THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Making his first appearance Monday at the International Criminal Court, a former Sudanese Janjaweed militia leader disputed the 50 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity he faces.
Due to Covid-19 measures, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, had his initial appearance at The Hague-based court by video link.
Abd-Al-Rahman, in an ill-fitting brown suit and askew tie, said the charges against him were untrue. He served as a commander in the Popular Defence Forces, a government-backed militia, during the ongoing conflicts in the North African country of Sudan.
“Ali Kushayb is alleged to have personally participated in some of the attacks against civilians … between August 2003 and March 2004, where the killing of civilians, rape, torture, and other cruel treatments occurred,” the global court for atrocities said in a statement.
Sudan is not a party to the 2002 Rome Statute that created the court, but the case was referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council in 2005 for investigation.
Monday’s hearing focused on confirming Abd-Al-Rahman’s identity and preferred language. Most of the hour-long hearing was taken up by the reading of the 50 charges against him.
The closed session, which kept the public, journalists and the defendant himself out of the courtroom, experienced a number of technical issues, including the live stream cutting out for about 15 minutes.
Abd-Al-Rahman was initially addressed by the hearing’s only judge as Ali Kushayb, which he corrected to Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman and, via his defense lawyer, requested that the court documents be updated to reflect his correct name. The arrest warrant listed his birthday as approximately 1957, but the defendant stated his date of birth as October 15, 1949, nearly a decade older.
He arrived in the Netherlands on June 9, after surrendering himself to authorities in the Central African Republic. He told the court on Monday: “I have been well-treated; I have not faced any difficulties.”
Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch released a statement following the announcement of Abd-Al-Rahman’s arrest.
“The world watched in horror as Sudan’s government carried out brutal attacks on Darfur civilians, killing, raping, burning and looting villages, starting in 2003,” Keppler said. “But after 13 years, justice has finally caught up with one major fugitive of the crimes.”
Abd-Al-Rahman had been arrested in 2007 on warrant that also included charges against another man, Ahmad Muhammad Harun. Last week, prosecutors revealed a second, secret warrant issued in 2018 that added three more charges.
Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala requested that the prosecution make a full, unredacted version of the arrest warrant available to the defense, which they agreed to do “in due course.”
Cyril Laucci, who represented Abd-Al-Rahman in Monday’s hearing, requested a moment of silence for all of the victims in Sudan on behalf of his client. The request is an unusual one and was denied by the judge, who said, “We are all always thinking of the victims.”
The hearing comes less than a week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the United States would issue sanctions against ICC staff involved in investigating whether U.S. citizens committed human rights violations in Afghanistan.
Fighting erupted in the Darfur region of Sudan when ethnic Africans rebelled against Khartoum’s Arab-led government. Then-President Omar al-Bashir responded by sending the Janjaweed, a group of mostly Arab nomads, known for riding horses or camels, to put down the uprising. According to the United Nations, the conflict left some 300,000 dead and displaced 2.5 million.
Abd-Al-Rahman is the fourth person to appear before the ICC on charges related to the Sudanese conflict. Charges against one man, Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, were not confirmed in 2010. Charges were confirmed against two other men, Saleh Mohammed Jerbom, who was killed in the conflict in 2013 and Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain, who voluntarily appeared before the court in 2010, but is now missing.
The court has also issued an arrest warrant for the country’s ex-president, Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted from power in 2019. The country’s government has said that they would hand him over to the ICC earlier this year, but it’s not clear when that would happen.
The next hearing in the case, when the court will confirm the charges against him, is scheduled for December 7, 2020.