Sudan: Witness Protection Vital for Darfur Probe
Sudan: Witness Protection Vital for Probe Into Darfur Rights Abuses, UN Reports
New York, Dec 13 2005 5:00PM
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), entrusted by the United Nations Security Council with investigating human rights abuses in Sudan’s Darfur conflict today reported good progress in gathering facts but stressed that an effective system of witness and victim protection, at present non-existent, is vital.
“From this overall picture we have identified particularly grave events, involving high numbers of killings, mass rapes and other forms of extremely serious gender violence and other crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court,” Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told the 15-member body, noting the first steps “towards a cooperative relationship” with the Government.
The Council called for an ICC probe in Darfur, where tens of thousands of people have been killed and 2 million more displaced in two years of fighting between the Government, pro-government militias and rebels, after an earlier enquiry set up by Secretary-General Kofi Annan found there had been war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides, but primarily by Government forces and militias.
“We still have very serious problems in Darfur,” Mr. Annan said after today’s Council meeting, stressing the need to bring to account those who committed crimes.
“We have criminal elements; we have violence; we have attacks on humanitarian activities. There are some areas where our humanitarian people cannot go and therefore the Government and the rebels have to honour the ceasefire agreement they signed and take all measures to ensure security and protection of the people in the region.”
Mr. Ocampo termed witness protection “an issue of paramount concern to the ICC,” noting that continuing insecurity, which prevented him and his team from so far visiting Darfur, also prohibited the establishment of an effective system for protecting victims and witness.
“Despite these limitations significant progress has been made in the investigation,” he said, adding that well over 100 potential witnesses in 17 countries had been screened and that he had visited Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, for contacts with the Government. “We have a road map now,” he told reporters later.
“Having made the first steps towards a cooperative relationship, during the next phase the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) will seek further assistance and cooperation of the Government in relation to the process of fact-finding and evidence gathering. This cooperation will be essential,” he said in the report.
Asked by reporters about Government cooperation, the Council President for December, Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom said: “We will judge the Government of Sudan by its actions.
“If it becomes apparent that the Prosecutor is not receiving the cooperation that we expect from the Government, then the Council will have such a report from the Prosecutor, and will need to respond to that, and we will respond to that. At the moment that’s hypothetical,” he added.
“In terms of what the Prosecutor is saying now on the basis of the contacts which took place last month in Khartoum, things are reasonable and progressing.”
The Council repeated again the need to end impunity, prevent atrocities and ensure that those involved are brought to justice, Mr. Jones Parry said.
“Our discussions this morning confirm that the Prosecutor is in close cooperation with the Government of Sudan, that those discussions are proceeding so far well. The Council expects them to be maintained so that any cooperation that the Prosecutor expects from that Government should be forthcoming, especially on the question of access to witnesses.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Annan’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, reported that he believed it was still possible to have a framework agreement in the conflict by the end of the year. The various sides are now meeting in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
On the ground in Darfur, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported that the security situation remained tense, with increasing banditry. Tribal clashes have been reported in West Darfur, where some roads remain closed for UN movement due to insecurity. Some UN flights are also suspended in West Darfur.