Sudan court to start Darfur hearings

A special court set up by Khartoum into alleged war crimes in Darfur will hold its first hearings on Saturday.

    A number of Darfur-related lawsuits are already ready

    The tribunal recently formed by the Sudanese government as a "substitute" for the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) will begin work in the South Darfur city of Nyala, the Sudanese news agency, SUNA, said on Thursday.
    "There are a number of lawsuits ready for the court to look into while the prosecution will go on finalising other cases before submitting them for trial," Mahmud Saeed Abkem, who chairs the court, was quoted as saying.
    The court "will convene morning and evening sessions, open to the public, with the participation of prosecution and defence
    counsels," he said. 
    Smaller cases first

    A foreign human rights observer in Nyala said the three-judge panel of two men and a woman was unlikely to open proceedings with high-profile cases of war crimes but would probably handle "small cases such as armed robbery".
    The Sudanese authorities have said about 160 suspects will appear before the special tribunal. Their identities have not yet been revealed, but the human rights observer, who wished to remain anonymous, said he did not expect any senior government officials or militia leaders to be among them. 

    "There is no willingness to prosecute these people"

    Human rights observer

    "There is no willingness to prosecute these people," the observer said, in reference to the officials suspected by the international community of having a hand in war crimes.
    The observer predicted that most of the group of 160 would turn out to be petty criminals who were not involved in planning the government's scorched-earth campaign against Darfur rebels. "We think that they are looters," he said.

    Jurisdiction rights

    Each of Darfur's three states will have its own panel of judges and, according to the ministerial decree that created the tribunal, they will have jurisdiction over all cases related to alleged war crimes in the region.
    The two main Darfur rebel movements, which have waged a bloody civil war with government forces since the beginning of 2003, fiercely condemned the move as an attempt by Khartoum to circumvent international law.
    The United Nations also warned that it had referred the Darfur case to the ICC and that no national court could replace the Hague-based tribunal. 



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