Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman is accused of overseeing thousands of pro-government Janjaweed militants responsible for harassment, murder, rape and torture during the height of the 2003-2004 violence, when hundreds of thousands of people were killed.
“I am innocent of all these charges,” Abd al-Rahman, 70, told judges after the charges were read at the start of his case.
Abd al-Rahman, also named Ali Kushaib, according to prosecutors, voluntarily surrendered himself to a court in The Hague in June 2020 after 13 years on the run. He denied the accusations.
The trial comes amid an upsurge in what humanitarian groups are calling communal violence in Darfur following the closure of a United Nations and African Union mission there.
Decades after heavy fighting, the UN estimates that 1.6 million people are still internally displaced in Darfur.
The conflict in Darfur first erupted when rebels, mostly of non-Arab origin, took up arms against the Sudanese government, which responded with a crackdown on the rebels.
Khartoum mobilized mostly Arab militias known as the “Janjaweed” to put down the uprising, sparking a wave of violence that Washington and some activists called genocide.
The UN estimates that 300,000 people were killed and more than 2 million were forced to flee their homes.
Abd al-Rahman was charged with 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and could face life in prison if convicted.
During previous hearings, his lawyer argued that the defendant was the victim of mistaken identity and that he was not educated enough to understand that the orders he followed could lead to war crimes.
Former Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was charged by the ICC with organizing genocide and other atrocities in Darfur, was overthrown in 2019 and remains in prison in Khartoum.