The Interational Criminal Court, pre-trial chamber I today ruled that the Office of the Prosecutor had not provided sufficient evidence to continue the case against Bahar Idriss Abu Garda for trial. Abu Garda was the first case from the Sudan to come before the court. He appeared voluntarily with counsel in May of 2009 and has been in The Hague, though not in custody since then.
Abu Garda was charged with three war crimes, violence to life, directing attacks against peacekeeping forces, and pillaging. The court found there was not sufficient evidence presented at the confirmation of charges hearing to require a trial.
The International Criminal Court uses a three stage process, a warrant and indictment can issue if there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the person committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. Once the accused is before the court, then there is a confirmation of charges hearing where the accused can participate and challenge the evidence, if after that hearing the court determines there is “substantial grounds” to believe the person is guilty of the crimes charged then a trial may be held where the prosecutor must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
It was at this second stage where the court found for Abu Garda and essentially dismissed the charges. This hearing, the equivalent of a probable cause hearing in an American court case may end the case against Abu Garda, although the prosecutor has the right to appeal the determination, and may ask to reopen if they can provide new evidence of Abu Garda’s involvement or command responsibility for the alleged war crimes.
The court’s press release regarding the decision is available here, the order itself is here, and the court’s fact sheet on the case is located here. Abu Garda is the fifth person brought to the court to face charges of war crimes, and the first to win the confirmation of charges hearing.
The court has previously confirmed charges against Thomas Lubanga of the Democratic Republic of Congo and against Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngdolo Chui also of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lubanga’s defense team is currently presenting its case, and Katanga and Chui are being tried together, their trial recently resumed. The court has also confirmed the charges against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo of the Central African Republic who is awaiting the start of trial.
The president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir and a cabinet official, Ahmad Harun have also been indicted by the court for war crimes as has a rebel leader, Ali Kushayb. None of them has yet appeared before the court to face the charges.