A court set up by the Sudanese government this week to bring to trial suspects of crimes related to the conflict in the western region of Darfur was due to begin its work on Wednesday, Sudan’s official news agency reported.
Justice Minister Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin formed the court on Monday by issuing a national decree. A prosecution council will hear the cases of 160 people accused of committing crimes in the states of North, West and South Darfur, the Sudan News Agency (SUNA) reported on Tuesday.
By Wednesday, members of the court had arrived in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, and were preparing to begin hearing cases, a relief worker told IRIN. The court will sit in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur.
The mandate for a federal court to try crimes committed in Darfur was handed down a week after the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, opened his investigation into the situation in Darfur.
The UN Security Council, in a resolution on 31 March, referred the crisis in Darfur to the ICC prosecutor. The decision required Sudan and all other parties to the conflict to cooperate with the court.
On 5 April, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan handed Ocampo a sealed list of 51 suspected perpetrators of atrocities in Darfur.
Annan had in October 2004 established the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to investigate alleged human rights abuses committed in the two-year conflict.
The commission reported to the UN in January that it had "established that the Government of Sudan and the Janjawid [militia] are responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law".
It also found credible evidence that rebel forces were responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that could amount to war crimes.
The commission recommended that the matter be referred to the ICC.
Sudan has not ratified the ICC's governing Rome Statute, and opposition to the referral of the situation in Darfur to The Hague-based court is widespread in Africa's largest country.
Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir has stated previously that his government would not hand over any of its citizens for trial outside the country. He said Sudan's own judiciary was qualified and ready to try those accused of any violations in Darfur.
In April, the country's Council of Ministers declared its "total rejection" of UN Security Council Resolution 1593, which called for those accused of war crimes in Darfur to be brought to trial before the ICC. The Sudanese council said the court lacked "justice and objectivity".
SUNA quoted Justice Minister Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin as saying that the Sudanese court was "considered as substitute to the International Criminal Court".
Judge Mahmoud Mohamed Saeed Abkam will chair the court, and judges Inshrah Ahmed Mukhtar and Awadal-Karim Osman Mohamed will assist him.
SUNA quoted Abkam as saying the court's work would depend on the reports of its investigation committees, which had been formed previously. He said the accused parties would be given the "full opportunity" to defend themselves and the court's proceedings would be held in public.
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have died in the conflict in Darfur, and about two million others have fled their homes, according to humanitarian agencies. The conflict pits rebels who have accused the state of marginalising Darfur, against government troops and militias who are allegedly allied to the administration in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.