Early next month, 13 Sudanese attorneys will participate in a program to help them represent victims of the genocide in Darfur in front of international tribunals. The training session in London is being sponsored by the litigation section of the American Bar Association (ABA). It will provide advocacy skills similar to those needed at the International Criminal Court in the Hague (ICC), which is currently pursuing arrest warrants for two Sudanese government officials cited for their alleged involvement in grave atrocities in Darfur. San Francisco attorney Jerry Roth, a bar association faculty member, explains how the lawyers were selected for the project.
“They’ve been selected by Salim Mahmoud Osman, a former human rights advocate in the Sudan and currently a member of the legislature. He is arranging their travel out of the Sudan to London. And once they’re in London, the ABA will be sponsoring them at the training session,” he says.
The London training sessions were set up shortly after judges at the ICC issued the arrest warrants following a 20-month investigation by the prosecutor’s office. Attorney Roth says the evidence compiled against the two Sudanese government officials charged them with crimes against humanity and other war crimes.
“One is a janjaweed senior leader, a member of the militia groups that news reports indicate have been attacking villagers, killing them in the Darfur region, raping women, stealing property, and basically causing the desertion of towns. And the other is a Sudanese government official, a minister of the current government, who was charged for causing these actions on behalf of the Sudanese government. They’re both charged with crimes against humanity, with having caused others to engage in specific acts of terror against these Darfur villagers,” notes Roth.
The ABA is the largest professional membership organization in the world. Last year, it adopted a policy directing the US government to take all necessary steps to end ongoing atrocities in Darfur and provide humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees. While the trained attorneys will not directly present a prosecution case before the ICC in the current pending litigation, Jerry Roth says they will be instructed to play an important role in proceedings at the Hague.
“They won’t be a member of the prosecution team, but the International Criminal Court permits victims of the offenses that are being prosecuted to be represented at all proceedings. And so the hope is that these individuals, once trained, will be able to represent the interests of some or all of the victims all the way through trial and appeal,” he said.
Roth adds that the goals of the ABA’s upcoming program, the first of its kind, will extend beyond any trials at the Hague.
“The hope is also that the training of these lawyers will help victims of Darfur, not only in front of the ICC, but in front of any international or frankly, Sudanese court, where ultimately, any proceedings might be brought,” he said.
Although ABA attorneys have not been in direct contact with Sudanese government officials on the case, Roth notes there is a possibility that the International Court may have to prosecute the defendants in absentia.
“I have read that official Sudanese government response to the issuance of the arrest warrants was a negative one, indicating that they did not recognize the proceedings as valid, and indicating that they would not be prepared to turn over the two defendants who were charged,” he said.
In a separate, precedent-setting ICC case against militia commander Thomas Lubanga for crimes against humanity allegedly committed seven years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the International Court succeeded in bringing pressure to bear to have Lubanga extradited to the Netherlands to face justice. ABA instructor Jerry Roth says he hopes that similar international pressure can be placed on Khartoum to bring the Darfur defendants to trial in the near future.