A Sudanese rebel leader manipulates the ICC

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The leader of the Sudanese rebel group, United Resistance Front (URF), Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, appeared for the first time on Monday before the International Criminal Court (ICC). He is suspected of war crimes; an attack against peacekeeping soldiers in Darfur two years ago (2007). According to Roland Marchal, a researcher at the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI), Bahar Idriss Abu Garda’s voluntary court appearance could very well be hiding a political ambition to “outdo his opponents.”

The leader of the United Resistance Front (URF) Monday appeared, of his own accord, before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The first case of this kind ever recorded by the international court. Bahar Idriss Abu Garda is suspected of looting and leading – with two other rebel leaders – an attack against African Union peacekeeping forces in Haskanita, located in northern Darfur, on September 29, 2007. But the rebel leader of the URF, a breakaway faction of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), denies any involvement.

A political play

According to Roland Marchal, a political specialist on Africa and researcher at the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI), the rebel leader’s attitude betrays a political ambition. “Bahar Idriss Abu Garda came for two reasons. First, because he has evidence and trusts he will be exonerated for the attack. Secondly, because he wants to outdo his political opponents, including Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), by accusing him. This is to get rid of somebody politically,” he says. The URF leader honoured his court summons when he arrived Sunday in the Netherlands. On November 20 2008, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the ICC had issued arrest warrants — or court summons if they agreed to surrender — against three rebel leaders for their role in the Haskanita attacks which killed 12 people.

At his hearing Monday, the URF leader urged Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, to come and “face justice.” But the researcher thinks he is trying to look good while “collaborating” with the International Criminal Court in a backdrop of total “indifference” from the head of state of his country, with respect to the arrest warrant issued against him in the month of March, 2009. According to his analysis, the ICC is, in this case scenario, a political tool. “It is not the fault of the Court if it is manipulated”. The “orchestration is almost inevitable” when justice is taken to a “politically unstable country”, said Roland Marchal. Since 2003, Darfur has been gripped by a civil war that has left 300 000 people dead and displaced about 2.7 million.

A first for the ICC

This voluntary appearance in court marks the first of its sort in the history of the ICC, at least under two circumstances. It is the first time that a Sudanese rebel leader appears before the Court. And it is also the first time that the ICC issues court summons and arrest warrants against persons who have killed peacekeeping soldiers. “Outside the political context, it is interesting to note that the Court protects and defends the peacekeepers who are there to ensure peace,” says the researcher.

The President of the URF, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, will have to wait for the judges’ decision, which will be made after the confirmation hearing on October 12, 2009. The drama continues…

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