Sudan: Darfur Rebel Leader Submits to War Crimes Trial

18 May 2009

A Darfur rebel leader charged with war crimes for attacking African Union peacekeepers in the region has voluntarily surrendered himself to appear before the International Criminal Court on Monday.

The court announced on Sunday that it had issued a sealed summons for Bahr Idriss Abu Garda , the commander of a splinter group of the Justice and Equality Movement, on May 7,  and that he had arrived for his first court appearance at the court's seat at The Hague in the Netherlands.

It is the first time the court has issued a summons rather than an arrest warrant. It is empowered to issue a summons if believes a suspect will submit to trial voluntarily. The court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said that the governments of Chad, Senegal, Nigeria, Mali and the Gambia had all helped to secure Abu Garda's appearance.

The court announcement on Sunday revealed that Abu Garda, a member of the Zaghawa group in Sudan, faces charges over his involvement in a September 2007 attack on Military Group Site Haskanita, in the Umm Kadada locality of North Darfur, during which 12 soldiers died and eight were severely wounded.

Abu Garda will be free to leave the Netherlands after his appearance, scheduled for Monday afternoon Dutch time, but has to return later for a "confirmation of charges hearing" during which the court will decide whether there are substantial grounds to believe that he committed the crimes alleged.

Proscutors allege that about 1,000 rebels commanded by or allied with Abu Garda and armed with anti-aircraft guns, artillery guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, attacked and killed members of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) in Haskanita. The rebels allegedly destroyed communication, installations and vehicles and looted vehicles, refrigerators, computers, cellular phones, military boots and uniforms, fuel, ammunition and money.

A court panel known as "Pre-Trial Chamber I" decided Abu Garda should be charged under the Rome Statute, which established the court, for three war crimes: "violence to life in the form of murder"; intentionally attacking a peacekeeping mission; and pillaging. The panel comprised Judge Sylvia Steiner from Brazil, Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng from Botswana and Judge Cuno Tarfusser from Italy.

The chamber is also considering an application from the court's prosecutor to issue warrants for the arrest of two other rebel commanders for the Haskanita attack.

The Abu Garda case is the third brought over the war in Darfur. Two earlier cases have been against President Omar al-Bashir and two of his top officials. These three accused have refused to appear or to recognise the court's jurisdiction.

The Darfur cases have all been pursued following a complaint laid with the court by the United Nations Security Council in March 2005.

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