International court works to bring Darfur rapists to trial

By Anne Penketh

When Amnesty International observers visited Darfur in 2004, they were appalled by the sheer number of rape victims they encountered.

Many were gang raped in front of their families as the conquering Janjaweed militia burned down their homes.

Hundreds of rape cases, including against girls as young as 7 or 9, were documented by human rights workers at the height of the ethnic cleansing in Darfur in 2004.

There are those who would argue that to allow the victims of such organised mass rape to give birth is arguably tantamount to complicity in genocide. Because the most horrible conclusion of rape as a weapon of war is that it can change the ethnic makeup of a country. In the case of Darfur, it could mean the steady Arabisation of the next generation.

In 2005, about 100 countries took a landmark decision by agreeing that rape should be included among the crimes against humanity that could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court as they established the tribunal.

Today, the former Sudanese interior minister, Ahmad Harun, and Ali Kushayb, have been accused of acting together to commit war crimes, including mass rape, against the civilian population of Darfur.

According to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Ali Kushayb - known as "colonel of colonels" in west Darfur - victimised the local population "through mass rape and other sexual offences".

Harun was quoted as saying: "Since the children of the Fur had become rebels, all the Fur and what they had, had become booty" of the Janjaweed. Last May, the court issued arrest warrants for the pair. However, although Kushayb is reportedly in custody in Sudan, the Sudanese authorities have refused to hand both men over for trial. The loophole for Sudan, which the Government has exploited by saying that its own judicial process is under way, is that the ICC can only act when a state is unwilling or unable to prosecute the crimes.

The systematic use of rape has been seen in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. But it was most reported in Rwanda, where the World Bank and Unifem says possibly as many as 500,000 women were systematically raped during the 1994 genocide of the minority ethnic Tutsis.

The ICC is also hearing cases against three other African countries - the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and the Central African Republic.

- Independent

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