ICC charges URF Commander Bahar Idriss Abu Garda with murder, directing attacks and pillaging
With Saint Abu Garda free to come and go as he pleases -- which includes being able to return to Darfur and presumably lead his splinter rebel group into battle -- one can only wonder how the Sudanese will react.According to a report in today's Times (see here below) Mr Garda is expected to depart from the Netherlands by tomorrow. Excerpt:
Judge Cuno Tarfusser thanked Mr Abu Garda for catching a commercial flight from Egypt on Sunday to attend, then he was read the three charges against him — murder, directing attacks and pillaging. He did not have to enter a plea and is expected to leave the Netherlands tomorrow.Sudan Tribune reported today that Mr Garda gave his profession as “commander of a resistance movement” and thanked the court’s registry for facilitating his arrival to the Hague. I wonder if he is actually Chadian, not Sudanese. Copy of the report Tuesday 19 May 2009 - Darfur war crime suspect confident of innocence before ICC:
May 18, 2009 (ABU DHABI) – A Darfur rebel leader accused of leading an attack against African peacekeepers in 2007 appeared before a judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC), a day after he voluntarily surrendered himself to the Hague based court.
On Sunday the ICC judges unsealed a May 7th decision to issue a summons to appear for Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, the leader of the Darfur United Resistance Front (URF) immediately after he arrived in the Netherlands coming from Egypt accompanied by his aides.
Abu Garda was confined to an undisclosed location which ICC officials say it is part of the court’s premises.
At 1500 GMT the rebel leader entered the courtroom with his ICC assigned lawyer Karim Khan from Britain and confirmed his identity upon questioning from Italian Judge Cuno Tarfusser who is carrying out the functions of Pre-Trial Chamber I while the other two judges are in recess.
Judge Tarfusser thanked him for surrendering.
“The court appreciates very much your voluntary appearance. In doing so, I think you have sent out a very good message” the judge addressed Abu Garda.
Abu Garda, wearing a gray suit and striped tie, answered “yes” when asked whether he understood the charges and his rights. He was not required to enter a plea.
He gave his profession as “commander of a resistance movement” and thanked the court’s registry for facilitating his arrival to the Hague.
Tarfusser set Oct. 12 for confirmation of charges hearing, after which judges must rule whether the case is strong enough to merit a trial. The rebel chief is not obliged to attend but his lawyer refused to waive his right to be present.
The hearing which lasted over 30 minutes was attended by ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and senior trial attorney handling the Darfur case Essa Faal and other members of his office.
The ICC prosecutors charged Abu Garda and other unnamed rebel commanders with leading an attack on African Union (AU) peacekeepers that left 12 soldiers dead and wounded eight others according to court documents.
The counts include war crimes of violence to life, intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a peacekeeping mission and pillaging.
It is unclear whether the Pre-Trial Chamber I have decided on the prosecutor’s requests on the other rebel commanders.
The decision posted on the court’s website cites the Pre-Trial Chamber I as saying that “it is appropriate, for the sake of expeditiousness and taking due account of the confidentiality issues, to decide only on the Prosecutor’s request to issue a summons to appear for Abu Garda at this stage”.
The summons to appear was issued instead of an arrest warrant as Abu Garda has communicated to the ICC that he will appear voluntarily. This is the first time the court issues a summons to appear in any case.
Abu Garda speaking to Sudan tribune by phone from the Netherlands said he turned himself in “out of clear conviction that justice be achieved in Darfur”.
“I hope this step is a clear message to everyone and an affirmation of the cooperation with justice and refraining from insisting on non-cooperation with the court on the grounds that it is a foreign conspiracy. People must face internal issues and stop making these claims” he said.
The rebel leader reiterated that he is innocent and said he will be at the disposal of the court. He also accused the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) of “spreading lies” on his involvement in the attack against AU peacekeepers.
He refused to disclose his next destination after leaving the Netherlands.
In October 2007 Abu Garda announced his defection from JEM and formed the JEM Collective Leadership. He blamed the JEM chairman, Khalil Ibrahim at the time for a series of “conspiracies”.
REACTION TO REBEL APPEARNCE
Sudan official news agency (SUNA) cited the political bureau officer at the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) Mandoor Al-Mahdi as accusing the ICC of conspiring with the Darfur rebels “to weaken the government and preventing the president of the republic Field Marshal Omer Al-Bashir from running in next presidential elections”.
Al-Mahdi called today’s appearance as a “ridiculous play” by both sides and that the government is aware of conspiracies against it.
On March 4th the ICC judges issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on seven counts of war crimes allegedly committed in Darfur. Khartoum rejected the charges and said the court is politically motivated and aiming at a regime change.
Sudan said it does not recognize the court as it has not ratified the Rome Statute, despite the fact that the UN Security Council (UNSC) invoked its powers under the statute to refer cases in non-state parties in a Chapter VII resolution adopted in March 2005.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement today taking note of Abu Garda’s appearance and commended the court’s efforts “to ensure accountability for crimes against peacekeepers and emphasizes that the United Nations respects the independence of the Court and its judicial process”.
The spokesperson of the French Ministry for Foreign affairs Eric Chevalier told reporters today that the “willingness to cooperate voluntarily with the Court is a positive development”.
“The investigation conducted against the perpetrators of this attack demonstrates the impartiality of prosecutions initiated by the International Criminal Court in which we renew our trust and support” he added.
The AU which has previously called on the perpetrators of the attack to stand justice issued no response to the appearance of Abu Garda nor did any of the African countries that comprised the victims of the Haskanita attack.
The victims of the attack on the peacekeepers came from Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and Botswana.
The AU condemned the ICC arrest warrant against Bashir last March and stated that it is considering withdrawal from the court during a meeting held in June.
Yesterday Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement saying that the issuance of a summons to appear “underscores the gravity of attacks against those deployed to protect civilians”.
“The criticism coming from a few non-ICC members that the court is anti-African inexplicably ignores the thousands of African victims whom the court is fighting to defend” said Richard Dicker, director of international justice program at HRW.
“This criticism is even more dubious given the court’s effort to try those allegedly responsible for attacks on peacekeepers from Botswana, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal” he added.
See The Times May 19, 2009 - Sudanese rebel leader appears at The Hague on war crimes charges - by David Charter, Europe Correspondent.
Photo: The leader of a Darfur rebel faction, the United Resistance Front, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, pictured in 2004 (AFP)
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Update: See Sudan Watch:
Monday, May 18, 2009 - Haskanita: Sudanese rebel leader Bahar Idriss Abu Garda appears at ICC
Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - Sudanese and Chadian civilians getting away with murder and war crimes against peacekeepers
Thursday, May 21, 2009 - A Sudanese rebel leader manipulates the ICC - URF's Abu Garda could be hiding a political ambition to "outdo his opponents"