After 20 months, more than 100 formal witness statements, and visits to 17 countries, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Tuesday indicted a high-ranking Sudanese interior minister and a janjaweed militia leader on 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the ongoing crisis in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
The naming of Ahmed Haroun, a former deputy interior minister, and a janjaweed leader known as Ali Kushayb, is considered a bold move for the young ICC and its chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Despite Sudan's rejection of the indictments, most experts hailed them as an international censure that could help end the four-year-old crisis that has killed more than 200,000 people, and displaced more than 2 million.
"The ICC did the right job at getting individuals who can be sacrificed by the Sudanese government, but who at the same time have a significant degree of culpability," says Alex de Waal, a Darfur expert and program director at the Social Science Research Council in New York.
Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo intrinsically linked the Sudanese government and the feared janjaweed arguing that after Mr. Haroun took charge of the Darfur security desk in April 2003, he oversaw the "staffing, funding, and arming of the [janjaweed]," which grew by 10,000 soldiers and conducted atrocities in Darfur under Haroun's direct authority.
Darfur is widely regarded as the highest profile case in international justice circles, and a possible turning point in efforts to establish a global criminal tribunal – though ICC investigations into Darfur have proceeded during the conflict, and without cooperation by Sudan.
The "Sudanese Armed Forces" conducted a systematic campaign of "underlying operational" support for the janjaweed, the indictment argues, saying that Haroun and Mr. Kushayb met frequently. Janjaweed militiamen told villagers they had the backing of the state, including "the power to kill or forgive." Haroun visited Darfur towns so often he was "known as 'the official' from Khartoum," in west Darfur, Moreno-Campo charged, saying Haroun provided funds from "an unlimited budget...that was not audited."