Apr 5, 2022 - World

First Darfur war crimes trial at ICC gets underway

Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, commonly known as Ali Kushayb attends his trial on war crimes case from Sudanâs Darfur in The Hague, Sudan on May 24, 2021

Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman attends a hearing at The Hague on May 24, 2021. Photo: International Criminal Court (ICC)/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

An alleged leader of the Sudan's janjaweed militia pleaded not guilty Tuesday to more than 30 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and murder, related to the conflict in Darfur.

The big picture: Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, 72, also known as Ali Kushayb, is first person to be tried at the ICC over the atrocities documented in Darfur.

Driving the news: According to prosecutors, Abd-Al-Rahman directed brutal attacks against Darfur's civilian population during the worst of the fighting between 2003 and 2004.

  • Abd-Al-Rahman worked as the key liaison between the Sudanese government and janjaweed, prosecutors said.
  • More than 200,000 people were killed and millions were displaced during the Sudanese government-led campaign against rebel groups in the remote western region of Sudan, according to the United Nations.

What they're saying: Abd-Al-Rahman's lawyers have denied their client is the former janjaweed leader, per the New York Times.

  • “I am innocent of all of these charges,” Abd-Al-Rahman said Tuesday at the start of the trial. He voluntarily surrendered in June 2020 — nearly 13 years after the first warrant for his arrest was issued.
  • ICC prosecutors said Tuesday they have evidence, including witness statements, that the man in custody is indeed the person who played a major role in the atrocities committed in Darfur.

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan called Tuesday a "momentous day" for victims who have waited nearly two decades for justice.

  • "This is an iftar of sorts for the millions who have been waiting for this day to come," Khan said, referring to the time Muslims break their fast during Ramadan.

State of play: Human rights groups have continued to document "serious crimes" in Darfur since the worst of the fighting nearly two decades ago.

  • While a ceasefire in 2017 led to some respite, "abuses again intensified in 2019, largely by local armed groups, in some cases implicating state security forces, in the wake of the withdrawal of a hybrid UN/AU peacekeeping force and again with the October 2021 coup," according to Human Rights Watch.
  • Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has also been charged with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in connection to the atrocities in Darfur. Bashir, who has been wanted by the ICC for more than a decade, has been in a Khartoum prison since he was ousted from power in 2019, per AP.

What's next: The first expert witness in Abd-Al-Rahman's trial is expected to begin testimony on Wednesday.

Go deeper: What counts as a war crime and why they're so hard to prosecute

Go deeper