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The trial of an alleged commander who fought in the Darfur conflict began Tuesday at the Dutch-based International Criminal Court, the first tribunal for war crimes in the ongoing Sudanese civil conflict that began nearly two decades ago, Canada’s Globe and Mail reported.
The long-awaited trial has been hailed as a major milestone for the victims of the genocidal campaign by then-President Omar al-Bashir and the notorious Janjaweed militias.
The case centers on Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman – also known as Ali Kushayb – and his alleged role in the conflict that killed more than 300,000 and displaced 2.7 million during a government crackdown on rebels in the western region of Darfur.
Abd-al-Rahman is accused of serving as a commander in the Janjaweed and responsible for the death of hundreds of people in towns and villages in 2003 and 2004. He faces 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.
He denied the charges.
The defendant is the first to be tried in the court, but three other former Sudanese officials and a former rebel leader remain wanted by the ICC. Among them is Bashir, who has been charged with genocide and other crimes.
Bashir was deposed in 2019 following mass popular protests and is currently in a Sudanese prison on separate domestic charges. Sudanese authorities have yet to agree on whether to hand him to The Hague-based court.
Human rights groups welcomed the proceedings, saying that “would-be abusers should take note that they can end up in court” despite the long delay in seeking justice.
Even so, the delayed trial has raised questions as to how the ICC can be used to prosecute alleged war crimes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Analysts and advocates feared that the Ukraine case can lose momentum – similar to the Darfur conflict – when it will fade from the global spotlight: The United Nations Security Council submitted the Darfur atrocities to the ICC in 2005, at a time when there was widespread public support for global justice.
Still, some noted that the recent trial began following changes in Sudan, adding that any hope of justice for war crimes in Ukraine will depend on events in Ukraine itself.