KHARTOUM, Sudan -- The Sudanese can do a better job prosecuting crimes in Darfur than anyone else, Sudan's justice minister said yesterday, asserting international courts have no valid reason to investigate suspects in the vast area of western Sudan.
Justice Minister Mohammed Ali al-Mardi spoke as a team from the International Criminal Court was in Khartoum to look into what the United Nations and others describe as war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
"We as a government are willing and able to try all perpetrators of offenses in Darfur, and for this reason the ICC has absolutely no right to assume any jurisdiction," Mardi said. He declined to comment on specifics of the international court mission.
Some top Sudanese officials are believed to be on the list of suspects the UN Security Council handed to the international court in 2005 for investigation. Many observers believe Khartoum's fierce rejection of a planned UN peacekeeping force for Darfur is linked to government fears the peacekeepers would seek out war crime suspects.
At The Hague, where the international court is based, officials said they would not comment on the investigation. But they confirmed that prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo intended to present his first cases to judges in February.
Sudan is not a party to the statute that governs the International Criminal Court, and the court could only intervene if the government was refusing to investigate, Mardi said. He said three special courts have been set up in Darfur by the government.
"Our judges are qualified, experienced, and impartial," he said. "They've passed sentences of imprisonment and of capital punishment against civilians, and even against the military, for crimes committed in Darfur."
Mardi did not say how many suspects the courts have tried in connection with violence in Darfur. However, Human Rights Watch and other international rights groups say Sudan does little to prosecute perpetrators of atrocities in Darfur.
For example, the Sudanese judiciary says it received complaints of about 36 rapes in Darfur in 2006, and that eight perpetrators were sentenced to prison.
Aid groups working in Darfur say rape is a daily occurrence and that cases last year number in the thousands.
The United Nations says more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million made refugees by four years of fighting, rape, and plunder in Darfur.
The UN and others accuse the government of having countered local rebel groups by unleashing militias of Arab nomads known as janjaweed who are accused of atrocities against farmers from the region's ethnic African tribes. Washington has labeled the violence genocide.