The International Criminal Court has opened a new probe into alleged war crimes in Sudan, its chief prosecutor said Thursday, expressing major concern over escalating violence.
Karim Khan made the announcement in a report to the UN Security Council, after three months of war between feuding generals have plunged the northeast African country back into chaos.
The ICC has been investigating crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region since 2005 after a referral by the UN Security Council, and the Hague-based court has charged former leader Omar al-Bashir with offenses including genocide.
Allegations of atrocities have mounted during the recent fighting, with the top UN official in Sudan calling for the warring sides to face accountability.
Around 3,000 people have been killed and three million displaced since violence erupted between Sudan army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group.
The pair were key figures in a 2021 military coup that derailed the country’s transition to civilian rule, following the ousting and detention of Bashir in 2019.
The UN has warned of possible new massacres in Darfur, saying Thursday that the bodies of at least 87 people allegedly killed last month by the RSF and their allies had been buried in a mass grave in Darfur.
“The simple truth is that we are… in peril of allowing history to repeat itself — the same miserable history,” Khan told the UNSC.
“If this oft repeated phrase of ‘never again’ is to mean anything, it must mean something here and now to the people of Darfur that has lived with this uncertainty and pain and the scars of conflict for almost two decades,” Khan said as he announced the new probe.
He said there have been a “wide range of communications” about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity since fighting broke out in April, while the risk of further offenses was “deepened by the clear and long-standing disregard demonstrated by relevant actors, including the government of Sudan, for their obligations.”
Alleged sexual and gender based crimes were a focus of the new investigation, Khan said.
– ‘Affront to humanity’ –
The US State Department welcomed the new probe. “Let this be a message to all who commit atrocities, in Sudan and elsewhere, that such crimes are an affront to humanity,” spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
Even before the recent fighting broke out, Khan said in the report, there was a deterioration of Sudan’s cooperation with UN investigators.
Sudan’s UN ambassador denied this. “The government of Sudan has constantly cooperated with the ICC,” ambassador Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith Mohamed said.
The lack of justice for crimes in Darfur in the early 2000s, when Bashir set his Janjaweed militia upon non-Arab minorities, had “sown the seeds for this latest cycle of violence and suffering,” he added.
Bashir was charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape and torture and the court has been demanding his extradition to The Hague ever since, without success.
After Bashir was toppled in 2019, Khartoum announced it would hand him over to the court for prosecution, but this never happened.
Even before the recent fighting there was a “further deterioration in cooperation from Sudanese authorities,” Khan said.
Bashir, 79, as well as Ahmad Harun and Abdel Raheem Hussein, two leading figures in the former dictator’s government who are also wanted by the ICC, are still at large.
So far the only suspect to face trial for violence committed in Sudan is senior Janjaweed militia leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman, also known by the nom de guerre Ali Kushayb.
Rahman’s defense lawyers are expected to open their case next month, and Khan said the latest Sudan fighting “cannot be permitted to jeopardize” the trial.
The United Nations says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million people displaced in the 2003-4 Darfur conflict.
A summit of leaders from Sudan’s neighbors met in Cairo on Thursday, urging an end to the fighting, but gun battles, explosions and the roar of fighter jets again shook the capital Khartoum, residents told AFP.