The surrender of Ali Kosheib to the International Criminal Court is a major advance for justice for victims of atrocities in Darfur and their families, Human Rights Watch said today. Kosheib (also spelled Kushayb) had been a fugitive from the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by government-backed militias in Darfur since 2007.
Ali Kosheib voluntarily surrendered in the Central African Republic. On June 9, 2020, the ICC announced he was in court custody. The court indicated that the Central African Republic, Chad, France, Netherlands, and United Nations peacekeeping forces provided cooperation and assistance in his surrender.
“Ali Kosheib’s surrender is a landmark for justice for victims of atrocities committed across Darfur and their families,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The world watched in horror as Sudan’s government carried out brutal attacks on Darfur civilians, killing, raping, burning, and looting in villages, starting in 2003. But after 13 years justice finally caught up with one major suspect, Ali Kosheib.”
Ali Kosheib is the nom de guerre of Ali Mohammed Ali, a leader of the “Janjaweed” militia who also held commanding positions in Sudan’s auxiliary Popular Defense Forces and Central Reserve Police. On April 27, 2007, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Kosheib and he is charged with 50 countsof crimes against humanity and war crimes.
In bringing the charges, the ICC judges found “reasonable grounds to believe” that Kosheib bears responsibility for rapes, destruction of property, perpetrating inhumane acts, and attacking and killing civilians in four villages in West Darfur in 2003 and 2004. The judges also found evidence indicating that Kosheib directed attacks as well as mobilized, recruited, armed, and provided supplies to Janjaweed militia under his command.
Based on research in Darfur in 2004 and 2005, Human Rights Watch found that the highest levels of Sudanese leadership were responsible for creating and coordinating the government’s counterinsurgency policy in Darfur, which deliberately and systematically targeted civilians in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. Kosheib was one of the key militia leaders implicated in attacks on villages around Mukjar, Bindisi, and Garsila in 2003-2004 in West Darfur.
Sudanese authorities detained Kosheib on unrelated charges in 2007 and again in 2008. He was later released.
Kosheib has also led or participated in deadly attacks on ethnic Salamat communities in Central Darfur in April 2013. Witnesses placed Kosheib at the scene of an attack on the town of Abu Jeradil, 30 kilometers south of Um Dukhun, on April 8, riding in a government vehicle. Large numbers of heavily armed men, most wearing khaki uniforms, shot indiscriminately, burned homes and shops, stole livestock, and looted goods, killing more than 100 people, injuring scores more, and displacing tens of thousands.
Arrest warrants for four other Sudanese suspects on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide remain outstanding: Omar al-Bashir, the former president; Ahmed Haroun, former state minister for humanitarian affairs and former governor of Southern Kordofan state; Abdulraheem Mohammed Hussein, the former defense minister; and Abdallah Banda Abakaer, leader of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement in Darfur. All except for Banda are currently in Sudanese custody. Two other Sudanese rebel leaders were charged with crimes related to an attack on an African Union base in Darfur, but one suspect died and the ICC judges declined to confirm charges for the other.
Former president Al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 after months of protests in Sudan, which government security forces dispersed violently, killing hundreds since December alone. Under Sudan’s power-sharing deal signed on August 17, the transitional government is headed by an 11-member Sovereign Council for a period of three years, followed by elections.
In February 2020, Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a member of the Sovereign Council, announced that Sudanese authorities would cooperate with the ICC, after obstruction to the court’s investigation by the former government. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and the Sovereign Council confirmed the government’s commitment to cooperate with the ICC during meetings in Khartoum with Human Rights Watch on February 12.
Sudanese authoritities have yet to take concrete steps to carry out this commitment, Human Rights Watch said.
The ICC opened an investigation into Darfur crimes in 2005. UN Security Council Resolution 1593 referred Darfur to the ICC. As Sudan is not an ICC member, the referral was needed for the ICC to investigate crimes committed in Darfur. The Central African Republic is an ICC member, and all ICC members are obligated to cooperate with the court under the ICC’s Rome Statute.
“Justice is not always immediately possible, making the ICC’s role as a permanent court so critical,” Keppler said. “ICC arrest warrants have no expiration date, but do rely on cooperation from states to be enforced. Now, the Central African Republic, Chad, France, Netherlands, and UN forces have helped make the hope of accountability for victims a reality.”