14 December 2005

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Briefs Security Council, Describes Significant Progress in Darfur Investigation

Luis Moreno Ocampo Says Climate of Insecurity Impedes Effort; Next Phase Will Focus on Selected Number of Criminal Incidents, Persons

NEW YORK, 13 December (UN Headquarters) -- Luis Moreno Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, briefed the Security Council this morning on the investigation of the situation in Darfur, which he said was taking place within a context of ongoing violence and multiple efforts to secure peace, as well as a complex process of political transition.

Mr. Moreno Ocampo said his Office would continue to be sensitive to those dynamics and would seek to reinforce the work of the African Union, the United Nations, the Sudan and other States and organizations.  At the same time, the Office was conscious of the fact that accountability for the most serious crimes alleged to have been committed in Darfur was an essential component to effective peace and effective transition.

The Council, on 31 March, decided to refer the situation prevailing in Darfur since 1 July 2002 to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  In doing so, it also decided that the Government of the Sudan and all other parties to the conflict in Darfur would cooperate fully with the Court and the Prosecutor, providing them with any necessary assistance.

Having made the first steps towards a cooperative relationship, Mr. Moreno Ocampo said his Office would seek, during the next phase, further assistance and cooperation of the Sudanese Government in relation to the process of fact-finding and evidence gathering.  The first phase of the investigation, which he launched on 1 June, had witnessed progress in gathering facts relating to the universe of crimes alleged to have taken place in Darfur, as well as the groups and individuals responsible for those crimes.

In the coming second phase, he continued, the investigation would focus on a selected number of criminal incidents and those persons bearing greatest responsibility for those incidents.  His Office had collated a comprehensive picture of the crimes allegedly committed in Darfur since 1 July 2002.  From that overall picture, the Office had identified particularly grave events, involving high numbers of killings, mass rapes and other forms of extremely serious gender violence for full investigations.  It continued to monitor ongoing violence.

Attacks on humanitarian workers and facilities remained prevalent, including incidents involving the killing of African Union peacekeepers, he noted.  The impact of those crimes on the delivery of humanitarian assistance and efforts to secure peace and stability in Darfur had been recently highlighted in the November report of the Secretary-General on Darfur.  In some instances, those crimes might fall within the jurisdiction of the Court.  He encouraged national and international organizations suffering such attacks to take steps to record and preserve information and evidence and to provide those materials to the Office.

He said there continued to be a great deal of speculation around the list of 51 names prepared by the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur.  That list, which remained sealed, represented the conclusions of the Commission and was in no way binding on the Prosecutor.  In addition, the activities and objectives of the Sanctions Committee and the Panel of Experts were entirely distinct from the work of his Office.  He emphasized that no decisions had been taken at the current stage as to whom to prosecute.

Witness protection, he stressed, was an issue of paramount concern to the Court.  The current security situation in Darfur remained volatile with ongoing violence and attacks.  The establishment of an effective system for the protection of victims and witnesses was a precondition to the conduct of investigative activities in Darfur.  Given the prevailing climate of insecurity and the current absence of an effective system of protection, investigative activities had so far taken place outside Darfur.

Despite those limitations, significant progress had been made in the investigation thanks to the information and other forms of assistance provided by States and organizations.  The Office had identified witnesses in 17 countries.  Well over a hundred potential witnesses had been screened and a number of formal statements had already been taken.  It was currently screening hundreds of additional potential witnesses either directly or with the assistance of States and organizations.  To facilitate that process, his Office had established a semi-permanent presence in the region, which provided logistical, security and other support to the process of witness identification and interview.

The International Criminal Court was complementary to national criminal jurisdictions, he said.  The legal test was specific to the cases selected for prosecution, and not the state of the Sudanese justice system as a whole.  Accordingly, his Office continued to gather and assess information relating to the various mechanisms established by the Sudanese authorities in relation to crimes allegedly committed in Darfur, including the Special Court for Darfur established by decrees issued on 7 and 11 June.

In November, a decree was reported to have been issued establishing two new Special Courts to sit in Geneina and Nyala.  Additional prosecutors and judges had been appointed to staff those Courts.  The jurisdiction of the Special Court was also reported to have been expanded to consider allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and the Government had renewed its commitments to allow access to the African Union and other international monitors.  Also, various other mechanisms and committees had been established to look at aspects of the crimes in Darfur, including the centres for the elimination of violence against women and an attorney office for crimes against humanity.  The Government had also pointed to efforts to promote tribal reconciliation and to the proposed Darfur Conference to take place this month as efforts towards a comprehensive solution to the conflict.

However, he said, the continuing insecurities in Darfur did not allow for an effective system of victim and witness protection. That had forced his Office to investigate outside the Sudan and represented a serious impediment to the conduct of effective investigations in Darfur by national judicial bodies as well.  Up to this point, the work of the Special Court did not suggest that cases likely to be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court would be inadmissible in accordance with the Court's Statute.  His Office would continue to follow closely all national proceedings.  The next phase of the investigation would be a decisive one, the success of which would require the full cooperation of the African Union.  It was hoped that rapid progress in that relationship would be achieved in the current phase.

During the initial fact-finding phase, it was vital that the Office develop a full understanding of the situation in Darfur and the context in which the alleged crimes took place.  In that regard, representatives of his Office and the Court's Registry visited Khartoum from 17 to 24 November to discuss matters related to the Lord's Resistance Army and the situation in Darfur.  As part of that fact-finding process, a request for assistance was made to the Sudanese authorities to undertake several interviews that could provide insight into the activities of all parties to the conflict in Darfur, as well as an assessment of national proceedings undertaken by the Special Courts and other relevant judicial bodies.

In response to that request, Sudanese officials had agreed to organize a visit to the Sudan by the end of February 2006 by representatives of his Office to meet with the Special Courts and other relevant judicial bodies to assess national proceedings in relation to alleged crimes committed in Darfur.  The Office also had contacts with other parties to the conflict, including the main rebel groups.  Establishing consistent liaison with the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army had been hampered by divisions within the group.  However, the Office continued to open channels and offer an opportunity for all parties involved in the conflict to provide information and evidence to the Court during the next phase of the investigation.

The meeting, which included the presence of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:35 a.m.

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