International Criminal Court Investigating War Crimes in Darfur

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) released a statement on Tuesday calling for assistance in an ongoing investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed in Darfur, in Sudan, headed by ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan. The prosecutor’s call comes as reports continue to flow out of Sudan detailing various atrocities being committed against civilians in Darfur, and other regions of Sudan.

Investigating Atrocities

Prosecutor Khan released in his statement called upon “all victim groups, all civil society organizations, national authorities, and international partners” to provide “any evidence and material” that they may have related to ongoing atrocities within Darfur, in order to ensure that the ICC is able to properly handle the crisis, and understand the full scope of alleged crimes being committed. Khan directly asked for anyone who may hold video, photographic, or audio evidence to submit it to his office.

A photo of International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan in Darfur, Sudan, on August 21st, 2022 (Photo from AFP).

In particular, the prosecutor mentioned atrocities being committed in El-Fasher, a city within North Darfur, of which he said he was “particularly concerned.”

The added information is to assist with an “ongoing, active investigation” the ICC is carrying out in Sudan.

The prosecutor detailed that his office has received continual reports of deliberate attacks against civilians, ethnically based attacks, rape and other sexual violence, looting, the shelling of civilian areas, attacks against hospitals, and more.

In order to investigate these crimes, Khan stated that the ICC has deployed people “on the ground” within the Sudanese city of Port Sudan, Chad, and “other locations,” though he did not give a clue as to where those locations might be.

Notably, Khan spoke of the possibility for the application by his office for “arrest warrants in relation to those that seem to be most responsible for the violations apparently being perpetrated.”

While there are numerous reports of atrocities being committed throughout Sudan, they likely do not grasp the full scope of what is going on. There is a supreme lack of information gathering services within Sudan, making it highly difficult to accurately assess civilian casualties, as well as the scale to which the nation has been destroyed in the conflict, although what evidence has been attained shows that destruction is wide spread.

Particularly Concerned

As mentioned, the prosecutor drew specific attention to El-Fasher. El-Fasher is a key city, as it is the last within Darfur that is still held by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has been assaulting areas around the city since early April, and the city itself since early May, in their bid to seize full effective control of Darfur..

As is the case with the remainder of Sudan, both the SAF and the RSF continue to employ the tactic of indiscriminate bombings, though the RSF has been reported to be carrying out these bombings more regularly in their assault upon the city.

Hundreds of civilians are estimated to have been killed in the fighting. Many of the roads in and out of the city have been blocked by the SAF and RSF, putting the approximate 800,000 civilians in the city at extreme risk.

Several thousand civilians have managed to escape the city and attempt to reach safety elsewhere. Witnesses have reported seeing entire villages razed to the ground on their journey away from El-Fasher.

A photo of Sudanese refugees that had fled El-Fasher arriving in the town of Tawila, approximately 60km from El-Fasher (Photo from the Sudan Tribune).

On top of risk from continual bombings, civilians within El-Fasher are at continual risk of hunger and a lack of proper medical care. Prior to the RSF’s assault upon El-Fasher beginning, the area was dangerously low on supplies, receiving minimal aid if they were receiving any at all. This issue has, of course, further worsened since the beginning of combat within the city.

In addition, El-Fasher has only one hospital, the South El-Fasher Hospital, which is only partially functional. It has been overwhelmed by civilian casualties, and is unable to grant proper medical care to the civilians of El-Fasher. The hospital is supported by Doctors Without Borders.

The South El-Fasher Hospital has been attacked by the RSF on several occasions.

Potential Warrants

A potential application for arrest warrants from the ICC for the key perpetrators of the conflict would be significant. However, these warrants would be unable to be acted upon if the perpetrators were to remain within Sudan, as Sudan has not ratified the Rome Statute, the basis for the ICC.

In 2019 and again in August of 2021 Sudanese authorities promised to enhance cooperation with the ICC. This was until October of 2021, when the coup which put the present leader of the Sudanese military government, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in power. Following this, commitments made by Sudanese leaders were not fulfilled.

The execution of warrants would restrict the ability for leaders to travel, as if they were to travel to any nation that has ratified the Rome Statute, said nation would be obligated to arrest them.

The prosecutor did not mention any particular figures by name. It is unclear if warrants would be issued for both those in the SAF and the RSF, or just the RSF.