As the first prosecution for war crimes in Darfur began on Tuesday, the International Criminal Court heard testimony from a former Sudanese militia chief who oversaw murder, rape, and torture across the region.

For his role in the battle nearly 20 years ago, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, a close associate of deposed Sudanese strongman Omar Al-Bashir, faces 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

According to UN calculations, 300,000 people were killed and two and a half million fled their homes in Darfur, and his prosecution is the first before the Hague-based ICC for crimes committed there.

It comes as the world’s attention is drawn to alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
The ICC’s top prosecutor, Karim Khan, told the judges, “You will hear proof that he (Abd-Al-Rahman) and his soldiers rampaged across different sections of Darfur.”

“In the villages he left in his path, he inflicted great anguish and suffering on women, children, and men,” Khan added.
After the historic trial began, Abd-Al-Rahman, 72, a senior commander of the Janjaweed militia – a notorious armed group founded by the Sudanese government — pleaded not guilty.

“I deny all of these allegations. “I am innocent of all these charges,” Abd-Al-Rahman said judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was established in 2002 to prosecute the world’s worst crimes.

Abd-Al-Rahman sat quietly while the 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 2003-04 were read. He was dressed in a dark blue suit, light blue shirt, and playing with his maroon tie.

Murder, rape, torture, and pillaging are among the charges listed on the lengthy charge sheet.
Fighting broke out in Darfur when black African rebels took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated authority, claiming widespread discrimination.

Khartoum retaliated by deploying the Janjaweed, a nomadic militia drawn from the region’s tribes.
It was considered by human rights organizations as a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign aimed at the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest order for Abd-Al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, in April 2007.
When the new Sudanese government announced its intention to cooperate with the ICC inquiry in February 2020, he escaped to the Central African Republic.

He voluntarily surrendered four months later.
The trial of Abd-Al-Rahman is the first to result from a UN Security Council referral.
The ICC is still looking for former president Omar Al-Bashir and three others for crimes committed in Darfur.
Despite calls for him and two other associates to be handed over to the ICC for trial after his overthrow in 2019, Bashir remains in Sudan.

When asked about efforts to bring Bashir to The Hague for trial, Khan indicated that talks with Khartoum’s military administration were still ongoing, but that “cooperation is tough.”

“Things have improved, but I’d like to get this situation resolved,” Khan remarked.
“But I can’t do that unless we go forward… and it’ll be a lot easier if we work together more closely with the Sudanese administration.”

Prosecutors said that Abd-Al-Rahman, a Janjaweed “colonel of colonels,” was a key figure in a series of raids on at least four communities in West Darfur.

He is in charge of both planning and leading attacks, as well as mobilizing, recruiting, arming, and supplying Janjaweed troops.

Khan informed the judges that Abd-Al-Rahman “took joy in the authority that he imagined he exerted… and a peculiar glee in his feared notoriety.”

At least 100 villagers were killed, women and girls were raped, and members of the primarily Fur ethnic minority were forcibly relocated and persecuted during these raids.

Following one such attack on a village in late February and early March 2002, 100 Fur men, including community leaders, doctors, and teachers, were detained and tortured at a police station in Mukjar.

Prosecutors stated fifty detainees were driven out into the countryside, made to lie face down, and then executed.
Victims of the Darfur crisis, who are still suffering in refugee camps, expressed relief that justice was finally being served.
“I was startled to hear that Kushayb refuted the charges of killing our people,” Adam Musa said from the enormous Kalma refugee camp in Darfur.

“I saw him abduct men from our village and none of them returned,” Musa claimed.

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