Sudan's minister for humanitarian affairs points his finger at rebel groups and western imperialists
MAN BLAMED FOR DARFUR SAYS I AM AT PEACE WITH MYSELF
December 04, 2008 (The Guardian) report by Simon Tisdall in Khartoum, Sudan:
The man accused by the international criminal court of planning, organising and directing an orgy of violence against civilians in Darfur that left up to 200,000 people dead and 2.5 million homeless has angrily protested his innocence, calling the allegations part of a political plot by the western powers to recolonise Sudan.- - -
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Ahmad Muhammad Harun, Sudan's minister of state for humanitarian affairs, said he defied the ICC and the international community to do their worst and vowed never to give himself up to the tribunal.
Harun claimed the evidence against him was concocted and unreliable. And he described the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, as a disgrace to the legal profession who should be sacked. "My conscience is clear. I have no regrets," Harun said. "What I have done was legal, it was my responsibility, it was my duty. I am content. I am at peace with myself."
The ICC has charged Harun, in his former capacity as Sudan's minister of state for the interior, with 42 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Darfur in the period from August 2003 to March 2004.
The eight-month period witnessed a peak in fighting between rebel and pro-government forces. The large-scale civilian casualties, gross human rights abuses and mass displacement later caused the US government to accuse Sudan's political leadership of genocide and led to UN and EU sanctions against Sudan.
The Darfur carnage caused international outrage that has yet to abate as the violence there continues, albeit at a reduced level. Numerous efforts to forge a lasting peace agreement during the past five years have foundered while hundreds of thousands of people remain in refugee camps. Meanwhile, human rights and advocacy groups have added their voices to calls for Harun and other alleged war criminals on both sides to be prosecuted.
But Sudan is not a party to the ICC. It has so far ignored UN security council demands that it cooperate with the court and surrender Harun and his co-accused, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman, an alleged Janjaweed leader also known as Ali Kushayb.
ICC judges are currently considering a request by Moreno-Ocampo for an arrest warrant for Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity also relating to events in Darfur.
Speaking in his ministry's smart new offices in Khartoum, Harun said the ICC was in effect conducting a political vendetta against Sudan that had little or nothing to do with justice.
Relaxed and confident
Throughout the interview, Harun, a tall 43-year-old dressed in a smart charcoal suit and open-necked shirt, appeared mostly relaxed and confident. Occasionally his eyes flashed with anger as he discussed the accusations against him.
"We believe the ICC has digressed from its main objective and become part of the international political conflict. It is another phase of international colonisation. It targets mainly the Africans. It reminds us of the 19th century when the white people were dominating here in Africa.
"The main aim of the white people in Africa at that time, the British and the Europeans, was to disseminate their culture and their traditions. Under the flag of attractive slogans, so many things happened. Now there is a new imperial era but this time it is led by the United States and supported by the Europeans."
Harun, a trained lawyer from the Bargo tribe in western Sudan and a former judge, argued that UN security council resolution 1593 that referred Darfur to the ICC in 2005 was discriminatory because it exempted citizens of the US, which like Sudan is not a party to the ICC's founding treaty, from action by the court. For this reason, the ICC prosecutor was ignoring the "first principle" of equality before the law.
"This is a discriminatory prosecution. It is also discriminatory because the ICC is targeting only African countries," Harun said. "Also, any serious investigation should begin on the ground, in theatre, in Darfur. And witnesses who are part of the problem should not be taken into consideration. They are not reliable sources."
Suggesting the ICC investigation was superfluous as well as politically motivated, Harun said a national investigation committee created by Bashir had examined many senior officials over their roles in Darfur. "I was one of them. I gave answers to all their questions. No action was taken. There was no evidence, so there was no reason to take action."
Harun added that any future move to indict Bashir, or any backroom deal in which he himself might be handed over to the ICC in return for Bashir being granted immunity, would only prove his contention that the ICC proceedings were political. In such circumstances, he said, he would never voluntarily surrender himself. And nor was he prepared to meet Moreno-Ocampo if the latter came to Khartoum.
"The prosecutor has brought his profession into disrespect. He is not welcome in Sudan ... He should be replaced. This is what we are requesting. I add my voice to the voices of the international society because he is insulting the profession of justice and insulting African countries."
Asked to explain his actions in Darfur in 2003-4, Harun said he had faced an internal, essentially local conflict between Darfurian tribes that quickly transformed into a political conflict with encouragement from forces outside the province.
Rebel leaders Minni Minnawi, Abd al-Wahid Muhammad Nur, and Abdallah Abbakar initially called themselves the Darfur Liberation Movement, he said. But this later became the Sudan Liberation Movement as external actors got involved.
The Darfur rebellion, also fuelled by Khalil Ibrahim's opposition-backed Justice and Equality Movement, threatened the stability of the Sudanese state as a whole, for example by undermining the 2005 North-South comprehensive peace agreement which was then nearing fruition, Harun said. The government had no choice but to act.
"The policy and tactics of the government, like any other government when things like this are happening, is to begin by mobilising.
"We have a security reserve force - the Popular Defence Forces - to respond to those attacks, a paramilitary force. Some people call the PDF by different names, some call it militia, others are calling it Janjaweed. But it is a formal force and it works under the directions of the army."
Unable to match pro-government forces militarily, the rebels changed tactics and created a humanitarian crisis in Darfur to attract international attention and intervention, he said.
"They started putting pressure on civilians to move out of villages, they killed their children, women they abducted, they destroyed the infrastructure and means of people's livelihood, and caused the mass migration of people into refugee camps."
In other words, he suggested, it was the rebel groups that were responsible for the civilian massacres, atrocities and mass displacements in 2003-4, not himself or the government. Sudan's government in any case disputes the UN's casualty estimates, claiming only about 10,000 people died.
Reports that he boasted in a 2003 speech that he had "the power and the authority to kill or forgive whoever in Darfur" were fabricated, Harun added. And he insisted his 2004 description of the rebels as "fish" who needed the "water" of the villages to survive (thereby allegedly justifying the destruction of villages) was a distortion of his meaning.
People in Darfur knew the truth, he said, which was why he was still welcome there. "I move freely in Darfur. I have strong support. I am popular in Darfur because they know who protected them."
Leaning back in a well-padded armchair with a broad smile on his face, Harun said he was a religious man who had done nothing to offend against God. But he did not claim to have a close relationship with the Almighty.
"I am not like George Bush. I do not talk to God. In Islam, we believe Muhammad was the last prophet. Since Muhammad, no one can talk to God."
As for the future, he suggested relations between Sudan and the international community would deteriorate further if the ICC persisted with its present course. A total breach with the UN was not out of the question.
Harun's openly defiant stance underlines how difficult it may be to bring justice to Darfur while avoiding an open confrontation with Sudan and, at one remove, its African Union and Arab League allies. If allowed to continue unanswered, it also threatens the credibility of the ICC.
"We don't expect anything good from the ICC. But for every action, there will be a response," Harun said. "The ICC will do whatever they want. We will wait and see what they do. We will defend our country as best we can to the best of our ability, according to our opinions."
The international criminal court was established in 2002 as an independent tribunal to try individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It was designed to complement national legal systems, stepping in when a country appeared unable or unwilling to prosecute. More than 100 countries are members.
Atrocities committed by rebel commanders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda prompted the opening of the first cases in 2004. Investigations into abuses in Sudan's Darfur region began a year later.
In February 2007, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced that Sudanese minister Ahmad Harun and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb were suspected of committing crimes against humanity. The indictment and warrant for their arrests, dated April 2007, specifically accuses Harun of targeting the ethnic African Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit tribes by employing elements of the Sudanese armed forces and Popular Defence Forces paramilitaries, and by "recruiting, arming and funding" irregular Arab militias known as Janjaweed
According to the court, pro-government forces over which Harun exercised command launched a campaign of terror that included "murders of civilians, rapes and outrages upon the personal dignity of women and girls ... and destruction of property and pillaging of towns".
The indictment claims that the campaign was of a "systematic and widespread nature" conducted "over an extensive period of time... in furtherance of a state or organisational policy consisting in attacking the civilian population".
It goes on: "Ahmad Harun intentionally contributed to the commission of the above-mentioned crimes ... In his public speeches, Harun not only demonstrated he knew the militia/Janjaweed were attacking civilians and pillaging towns and villages but also personally encouraged the commission of such illegal acts."
SUDAN MINISTER: ICC CASE A PLOT
December 04, 2008 BBC report - excerpt:
Following his appearance at the 15-member UN Security Council on Wednesday, ICC Prosecutor Mr Moreno-Ocampo told the BBC's Network Africa programme: "I briefed them about the importance that the Council could not be part of the cover-up of the crimes. "Because [President] Bashir's responsibility is not just ordering committing the crimes, he's also providing the cover-up."- - -
Photo: Ahmed Haroun said his conscience was clear over Darfur
ICC website www.icc - Warrants of Arrest for the Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs of Sudan, and a leader of the Militia/Janjaweed, The Hague, 02 May 2007.
Photo source: www.trial-ch.org - Ahmad Mohammed Harun: Accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity; arrest warrant issued by the ICC on 02 May 2007; Red Notice issued by Interpol on 19 September 2007; released by the Sudanese government on 1st October 2007 for lack of evidence. Position: Former Secretary of State for the Interior, head of the Darfur Security Desk.