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African bloggers react to ICC charges against Sudanese President al-Bashir

Note: This article was written in collaboration with John Liebhardt

Bloggers from around the world are reacting to the International Criminal Court's recent recommendation that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir be charged with multiple counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Many of those bloggers are criticizing the potential indictments, claiming they are difficult to enforce and that they will bring more unrest to an already unstable nation.


Refugee children waiting with their family for a food distribution in Sam Ouandja in Darfur. Photo by Nicolas Rost/UNHCR, uploaded by hdptcar

Background
After a three year investigation, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, wants to formally accuse Sudan’s president Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir of 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the African country’s Darfur region. It marks the first time the six-year-old ICC has brought charges against a sitting president. al-Bashir and a government spokesman immediately rejected the charges and claimed they would use diplomacy to fight the case. Sudan has signed but not ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, meaning it is not obliged to cooperate with the court.

Moreno-Ocampo, from Argentina, contends that for more than five years al-Bashir has ordered the Sudanese armed forces along with the Janjaweed militia to attack and destroy villages of three separate ethnic groups in Darfur, directly uprooting nearly 2.5 million civilians who now live in refugee camps. The UN estimates fighting and disease have claimed the lives of nearly 450,000 people. The prosecutor says he has evidence that government-controlled military groups used rape, hunger and fear to drive people from their lands, which were then taken over.

The case against al-Bashir comes after the United Nations Security Council requested in 2005 that Moreno-Ocampo investigate the Sudanese president’s role in the Darfur conflict, which the United States government terms “genocide.”

While al-Bashir is supposed to be arrested by Sudanese authorities, three ICC judges (hailing from Ghana, Latvia and Brazil respectively) will begin weighing the claims and make a decision whether to proceeded with a trial. This review process could take up to three months.

From Sudan
On Friday, Too Huge World, an aid worker based in North Darfur, compared waiting for news of the indictments to waiting for a grenade to explode:

The potential implications of these indictments are many and depressing. Everything from anti-Western riots on the streets of Khartoum to government-backed attacks on UN targets to the expulsion of many or all international organizations.

I imagine that this is a bit of what it feels like to wait for a grenade to explode.

On Monday another post described effects of the recommendation that al-Bashir be charged on security in the area:

So far today we have not seen attacks against international staff or facilities. The only reaction so far seems to be some large orchestrated protests in downtown Khartoum, another one in El Geneina (West Darfur), a small, half-hearted one in El Fasher (North Darfur), and none at all in Nyala (South Darfur). In fact, as you may imagine, large numbers of the Darfurian population are not too sympathetic towards the government. Therefore, we expect problems principally where there are large concentrations of Arab tribes and/or their militias.

The scarcity of negative consequences so far should not be taken to indicte that there will not be other effects in the long-term. We wait. The next 24 hours are probably the most important.

Sudanese Thinker blames the UN for the security worries and criticizes those who support the potential indictment:

The real dimwits here are the guys in the UN who coordinated things so badly with the ICC, that the ICC is now causing them trouble and forcing them to tighten security.

[…]Now please give me a reason for me to be supportive of the ICC’s move. Those Sudanese who support it are thinking sentimentally.

And Ingrid Jones of Sudan Watch breaks a ten-month blogging silence with an open letter to the ICC begging them to reconsider:

Hello dear ICC, please do not indict Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir or others in the Sudanese government as unfair charges are likely to result in desperate consequences for many Chadian and Sudanese people, peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and those who are most in need of aid and protection.


Refugee woman in Sam Ouandja in Darfur. Photo by Nicolas Rost/UNHCR, uploaded by hdptcar

African bloggers react
African leaders who have spoken out on the issue have been largely against the ICC’s move. Egypt’s foreign minister worried that dealing “irresponsibly” with Sudan will only create more chaos. The South African government admitted al-Bashir will never be arrested.

Tanzania, which holds the African Union presidency, asked the ICC to suspend its order until the situation in Darfur and the fragile peace in southern Sudan are sorted out. This brought the ire of exiled Liberian journalist Emmanuel Abalo, who argues African leaders are once again standing up for a despot:

This nonsense of “African solidarity” and “protecting its own” as espoused by the AU fly in the face of human decency and forthrightness especially when there needs to be courage to speak plainly and boldly against excesses committed by member states of the Union.

The dilemma for some African leaders who were democratically elected and practice good governance is that the AU issues statements on their behalf which do not represent their individual positions on human rights abuses and tyranny as was the recent case with Zimbabwe. And the consequence is that other world continental groupings have to openly challenge the AU's credibility to the embarrassment of some member countries.

Some issues to consider from Codrin Arsene, writing at AfricanLoft:

Sooner or later the Janjaweed will retaliate. I think the UN should withdraw its entire non-military staff from Darfur and transfer it to Nairobi.

I also believe Argentina should increase security measures to maximum alert. We are talking about an Arab state that is charged with genocide. We are also talking about an army so desperate that will make any deals to get its revenge. And that could very well include deals with Al-Qaeda.

I admire Mr. Moreno-Ocampo determination to indict Sudan’s president but he should be very careful. His life is certainly in danger. He just made the first genocide accusation in the world.

In Kenya, Nairobi Notebook ponders the UN's role in the potential indictments:

The argument carrying most support right now seems to be that Moreno-Ocampo's bid to haul Al Bashir in front of the judges will do nothing to ease the suffering of Dafuris, only inflaming the situation as promises of more “blood and violence” are unleashed.

Rewind the clock a bit and you will remember it was the UN's Security Council that gave the green light to Moreno-Ocampo to investigate the Sudanese authorities in the first place.

The Angry African, a South African currently living in the United States, reminded readers that the ICC’s potential arrest warrant may not have much teeth, a fact that can be blamed on U.S. President George Bush.

[al-Bashir] is using the same argument President Bush used against the ICC. They both claim that the ICC have no jurisdictionover anything. They don’t recognize the ICC. This was the only court that could tackle Serbian war criminals. But President Bush wants special treatment for US citizens. He argues that everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law – but some are more equal than others. He doesn’t want Americans to be held accountable to this court even if they have committeda crime against humanity or genocide for that matter. Yes, everyone else should be covered by the ICC. Just not Americans. Do you truly believe Americans should have a higher right in this world? Should Americans be above the law? I don’t think we will ever see the day an American will be charged at the ICC. It’s aimed at warmongers and despots. but we have to make sure everyone is covered by the same law. Shouldn’t we?

Come on Bush – you are either for us or against us… The Darfur blood is on your hands. What options did you leave us with? Invading as a first option? I guess you don’t like it when people first try to take the legal route? It’s easier to go in with guns blazing isn’t it? You set the precedent. Invade Sudan – even the rest of the world think he is evil and worse than Sadam used to be. Be proud – you and the President of Sudan have something in common… I hope you are proud of your legacy.

Victor Ngeny, a Kenyan journalism student living in Uganda writing at African Path, claims a warrant would be too weak to do any good:

Mr Luis Moreno-Ocampo is a man on a mission; he wants to get an arrest warrant for Mr El Bashir. A small matter you might think, but if you factor the small detail that Mr El-Bashir is the president of Sudan and that China is squarely behind him, then it slowly becomes clear that Mr. Ocampo’s efforts will be in futility. Mr Ocampo’s, The Prosecutor of The International Criminal Court, case is that Mr El-Bashir has been executing genocide against his own countrymen in Darfur. There is also the small matter of Sudan not being party to the court.

Ugandan bloggers are perhaps uniquely situated within Africa to comment on the ICC's actions, given that the countries share a border and that the first warrants the ICC issued were against members of the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel organization in northern Uganda. Chris Blattman, a political scientist with extensive experience in northern Uganda, compares the ICC's actions in Sudan and Uganda:

There's a temptation to say enough is enough, screw the bastard, and arrest away. But the indictments are a blunt instrument wielded by a narrowly focused and unelected body, the ICC, fighting for its existence and relevance (and trying to make up for a number of bungles). I support the idea of the ICC, but I'm worried that this risky decision was made without consideration for the big picture, including peace in the region.

The ICC's Ocampo has a reputation as a loose cannon and a publicity hound, and is said to have an eye on the Argentine presidency. This reputation accords with my impressions of the ICC's work in northern Uganda–a rash, risky, poorly informed and planned move that nearly backfired.

Is Ocampo acting rashly and alone again? I hope not. I hope that something as serious as an indictment of a sitting President would be part of a high level (probably secretive) discussion among world leaders and the UN. I hope this most of all when we are speaking of a nation with extensive UN operations, several peace efforts, several brewing wars, and an African Union peacekeeping mission (and thousands of foreign humanitarian workers) in country.

Ugandabeat describes local media reactions to the ICC announcement:

The International Criminal Court charged the Sudanese president, Omar Al-Bashir, with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur yesterday. The news rocked Uganda, with the major dailies putting Bashir's face on the cover, next to headlines that read “Wanted” or “Bashir Wanted for Genocide.” Sudan is Uganda's neighbor, and the politics of Southern Sudan and Uganda have always been intertwined.

[…]Of course, the situation is complex. Mahmood Mamdani, my favorite Ugandan scholar (actually, my favorite scholar in general), has long been critical of the motives of governments and NGOs in calling the war in Darfur genocide, particularly the demonisation of the Janjaweed.

Gay Uganda wonders what effect, if any, an ICC warrant will have on the situation on the ground:

The world is not without its contradictions. With Bashir of Sudan accused of genocide in Darfur, practical politicians are pointing out that if the president of Sudan is arraigned, that, the largest country in Africa, with the most consistent civil unrest since independence, is headed for more unrest.

The nightmare in Sudan has lasted longer than my life. Yet, isn’t Darfur enough to lead to his indictment? When will our leaders become accountable? When will they stop arguing their continued misleading of the continent in the name of ‘stability’?

Oh well. Even the Security Council could not get to grips with Zimbabwe. For Russia, did Medvedev get his wrist slapped when he returned home from the G8 summit? For China, it is simply the Platinum and Gold and other riches. The more the world changes, the more it is still the same.

Other reactions
The Social Science Research Council has an excellent guide to the controversy on their Making Sense of Darfur blog. Among the questions they ask:

Moreno Ocampo is taking a bold and momentous step for global human rights and for Sudan. It is also controversial and fraught with danger. Will this be a historic victory for human rights, a principled blow on behalf of the victims of atrocity against the men who orchestrated massacre and destruction? Or will it be a tragedy, a clash between the needs for justice and for peace, which will send Sudan into a vortex of turmoil and bloodshed?

Daniel Sturgis, a Canadian travel writer in Morocco, claims the ICC’s move may be correct but may jeopardize the chance for a peaceful resolution:

From a law perspective, the ICC decision to proceed with charges of crimes against humanity for Sudan's top brass, is definitely the right one.

From a moral perspective, the United Nations is unable to prevent the fallout if this decision enrages the Sudanese government. Isolated, Sudanese leaders are much more dangerous than the frustratingly ineffective checks and balances we have currently placed upon them.

To Ali Alarabi, writing for Mideast Youth, the charges are an unhelpful attempt to settle the political issue of Darfur. While the humanitarian costs are high in Darfur, Alarabi points out that the Sudanese government has every right to protect the integrity of its borders. However, larger and richer states are now hiding behind international law to punish the Sudanese leader.

International law however, as it appears to be, is there to punish weak and third world countries if they were deemed misbehaving according to standards of Western powers. As this issue demonstrates, International law is there to preserve the interests and the power of big powers against small helpless nations. Sudan is perceived to be not playing by the rules set forth by western powers when it comes to its energy supplies, its stand on the Arab Israeli conflict and its position on Iraq.

Written in Collaboration with John Liebhardt

9 comments

  • Lucy

    A small point: The ICC has not indicted Bashir yet. The Prosecutor has asked that an arrest warrant be issued for him. That decision will likely be made by the three judge panel in the Pre-Trial Chamber in a couple of months. A small point, but we legal types enjoy splitting hairs, and you never know the Security Council may defer the case before an arrest warrant is issued, or Bashir may turn over the other suspects with ICC arrest warrants, prompting the charges to be dropped. A lot of things could happen in the next few months. Whatever does happen, I am hoping that it results in good consequences and few hardships for the people in Darfur. May I recommend the link to the Prosecutor’s application http://tinyurl.com/67vmks which shows the evidence he has collected so far in the case.

  • His time has come
    time for justice has come
    the Sudanese will do it before them.

  • Lucy — thanks for your comment. I’ve updated the post to reflect the current status of the ICC legal process.

    For those who are interested, the UN Dispatch has a great post (http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/07/two_clarificati.php) clarifying the indictment issue and the UN’s role in the ICC’s prosecution of al-Bashir.

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  • padiet

    As an Sudanese born, I would not understanding those mindless African’s leader condemn the (ICC) indictment of Sudanese president! Don’t you African Union realizes that Omar Al Bashir is a potential bug behind Darfur’s genocide? You African’s leaders are useless because most of you have no souls for human’s lif than die heart for staying president by employing other people to do your dirty works and killing each other and make our women and children suffers. you Africa Union cannot cary out justice for innocence civilian. you keep saying that the indictment would everythings worse in Darfur. what are you talking about?everything has been worse since the war begin.stop your nosens! do not condemn the(ICC)for carry out the world’s justice. Geocide have been going on for five years,You African’s leader so calls the \AU\ have done nothing at all until the (ICC)issue warrant arrest for potential bug. I wish Omar will die in prison like Liberia and Serbia’s leaders period.

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