Darfur suspect rejects 'untrue' war crimes charges

A Sudanese militia leader denied charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the Darfur conflict in his first appearance before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday, June 15.

Ali Kushayb was formally told of the more than 50 charges against him as he appeared by videolink from a detention center in The Hague due to coronavirus measures.

Kushayb, 70, turned himself in earlier this month in the Central African Republic after 13 years on the run stemming from allegations relating to the devastating conflict in the western Sudanese region.

"Yes I was informed of them [the charges] but this is untrue... They made me come here and I hope that I will get justice," said Kushayb, wearing a light grey suit and tie, and speaking in Arabic through an interpreter.

Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala pointed out that Monday's hearing was not a trial, only a formality to confirm the identity of Kushayb, who is also known as Ali Muhammad Abdelrahman, and the charges against him.

"This is not the hearing for presenting your defense, you will have opportunities to do that. This is only the hearing for the judge to be satisfied that you have been informed of the charges," the judge told Kushayb.

A court official took nearly half an hour to read out the list of 53 charges including murdering civilians, destroying and burning villages, rape, pillage, and forcible displacement.

The Darfur conflict broke out in 2003 when ethnic African rebels who complained of systematic discrimination took up arms against the government of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir.

The state hit back with violence by the mostly Arab Janjaweed militias, a campaign that saw the ICC accuse Bashir of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

The United Nations says the conflict killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.

Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 3 decades, was deposed in April 2019 following months of protests in Sudan, and is also wanted by the ICC.

Kushayb fled to the Central African Republic in February when the new Sudanese government announced its intention to cooperate with the ICC's investigation. – Rappler.com