The scenes may have been chaotic but last week’s opening of the trial against Charles Taylor, the warlord indicted on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, marks a key moment. The trial, which Taylor refused to attend, is the first in which an international forum has held a former African president accountable for his conduct while in office.
By coincidence, also last week the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) told the United Nations Security Council that Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb, alleged Darfur war criminals, must be arrested. Luis Moreno Ocampo urged the council: “We count on every state to execute an arrest should either of these individuals enter their territory.” Harun is the Sudanese minister responsible for providing humanitarian assistance to more than four million people in Darfur, while Kushayb is a leader of the Janjawid. Together, they are charged with 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In April a panel of three judges at the ICC issued warrants for their arrest.
The pair systematically pursued civilians; Harun organised a system for recruiting, funding and arming the Janjawid to supplement the Sudanese armed forces and then incited them to commit murder, rape and other crimes against the civilian population, the prosecutor argues. The situation in Darfur, he says, “remains alarming”.
The investigation by the office of Moreno Ocampo is the third involving long-running conflicts: the others are those in northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each involves thousands of killings, as well as “large-scale sexual violence and abductions” and together they have resulted in the displacement, he says, of “more than five million people”.