Aid workers fear war crimes accusations made by the International Criminal Court against two Sudanese suspects could hamper their work in Darfur and raise an added hurdle to a proposed deployment of United Nations troops.
Khartoum has a long history of retaliating against international measures. These have often strengthened the hand of hardliners in the regime.
The ICC filed evidence on Tuesday against a Sudanese minister and militia leader for alleged war crimes in the Darfur region, where tens of thousands of people have been killed since a rebellion began in early 2003.
The two suspects named were Ahmad Muhammad Harun, minister for humanitarian affairs and Ali Mohammed Ali Abd-al-Rahman, a prominent militia leader.
Human rights activists were quick to welcome the charges as a small but first step towards establishing justice for Darfur.
But analysts and relief workers believed the move could complicate efforts to bring both Khartoum and the many rebel organisations in Darfur to the negotiating table. Relief workers with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) helping some of the 2m people displaced by the conflict are also concerned that pro-government Janjaweed militia may target their staff in protest at the ICC move.
“There’s a big fear that some of the Janjaweed groups or perhaps people who have operated under him [Kushayb] might take it out on NGOs and also the UN,” said an aid worker in Khartoum.
UN staff in the town of El-Fasher in Darfur said yesterday they were on heightened alert in the wake of the ICC decision.
Although the United Nations and relief agencies are separate entities from the ICC, aid workers fear the government may seek to punish them as representatives of the wider international community.
Aid workers are also concerned that Mr Harun may use his position as a senior humanitarian official to make the onerous task of obtaining permission to work in Darfur even more difficult. Relief workers face big problems gaining permission to reach war-affected populations.
The ICC’s action raises questions over how UN humanitarian staff should liaise with Mr Harun, now that he has been named as a war crimes suspect. A UN spokeswoman in Khartoum said the world body was taking legal advice on the matter. Mr Harun was previously minister of state for the interior.
The prosecutor claims that, as head of the “Darfur security desk” in 2003, he was responsible for recruiting, funding and arming Janjaweed militia forces and, on several occasions, incited them to carry out attacks.
Sudan’s justice minister has dismissed the allegations – the first potential indictments to surface since Darfur was referred to the ICC prosecutor by the United Nations Security Council in March 2005.
Some relief officials fear the ICC’s decision may complicate UN efforts to persuade Khartoum to accept proposals to deploy UN troops to support an undermanned and ineffective African Union force in Darfur.
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