By Stephanie van den Berg
THEHAGUE (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Monday accused a man of being a “feared and revered” militia leader behind a campaign of deadly raids in Sudan’s Darfur conflict, in the build up to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) first trial linked to the violence.
The war crimes prosecutors said Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman was also known as Ali Kushayb, a senior commander of thousands of pro-government “Janjaweed” fighters during the height of the conflict between 2003 and 2004.
Abd-Al-Rahman, wearing a face mask and a dark suit, did not speak as a court officer read out 31 charges against him including persecution, murder, torture and rape.
He has yet to make a plea, though his defence team has argued in earlier legal filings that Abd-Al-Rahman is not the man known as Ali Kushayb, among other arguments.
Chief ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the confirmation of charges hearing she would show that Abd-Al-Rahman had led attacks on towns and villages and was implicated in more than 300 murders and raids that forced 40,000 mainly ethnic Fur civilians from their homes.
“The evidence shows that Mr Abd-Al-Rahman was a knowing, willing and energetic perpetrator of these crimes,” she told the hearing.
“Feared and revered in equal measure as the ‘colonel of colonels’, he was a senior leader of the infamous Janjaweed militia in the Wadi Salih and Mukjar localities during the charged period,” she added.
Darfur’s conflict erupted in 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government, accusing it of neglecting the arid, western region.
Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias to crush the revolt, unleashing a wave of violence that Washington and some activists said amounted to genocide.
Abd-Al-Rahman, who surrendered in June last year to face an outstanding arrest warrant, is the first suspect to be tried at the international tribunal over the conflict.
Sudan’s former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is facing ICC charges of orchestrating genocide and other atrocities in Darfur, was deposed in 2019 and remains in prison in Khartoum.
Sudan is not a state party to the court but the situation in Darfur was referred to the Hague-based court by the United Nations Security Council in 2005.
Defence lawyer Cyril Laucci said he intends to contest the ICC‘s jurisdiction over crimes committed in Darfur because of issues with the UN referral.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Andrew Heavens)