One could be forgiven for not knowing a Sudanese is in the dock at the International Criminal Court for crimes committed in Darfur. The confirmation of charges hearing against Abu Garda is going on at the moment in the Hague and on Tuesday 21 October, there were about 20 people in the public gallery to watch it in the industrial estate suburb of the Hague where the ICC is based.
We were shown photos of the destruction of the AU base in Haskanita, with Abu Garda sitting there listening intently, and told how looted AU cars were seen in his possession the day after the attack. The session moves slowly with repetitions of long document numbers (did you mean …. 553 or 533?), whether they are public documents or not and working out whether translations have worked between the English, French and Arabic.
The court has not finished a trial yet, so many procedural issues are still being worked out. Yesterday the Victims’ representative was allowed to meet a prosecution witness, when speaking in English in the presence of a court official, but not about the testimony, since the court does not allow witness proofing (in contrast to the ICTY; and painfully clear when a prosecution witness in the Lubanga case said some surprising things and changed his testimony).
There was also a delayed application for a dual role of a prosecution witness to be recognised by the judges as a victim. Although already discussed in the Lubanga case it seems remarkable to me that a prosecution witness needs to give an independent truthful account of events, which could easily conflict with his (perhaps also financial) interest as a victim. However this is the new and untested field of victim participation at the ICC. No one has been able to answer my question what they would do if say 1 million Darfuris applied to be registered as victims in a case against Bashir. Judges need to approve everyone of them as a victim. I don’t think the court could manage. That would be my strategy as the Sudan Worker’s Union to slow the court down.
However the people of Darfur probably did not expect Abu Garda to be here when the UNSC referred the case to the ICC and when it was announced Kushayb, Haroun and Bashir face arrest. Abu Garda is here of course for a crime not against Darfuris but against AU peacekeepers, a force with which Darfuris had an ambivalent relationship. The victims’ representative of a wounded AU force member said here that he could not have sex with his wife anymore. I am not sure how victims of the attacks on villages with large-scale loss of life and lifestock feel about the severity of this impediment to be recognised at the ICC.
My instinct was that the AU, who send them there, should provide help with the wounded and the families as victims, not the ICC.
Although I am not saying the crimes of an attack against peacekeepers is not important, the events here at the ICC do seem far away from Darfur and the crimes most of its people suffered. However the presence of a Sudanese at the ICC does warrant more attention, not only for the legal detail but also for the people in Darfur.