power to decide who lives and dies in Darfur. And without Sudan's cooperation, there is almost nothing the court can do to bring him to justice.

"It is absolutely unacceptable," said chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, whose team carefully built the case through interviews with refugees, tribal leaders, Harun's colleagues and enemies. "Harun has to be removed from office, arrested and sent to the court," Moreno-Ocampo says in an interview. "Allowing him to be the humanitarian minister is like putting the fox in front of the chickens." Experts say that asking the government to hand him over would be asking it to indict itself. And charging the people with the true responsibility for Darfur means targeting the only ones able to guarantee peace: the president and vice president. "Harun has been interrogated about the allegations and there is no case," says Interior Minister Zubeir Bashir Taha, a senior Cabinet minister who also oversees Darfur. "The evidence does not stand scrutiny, and whether it does or not, it is a matter for Sudan to decide and act upon. The prosecutor has no jurisdiction here. He is an intruder."

UN Move Unlikely

The court must rely on the government of Sudan to surrender Harun unless the Security Council orders United Nations officials to arrest him - a move likely to get UN peacekeepers and aid workers tossed out of the country. Further, Moreno-Ocampo's desire for swift justice competes with the aims of other UN bodies trying to bring peace to Darfur. The Security Council can demand that Khartoum, the capital, make arrests or face sanctions, but it also is trying to gain the government's acceptance of a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force for Darfur as well as its cooperation in peace talks.

The choice does not have to be peace or justice. The two feed each other - but perhaps the most effective tool is time, Moreno-Ocampo says. He has translated the indictment into a booklet in Arabic to take along to neighboring countries as he explains the court and drums up support to keep an eye on Harun. Sooner or later, he said, circumstances will change or Harun will make a misstep. "I don't know if it will take months or years, but Harun's destiny is the court," he said.

That's not Harun's view. He wears his knowledge of the court's impotence like armor. "Who gave the ICC this right?" he asked. "It is a matter of politics. It is not an issue of justice." He denies allegations that he worked with the militias known as janjaweed to attack civilian villages and says he would never go to The Hague to answer the charges. "We are not signatories [to the court]" and neither is the United States," he said, gibing an American reporter. "When you sign, we are going to follow. You go first," he said with a high-pitched guffaw.

Harun faces 42 counts of individual criminal responsibility including murder, rape, persecution and forcible transfer of population. Abdalrahman is charged with 50 counts, heightened by his personal participation in attacks and murders. Moreno-Ocampo deliberately chose the two to illuminate how he believes the government worked hand-in-hand with militias to commit massive crimes against civilians who were not involved in the conflict.

Safe At Home

Although the court must rely on Sudan to hand the men over, if either steps foot across the country's border, any police officer or Interpol official can nab him. Harun was having medical treatment in Jordan when the court first named him as a key suspect, causing him to scurry home to safety. For Harun, the time for talking about the international court is over. Instead, he says, he wants to talk about the government's humanitarian work in Darfur. "The situation in general, based on humanitarian indicators, is good," he said. "There is full humanitarian access; the fast-track systems are functioning." When asked if he felt a special responsibility for the people in the camps, a slow smile spreads over his face. "They are our people," he said with a grand gesture toward the ruined land, "and we are taking care of them."

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the ICC Investigations in Darfur
More Information on International Criminal Court Investigations
More Information on the International Criminal Court
More Information on Sudan


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.