Suspects sought by war crimes court are all Africans

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 4, 2009 

NAIROBI, Kenya — Sudanese President Omar al Bashir is the 12th and highest profile suspect sought by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes — all of them Africans.

The seven-year-old court previously opened cases against a Sudanese official and a militia leader for crimes in the Darfur region, and against rebel leaders accused in long-running conflicts in Congo, Uganda and the Central African Republic.

The world's only standing war crimes court, based at The Hague, has been criticized for pursuing only African suspects to this point. Rwandan President Paul Kagame — whose central African nation isn't a party to the court — has described it as a new form of Western imperialism.

In Uganda, Congo and Central African Republic, however, governments invited the court to intervene because their judiciaries lacked the capacity to prosecute cases. In Sudan, which also isn't a party the court, the United Nations Security Council asked the court to investigate crimes in Darfur because Sudanese authorities appeared unwilling to do so.

The other cases currently open are:

  • Sudan: Ahmad Harun, the humanitarian affairs minister, and Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Arab "janjaweed" militias, are accused of war crimes committed in Darfur in 2003 and 2004. Both suspects remain at large in Sudan.
  • Congo: Three rebel leaders from Congo's 1998-2004 civil war are in custody and one is at large. In the court's first trial, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo pleaded not guilty in January to using child soldiers in combat. The landmark case had a rocky start, however, when the prosecution's first witness, a former child soldier, recanted testimony about being recruited by Dyilo's army, saying he'd been coached by a humanitarian group.
  • Uganda: Leaders of the cultlike Lord's Resistance Army were targets of the first arrest warrants unsealed by the court, in 2005. At least one suspect is believed dead; four others are at large. Their leader, Joseph Kony, is hiding in the forests of southern Sudan and northern Congo, and critics of the court argue that the warrant is keeping Kony from turning himself in.
  • Central African Republic: Jean-Pierre Bemba, a Congolese rebel leader and runner-up in the country's 2006 presidential election, is awaiting trial on charges of ordering mass rape, torture and other abuses in neighboring C.A.R. He was arrested by Belgian authorities in May and handed over to the court.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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