In a powerful presentation before the world’s leading governmental body, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda took members of the UN Security Council to task for failing to do more to ensure accountability for crimes committed in Darfur. She further called for an investigation into reported failures of UNAMID, the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, to report egregious human rights violations.
“Close to ten years since the much lauded Councils’ referral of the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, systematic and widespread crimes continue to be committed with total impunity in Darfur.”
– Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda to the UN Security Council, June 16, 2014
It was a stark reminder of the violence, suffering, and “total impunity” that continue to plague Darfur more than a decade since the start of the genocide there. Some 2 million people have remained displaced with an additional 322,000 Darfuris newly displaced already in 2014 as a new surge of violence takes place.
As the representative of the U.S. Mission noted before the Council, “The consequences of this impunity are clear…Violence in Darfur continues to escalate as paramilitary Rapid Support Force soldiers kill, loot, burn, and rape”.
The abuses, including aerial bombardment of civilian areas, have spread to other parts of Sudan, as well, including South Kordofan where another 100,000 people have been displaced since May. Just a day before the Prosecutors briefing, the Sudanese Armed Forces had bombed a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in South Kordofan.
Even as the numbers affected by policies of civilian attacks and restricted aid increase, President Bashir, wanted on counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, has continued to travel with near impunity. Bashir Watch, a group formed by United to End Genocide and several key partners, has tracked his travels noting visits to six countries in as many months, including to ICC member states.
But some action has been taken. One area where Prosecutor Bensouda cited positive change was within African civil society, where local groups have made Bashir face uncertainty over his arrest. A suit filed in Kenya in 2011 following a Bashir visit led to a court order to arrest him if he visits again. Last year, in Nigeria, Bashir cut his visit short after a human rights group filed a case challenging his immunity in that country. Similarly, a threatened trip to New York for the UN General Assembly last September was met by protests and concerted efforts to deny Bashir access or have him arrested upon arrival.
The Prosecutor also drew attention to allegations by a former UNAMID spokesperson that the peacekeeping mission had failed to report serious human rights violations. In April, United to End Genocide and 46 other organizations sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power urging swift action to investigate and address these reports. Yet, there was no answer to the letter and there was no mention of the Prosecutors call for an investigation by the U.S. Mission at the briefing.
This was the 19th briefing by a Chief Prosecutor before the UN Security Council, yet little action has been taken by its members since the situation in Darfur was first referred to the ICC nearly ten years ago. Further pressure by civil society in Africa, in the United States, and throughout the world will be necessary to break the impasse of impunity and ignorance.
The world must know the true consequences of the continued impunity, the millions of people in Darfur and other parts of Sudan who continue to suffer. And the world’s leaders must be constantly confronted by that glaring question spoken before the Security Council yesterday: “What amount of suffering should Darfur’s victims endure for this Council to act decisively on the situation in Darfur?”