A former Sudanese militia leader on trial at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to committing war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region.
Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, 72, an ally of deposed Sudanese strongman Omar Al Bashir, was a senior commander of the Janjaweed militia, a notorious armed group created by the government.
He faces 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 2003 and 2004 in the arid western Sudanese region.
“I reject all these charges. I am innocent of all these charges,” AFP reported Abd-Al-Rahman as saying.
The trial in The Hague, the Netherlands, opens as an estimated 45 people were killed last week in Darfur in clashes between rival ethnic groups.
The United Nations says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the 2003-2004 Darfur conflict, when fighting broke out after black African rebels, complaining of systematic discrimination, took up arms against Al Bashir's Arab-dominated regime.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, a force drawn from the region's nomadic tribes.
Human rights groups said it was a “systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing” targeting the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.
In April 2007, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Abd-Al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb.
He fled to the Central African Republic in February 2020 when the new Sudanese government announced its intention to co-operate with the ICC investigation.
Four months later, he surrendered voluntarily.
Prosecutors said Abd-Al-Rahman, who carried the title of “colonel of colonels” in the Janjaweed, played a central role in a series of attacks on at least four villages in West Darfur.
He is charged with both directing the attacks, as well as mobilising, recruiting, arming and supplying to Janjaweed militia under his command.
During these attacks, at least 100 villagers were butchered, women and girls were raped and the members of the predominantly Fur ethnic group subjected to forcible transfer and persecution.
After one attack in late February and early March 2002 on a village, 100 Fur men including community leaders, doctors and teachers were taken to a police station in the town of Mukjar, where they were interrogated and tortured.
Fifty detainees were driven out into the countryside, told to lie face down and were executed, prosecutors said.
In another incident in March 2004, between 100 to 200 Fur men were detained and taken to an open area at the Deleig police station where they were tortured, prosecutors said.
“Abd-Al-Rahman stood or walked on the backs of detainees, hit them … kicked them, and verbally abused them,” they said.