Tensions continue in Darfur as Sudanese war criminal faces his day in court

Tensions continue in Darfur as Sudanese war criminal faces his day in court

Halima Gikandi

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Sudanese war crimes suspect Ali Kushayb, who preferred to be named Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman, is seen on a screen during an initial appearance at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, June 15, 2020.


International Criminal Court/Reuters


After more than a decade evading charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, a Sudanese suspect, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman, widely known as Ali Kushayb, finally appeared in court. 

On Monday, the 70-year-old could be seen via video link from an International Criminal Court (ICC) detention center, where he had been transferred last week after surrendering himself in the Central African Republic.

The prosecution in The Hague spent 30 minutes reading out more than 50 charges against Kushayb, an alleged senior leader of the Janjaweed, a government-supported Arab militia responsible for atrocities in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

The conflict, which the United States later called a genocide against Indigenous Africans, left an estimated 300,00 people dead and more than 2 million displaced. 

In his initial pretrial appearance, Kushayb dismissed the charges as “untrue,” signaling what would become a lengthy, drawn-out trial.

Still, for some Darfuris, Kushayb’s arrest is a sign that justice, long-elusive, could be on the horizon.

Related: Sudanese women seek justice one year after pro-democracy crackdown

“I was very happy because Ali Kushayb surrender[ing] himself to ICC is an important step to satisfy the victims of genocide.”

Mutasim Ali, Darfuri activist living in Washington, DC

I was very happy because Ali Kushayb surrender[ing] himself to ICC is an important step to satisfy the victims of genocide,” said Mutasim Ali, a 33-year-old activist who recently graduated from George Washington University with a degree in comparative law. 

Ali was 16 years old when the conflict in Darfur broke out in 2003, disrupting his otherwise peaceful rural childhood.

“When the war broke out, my family and I were separated because the village was destroyed by the Sudanese government — the militia.”

His village, Daba Neira, lies in the mountainous Jebel Marra region, which for years was besieged by government-linked militias and “scorched-earth” attacks, according to Amnesty International.

“They’re now living in displaced person camps in North Darfur State,” said Ali, who fled Sudan in 2007 after being arrested for criticizing the government.

Sudan at a crossroads

Kushayb’s arrest comes at a transformative moment in Sudan, where a transitional, civilian-led government is tasked with moving the country toward democracy after 30 years of dictatorship under Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted last year following months of massive protests. 

While the government has made social and political breakthroughs in a short time —  recovering billions in stolen assets, expanding religious freedoms and normalizing relations with the US — it has been slow to deliver justice to victims of the Bashir regime.

Related: A year after revolution, Sudan celebrates but still faces squeeze of sanctions

That’s especially true in Darfur, which has yet to feel the promise of transformation.

“For me, the situation in Darfur is still in bad condition,” said Yahia Shogar, a doctor working in West Darfur, who is part of the rapid response team trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus.  

As Sudan struggles to fight the coronavirus with limited resources, Kushayb’s arrest has renewed attention to the unique challenges in Darfur, where thousands remain in displacement camps supported mostly by international humanitarian aid.

Insecurity and violence persist, propelled by intercommunal clashes and attacks on civilians by armed militias.

“These conflicts have a direct correlation with health impact. Sometimes we have no way to reach areas far from us.” 

Yahia Shogar, doctor, West Darfur, Sudan

“These conflicts have a direct correlation with health impact. Sometimes, we have no way to reach areas far from us,” said Shogar, who notes there is also distrust toward the transitional government. Some members are linked to crimes in Darfur, notably Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, deputy head of the sovereign council — and former Janjaweed leader.

“People deny there’s coronavirus in Sudan or in Darfur,” said Shogar, who contracted COVID-19 himself.

“People say that it’s a political issue,” he continued, explaining he and other medical professionals are trying to educate distrustful communities. 

Related: Coronavirus exposes Sudan’s broken health care system

“The change that is happening in [other parts of] Sudan is not seen in Darfur,” said Ali, the student.

Sitting in his apartment in Washington, DC, where Black Lives Matter protests have erupted in recent weeks, Ali compares the experience of black Americans to what is happening at home.

“They way they are being treated from slavery until this day. That’s exactly how the people of Darfur are being treated,” he explained. 

He worries that unless the problems in Darfur are addressed, the situation could become “explosive” — especially given the continued proliferation of arms in the region, and the anticipated drawdown of United Nations peacekeepers.

Attempts at peace

Sudan’s new government is now responsible for making peace with rebel movements on the country’s margins, including South Kordofan, Blue Nile — and Darfur.

“Our main problem in Sudan is to address the root cause of the political problems. That is what we Darfuris demand.”

Nimir Abdelrahman, chief negotiator for the Sudan Liberation Movement Transitional Council, a Darfuri rebel group

“Our main problem in Sudan is to address the root cause of the political problems. That is what we Darfuris demand,” said Nimir Abdelrahman, a chief negotiator for the Sudan Liberation Movement Transitional Council, a Darfuri rebel group. 

This week, Darfuri armed and unarmed rebel groups are negotiating with the Sudanese government in neighboring Juba, South Sudan, with hopes of reaching a peace deal by June 20, which will officially end the conflict in Darfur.

“The security situation in Darfur has deteriorated, it is very bad,” Abdelrahman said. “We are trying for the Darfur [groups] and the government forces to establish a joint military command to help the people on the ground.”

Other Darfuri demands include disarming armed militias responsible for attacking civilians and bringing justice to all those responsible for crimes in Darfur.

“The government in Khartoum should hand over those wanted by the International Criminal Court,” said Abdelrahman. “For those who are not indicted — we agree to establish a Darfur criminal court.”

There are four remaining Sudanese suspects wanted by the ICC for crimes in Darfur, including former President Bashir, who is currently in Kober prison in Khartoum.  

It’s unclear whether those suspects will be extradited to the ICC, or tried jointly in Sudan.

Game – The Purge (Year Of The Wolf)

[Intro: Stacy Barthe]
We are dying, we are dying
Are we gonna die? Are we gonna die?
We are dying

[Verse 1: Game]
Light a blunt, throw on Nas, collect my thoughts
Blow the candles out as I contemplate in the dark
Dumpin’ ashes on the fuckin’ Time magazine
Tryna burn a hole between Israel and Palestine
All this world news, all these dead bodies
All these kids dying, the talk of illuminati
As I’m murderin’ ink, I get a call from Irv Gotti
Say "Keep spittin’ cause when you do it’s like a 12-gauge shotty"
Got machetes and them cannons loaded up
Got them Xany’s and that lean in my cup
These politician’s can come up missin’, I’m on a mission
You hear them gun shots, now mother fuckers listenin’
Feel that you can take their life cause they ain’t got a pot to piss in
Raise the Christian, kill you for these kids as victims
Fuck the system
You give a kid 30 cent and think you sponsor somethin’?
I feed a village by myself nigga Compton comin’

[Hook: Stacy Barthe (Game)]
We are dying, we are dying
(Sometimes I wanna purge)
We are dying
(Sometimes I wanna purge)
We are dying, some times I gotta purge
(Sometimes I wanna)
We’re living on a purge
(Sometimes I wanna)

[Verse 2: Game]
What if we ran through Beverley Hills, got 70 kills
Ridin’ down Rodeo in the Chevy with pills
And pop one, load 12 slugs in the eagle
And shot one, Donald Sterling hopped in his Benz
I got one, beam on the back of his dome
Palm sweaty on the back of the chrome
That’s my adrenaline
So we purge Sandusky, purge Zimmerman
Purge every mother fucker rapin’ women in
Purge niggas killin’ kids, back to back in two vans
Me and my mercenaries, middle of South Sudan
Carryin’ babies bodies, long as I got two hands
Long as I got two feet, millions and my crew deep
We purge for the families, they deaths ain’t in vein now
Crash my ass, niggas know who shot that plane down
Two hundred and ninety eight innocent lives severed
Flyin’ on Aaliyah’s wings all the way to heaven
And so we Purge

We are dying, we are dying
(Sometimes I wanna purge)
(Sometimes I wanna purge)
We are dying, some times
(Sometimes I wanna)
We are dying
(Sometimes I wanna purge)

[Verse 3: Game]
Imagine going to the stores without cops harrasing
Imagine Mike Brown walkin’, them same cops just passed ’em
I’m smokin’ hash, and let me ash it before I talk in past tense
I hope his mama tears is like acid to your fuckin badges
2 shots in his brain, 4 in his fashion
Thinkin’ ’bout his casket in this Phantom, swear I almost crashed it
That’s why I’m headed to Ferguson with this German luger
Cause I’m probably more like Nelson Mandela than Martin Luther
More like Ice T than Ice Cube, I’m a cop killer
Murder all the cops, then the cops will probably stop killin’
On my knees prayin’, wish my nigga Pac was livin’
But he fell victim to the Rampart Division, purge
Cops killed Biggie, cops beat up Rodney King
We tore up the city nigga, purge
Or just stand there like J. Cole
And shoot at cops in the same spot till the case closed, purge

We are dying, we are dying
(Sometimes I wanna purge)
(Sometimes I wanna purge)
We are dying, some times
(Sometimes I wanna)
We are dying

[Outro: Game]
This song is dedicated
To my engineer Jus’ wife
Carey Jean who passed away June 28th at 1.45 pm
To stomach cancer
2 days before my son Harlem’s 11th birthday. Crazy how he mournin’ his wife’s death and I’m celebrating my son’s life
I’ll never understand death, shit
Sometimes it’s a struggle to understand life, shit crazy
I’ll never understand
Can’t stop fightin’ to survive though, but what we fightin’ for when we eventually all die though, purge
Eventually we all victims of the purge
Us killers, what’s keepin’ us alive
It’s a question nobody got the answer to