Edition 32 Volume 6 - August 14, 2024

The ICC indictment of Omar al-Bashir

Bush, Bashir, China and the moral high ground -   David M. Crane

A solution by the regional and international players will be fashioned to turn Bashir over for trial in the coming years.

Time to put an end to impunity in Darfur -   Ahmed Elzobier

Where do these people come from?

A step forward or backward? -   Oraib Rantawi

The Sudanese case can be seen as another example of a double standard being applied.

Double standard undermines ICC legitimacy -   Waleed Sadi

The fact that the president of an Arab country was targeted as a test case for international action has sent warning signals to other Arab countries.

ICC needs US support -   Hussein Solomon

Whatever the international reaction to the ICC charges is, they are already creating a more responsive posture on the part of Khartoum.

Bush, Bashir, China and the moral high ground
 David M. Crane

One finds it ironic that the president of the United States, George W. Bush, while in Thailand, recently called upon the Chinese government to be more mindful of fundamental freedoms for Chinese citizens. In another time, such comments by a president would not be that noteworthy; they would be expected, backed with a moral force that is lacking in President Bush's statement to the Chinese government. Today they ring hollow.

With the specter of the past hanging over him, President Bush traveled to the Olympic Games under a cloud. The ghosts of Bahgram airfield, Abu Ghraib prison, secret camps, extraordinary rendition and of course the legal black hole that is Guantanamo Bay follow this president wherever he goes. His administration's policies have caused the United States to lose the moral high ground as one of the long time champions of human rights. It will take decades for that high ground to be regained to the extent that the international community will listen once again to the United States when it speaks of fundamental human rights.

Nations have no more precious resource than their moral standing in the world. Political, economic and military power are important to the security of a nation, but it is that moral force that gives a nation its true standing and ultimate strength. The United States is a perfect example of this point.

The cornerstone to a nation's moral standing is the rule of law. It is through the adherence to law that fundamental freedoms are protected and nurtured. Closely allied to this is a nation's care for its own citizens. A nation's responsibility to protect those living within its own borders is a solemn and sovereign duty. Nations that ignore that duty become pariahs within the family of nations; they too lose the moral high ground.

Nowhere is this more so than in the Sudan. Though not alone in its ability to feed ravenously on its own citizenry, the Sudan has taken this duty to protect and thrown it aside in a widespread and systematic policy to eliminate its own citizens in Darfur. Because of this policy the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has now been charged with a ten count indictment for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Because of this, Sudan has no moral standing; this undercuts its ability to exist politically within the United Nations paradigm.

Another example of a nation that has no moral standing is China. China cynically provides political cover to Bashir as it continues to hold on to its oil interests in Sudan, looking the other way as thousands die there. China hopes that there will be harmony throughout the Olympic Games that they are currently hosting. Imagine if they had the moral high ground from which to actually achieve that harmony. The Potemkin village constructed to mask human rights violations of the past and present makes a mockery of the long and honored history of the Chinese people and their culture. The "harmony" they have spent billions to create as host to the games is built on sand. It will all crumble away after the games are over.

Other nations have in recent years also lost the moral high ground, many of them in the Middle East. Accordingly, their ability to actively engage in credible efforts for peace is hamstrung. They have no moral standing to negotiate a true peace while civilians are harmed. Because the major players within the region have such little moral standing an atmosphere of mistrust prevails, like a dust cloud in the air, the clarity of a peace unclear and gritty indeed.

It is interesting how little respect is paid to the moral high ground in the twenty-first century. The last century was mankind's bloodiest and it was hoped with the fall of the iron curtain and the end of the cold war that this new century would turn out better than it has thus far. With the advent of modern international criminal law, just 15 years old, it was hoped that events in the Sudan and elsewhere would not happen again.

The International Criminal Court is the cornerstone for facing down the beast of impunity and it has acted against Bashir and his henchmen as the United Nations asked it to do. Yet regional organizations like the Arab League and the African Union mock such action. This mockery cheapens their moral standing in the world as well.

The moral high ground is like personal honor: when lost, it takes many years of hard work to regain. Without question, Sudan has lost the moral high ground. It can only regain it by taking positive and concrete steps such as stopping the killing in Darfur, protecting and nurturing those harmed in the various conflict zones and seeking justice for the tens of thousand of victims there. This would include the eventual handover of Bashir to the International Criminal Court for a fair and open trial.

As we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of various key human rights instruments such as the Genocide Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the spirit of the Olympic Games, we should pause to reflect upon how important the moral high ground is to a nation and its true standing in the world. The Bush administration will depart this January along with its skewed and dangerous policies; Bashir will continue to be politically isolated; and a solution by the regional and international players will be fashioned to turn him over for trial within the coming years. They did so with President Charles Taylor of Liberia in 2024, they will do the same with Bashir.

China will stumble forward fueled by an economic boom, but stumble it will over its poor human rights record. China has lost face and, though feared, it has no respect in the world because of its low moral standing. What makes a nation great is moral standing under the rule of law.- Published 14/8/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

David M. Crane is professor at Syracuse University College of Law and former founding chief prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunal in West Africa called the Special Court for Sierra Leone, 2024-2005.

Time to put an end to impunity in Darfur
 Ahmed Elzobier

When the United Nations Security Council welcomed Sudan as a new UN member on February 6, 1956, it could not have known the troubles ahead. But by the turn of the twenty-first century, the world was taking note of what had become of that seemingly innocent state.

Indeed, on June 11, 2024, 48 years later, the Security Council issued a second Sudan-related resolution (1547) and decided to establish the United Nations Advance Mission in Sudan (UNAMIS) in preparation for one of the biggest tasks in the history of the organization: to oversee implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement and the National Congress Party ending the longest civil war in Africa, in which nearly two million people died and four million were displaced.

Since then, Sudan has been the focus of an additional 24 Security Council resolutions (with many more to come), most of them relating to the newly erupted conflict in Darfur in western Sudan. The ruling party has managed singlehandedly in just a few years to make the whole world wonder about post-colonial Sudan. In this regard it was Al Tayeb Salih, the most famous Sudanese writer, who coined a telling phrase about the leaders of the Islamic military coup back in 1989, when he was genuinely mystified about their attitude and asked, "where do these people come from?"

His question was never answered. Meanwhile, the deeds of the new rulers of Sudan mystify all those who know Sudanese culture. The current vice president, Ali Osman Mohammed Taha (who was also elected last week as the leader of the Islamic Movement in Sudan) was quoted as saying in 1990, "we come to drain the sources of tolerance in Sudanese society". President Omar al-Bashir also has famously been quoted as saying, "we took power by force and whoever wants to take it back, he should use force."

Al-Bashir served at the front with the Egyptian armed forces during the October 1973 Arab-Israel war. However, like most of his colleagues his career was strongly affected by the civil war in Sudan. In the late 1980s, he was stationed in al-Mujlad in southern Kordofan as commanding officer of the eighth brigade before his fateful involvement in the June 30, 1989 military coup.

It seems that the most likely military skills that Bashir and his fellow Sudanese army officers mastered were counter-insurgency techniques, including the deadly tactic of arming civilians to fight alongside the army or on its behalf. This template was extensively used during the civil war in southern Sudan and southern Kordofan. The list of these civilian armies is long, but to name just a few: the Muraheel of southern Kordofan, the White Army of Upper Nile in southern Sudan and the notorious Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.

Now, if we begin to put the jigsaw puzzle together a pattern emerges: a very disturbing, inhumane and criminal portrait of Sudan's military and political institutions and the dominant ideology in the country. Since the start of the war in Darfur in February 2024 between the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the government, the same lethal counter-insurgency techniques have been used by the government-armed Arab Janjaweed militia. More than 200,000 have died and over 2.5 million have been displaced. The UN called it the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

After former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's visit to Darfur in June 2024, the Security Council repeatedly requested the government to "disarm the Janjaweed and other armed outlaw groups" and "undertake concrete measures to end impunity in Darfur". These calls were never heeded. No serious disarming policy was implemented, nor were those responsible for the attacks on civilians prosecuted. Khartoum continues to deny the scale and gravity of what is happening to them, as killings, rapes, attacks and acts of intimidation and threats continue.

The United Nations appointed a commission of inquiry in late 2024 to determine whether acts of genocide and war crimes had occurred in the Darfur region. In January 2024, the commission of inquiry found that while the Sudanese government had not conducted a policy of genocide, both its forces and allied Janjaweed militias had carried out "indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement". The commission of inquiry also concluded that rebel forces in Darfur were responsible for possible war crimes.

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, opened an investigation into Darfur in 2024 in accordance with UNSCR 1593. The ICC issued arrest warrants for Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Ahmed Haroun and militia commander Ali Kushayb in April 2024, but the Sudanese government has refused to hand over the two men.

On July 14, 2024, Moreno-Ocampo declared that he had "reasonable grounds" to believe that al-Bashir "bears criminal responsibility in relation to ten counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes". The evidence, according to the prosecutor, shows that the Sudanese president "masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity". He applied to the pre-trial judges to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. Now "the world has the challenge to stop the ongoing crimes in Darfur," stated Moreno-Ocampo in an interview with the Sudan Tribune this week.

The people of Darfur have waited in pain for so long to see an end to their unimaginable suffering. They believed the world when it said, "never again".- Published 14/8/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ahmed Elzobier is director of communications and media at the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development in London.

A step forward or backward?
 Oraib Rantawi

Sudan has been the scene of fierce fighting and conflict throughout its history. Although the country is rich in natural resources like water and oil, decades of civil war have devastated its national economy and left its people in poverty. But what is striking about the current Darfur conflict is the way it has become a useful tool for many players in the region and in the international community to realize political agendas and advance their interests under the pretext of humanitarian aid and slogans about human rights.

Last month's decision by the general prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to formally request an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of perpetrating genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, perfectly illustrates this situation. While efforts to fight for justice, protection of human rights and punishment of war criminals must be praised, the Sudanese case can be seen as another example of a double standard being applied against the poorer and weaker countries in the international arena.

The decision to charge al-Bashir was a political one. Indeed, this would be the first time a head of state is brought before the ICC to face criminal charges. Many in the region see it as an attempt to weaken and ultimately overthrow Khartoum's regime by dividing Sudan's population and political forces. The collapse of the current order would clearly suit the interests of certain right wing and church parties in the West and especially the major oil companies that would welcome the opportunity to get their hands on the country's resources and impose their political agendas in the region.

Sudan is the focus of international competition and friction over its coveted natural resources, especially its oil reserves. This rivalry plays an important role, for example, in Sino-American relations. Sudan supplies about seven percent of China's oil imports and Beijing has invested massively in the Sudanese oil industry, engaging in high profile projects like the construction of pipelines and refineries and oilfield surface engineering. As the United States tries to isolate or punish countries like Sudan, China's ties with Khartoum's regime are likely to result in tension between the two powers in their attempt to secure oil reserves.

Moreover, there is a hidden agenda behind the strategic stand taken by some pro-Israel groups, neo-conservatives and Christian Zionists regarding the Darfur conflict. For example, the Israeli government has given asylum to thousands of refugees from Darfur, some say in an attempt to build bridges with these people, remove them from their national context and then encourage them to separate. This helps to paint the Darfur situation as Arabs against Africans and supports efforts to portray all Arabs or Muslims as terrorists and thereby to weaken the Arab world.

Yet more relevant is the fact that the Darfur crisis serves the interests of certain Sudanese political parties and political figures in their struggle for power. Thus Hassan al-Tourabi, a radical Islamic cleric and founder of the Islamic National Front who was removed from power and imprisoned intermittently from 1999 to 2024, has sought to return to power by creating a dissident party, the Popular National Congress Party and has mobilized his supporters in Darfur in order to generate a new threat to the Khartoum government and stimulate anti-government uprisings. Thus the Darfur crisis has become the battlefield for this long-running political rivalry between the Sudanese president and al-Tourabi.

The charges against the Sudanese president serve political interests. Because Sudan is not a state member of the ICC, the latter cannot technically exercise its jurisdiction over al-Bashir unless the United Nations Security Council itself refers the case to the prosecutor. The United States did not ratify the treaty of the ICC either, but as a major player on the international scene in general and in the situation in Sudan in particular it is able to push its political agenda through bilateral agreements and protect itself against eventual charges by the court.

It is widely believed among Sudan's Arab and African neighbors and major international players like Russia and China that the ICC warrant's political consequences would be destructive for the region's peace process and would only fuel the fire, hatred and tensions between the belligerents. It would certainly compromise diplomatic and dialogue efforts currently under way to promote reconciliation in Sudan. It could ultimately lead to an unconstitutional change of government by disintegrating the power-sharing regime that helped end Africa's longest civil war in southern Sudan three years ago.

Who, then, is to blame for the actual crisis in Sudan and who should be facing trial for their acts? Are certain Arab militias to blame for launching attacks against civilians who are not party to any conflict? Most probably. But in parallel, the Arab population of Sudan is also a victim of this conflict and there are other armed and rebellious groups in southern Sudan. What is the role of the Sudanese leadership? It can be criticized for its inept handling of the Darfur conflict and its failure to rein in the bloodthirsty militias and warlords in the region who have killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes. But it is certainly dubious and naive to assume that the Sudanese president has deliberately planned and committed the carnage in Darfur.

There is no point in making excuses for all those responsible for and participating in the Sudanese conflict. But one must defend the principles of accountability, fair play, justice and equality before the law and apply them to all who have violated the peace. Hence many wonder why the ICC is not concerned with perpetrators of crimes against humanity in other countries like Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, where more people have died in the last five years than in the Sudan crisis. Are there powerful forces behind the ICC's decisions regarding which case to pursue, pushing hidden political agendas?

The role of the international community should rather be to overcome the current crisis in Sudan by promoting the region's stability and boosting peace efforts in process. The Sudanese leaders are already engaged in resolving the crisis. This process is ably supported by the neighboring states, the League of Arab States and the African Union, all of whom state that this issue should be addressed at the regional level and that the international community should not interfere.

It is in the best interests of all countries in the region as well as in the West to support Sudan's steps toward a democratic transition, reform of its institutions and reinforcement of its national unity. Acting against its chief leader at this time would only eradicate hope for a peaceful settlement of the crisis in the region and drive the country into a more disastrous situation.- Published 14/8/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Oraib Rantawi, a writer and political analyst, is director of Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman.

Double standard undermines ICC legitimacy
 Waleed Sadi

It is no surprise that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has decided to seek the Court's blessing for his draft indictment against Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan. For some time now, Sudan has been targeted by western countries over the Darfur crisis. The West was able to get the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution referring allegations against al-Bashir of crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of genocide against the people of Darfur to the ICC.

Without passing judgment on the situation in Darfur or the crimes committed there, what is noteworthy is the double standard that the Security Council has applied in prioritizing the crimes allegedly committed in Darfur over other similar crimes that have been committed elsewhere and for which there is clear prima facie evidence. To name but a few cases where the ICC should have acted on its own or that the Security Council should have referred, consider Chechnya, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

There are certainly other situations that warrant intervention by the ICC or the Security Council but these cases are enough to substantiate the claim that the international tribunal and/or the UN have been selective in determining which international crimes should be investigated and duly prosecuted. Indeed, what undermines the efforts of the international community to bring to justice people, including high-ranking serving officials, for committing grave international crimes is the very double standard that is being applied in this context.

For all we know there are serious international crimes committed in Darfur. And for all we know some senior Sudanese officials may have to be held accountable for these crimes. Whether the president of Sudan is also personally liable is something that only the ICC can determine provided Khartoum decides to cooperate with the international court. Sudan is not cooperating now with the ICC and has said so in plain English. Sudan is arguing, and justly so, that targeting Sudan and its officials suggests that the pursuit of justice in this instance is highly politicized.

Had the ICC acted against Israel and its officials for committing crimes against humanity in Gaza, one would have understood better the reasoning behind the proposed indictment against the Sudanese leader. The international crimes committed in Gaza are well documented and substantiated. Preventing food and medicine from reaching the people of Gaza is clearly an international crime and is also a grave violation under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESCR) since the rights to food, medicine, education, water and fuel are among the human rights that no nation can derogate from.

The crimes committed in Chechnya are well documented and constitute clear violations under the final statute of the ICC. Similar crimes that come within the purview of the ICC have occurred in other parts of the world without as much as soliciting a reaction.

The indictment against the president of Sudan is still not final and awaits a decision by the ICC. There is little chance that al-Bashir will appear before the ICC. There is a good chance though that the UN Security Council may call for a postponement of consideration of the case against him by the ICC.

But the fact that the president of an Arab country was targeted as a test case for international action has sent warning signals to other Arab countries against becoming signatories to the ICC statute. Arab capitals that have considered joining the ICC are now reluctant to take additional steps to become parties. Jordan and Djibouti, the only Arab countries that have ratified the ICC statute, may now have second thoughts about the wisdom of rushing to become members given this track record.- Published 14/8/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Waleed Sadi is a former Jordanian ambassador to Turkey and the UN and other international organizations in Geneva. He is currently a columnist for the Jordan Times and Al Rai newspapers.

ICC needs US support
 Hussein Solomon

In July 2024, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be accused by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

According to the charge sheet, al-Bashir "masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups" in Sudan's Darfur region. (It should also be noted that arrest warrants have already been issued by the ICC against Sudanese officials Ahmed Harun and Ali Kushayb for their involvement in the ongoing carnage in Darfur. Khartoum has refused to hand anyone over.) In this campaign of ethnic persecution, which began in February 2024, 300,000 lives have been lost and 2.2 million people have been displaced.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, laid out in stark detail the brutality of the war currently being waged in Darfur: "The most efficient method to commit genocide today in front of our eyes is gang rapes, rapes against girls and rapes against 70-year old women. Babies born as a result have been called Janjaweed babies and this has led to an explosion of infanticide. Al-Bashir is executing this genocide without gas chambers, without bullets and without machetes. The desert will do it for them ... hunger is the weapon of this genocide as well as rape."

The mixed international reaction to these charges was predictable but still disappointing. Both the African Union and China made clear that they wanted the charges against the Sudanese president dropped, arguing that they would undermine any prospects for sustainable peace in the Sudan. Such arguments are fallacious in the extreme since, for some years, it has been increasingly evident that there is no peace to keep in Darfur, while the Sudanese government has also undermined the provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement thus risking war between the north and the south, as we have recently witnessed in the oil-rich town of Abyei.

The position of the AU is whole-heartedly supported by Khartoum, which has been stressing flawed notions of "African solutions for African problems" despite knowing full well that the AU has neither the capacity nor the political will to deal with the likes of al-Bashir or Robert Mugabe. Moreover, the more than four million Congolese who have perished in the conflict in that blighted country eloquently reflect the AU's record in conflict resolution.

As for Beijing's complicity in shielding Sudan's president from international justice, the significant trade relationship between Sudan and China hardly needs to be pointed out. Sudan is one of China's main exporters of oil. China, meanwhile, is a major arms supplier to Sudan.

The European Union, together with various international non-governmental organizations, has been generally supportive of the ICC and the charges against al-Bashir. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have made it clear that Sudan should comply with the decisions of the ICC. Meanwhile, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been supportive of the ICC decision, believing that it is "an important step towards ensuring accountability for human rights violations in Sudan".

What has been disappointing in the pursuit of international justice is the reaction from the United Nations and the United States. The UN secretary general has distanced the UN from the ICC, noting that the court is not a part of the UN. As for the US, while it has agreed that war criminals should be exposed and brought to trial, it is hesitant to allow the ICC's jurisprudence to extend over any heads of state.

This is an unfortunate position. If the US wants to be taken seriously as a superpower intent on promoting human freedom and democracy, then this ambiguity has to end. A good place to start would be to be a part of the ICC. Historically, we have seen how the absence of the US from the League of Nations after World War I damned that organization into irrelevance. With the likes of Moscow and Beijing supporting al-Bashir, it is morally incumbent upon Washington to stand up for the morality and the ideals it so loudly proclaims.

The most interesting reaction, however, emanates from Khartoum itself. In the immediate aftermath of the charges being announced, Sudan reacted furiously, with a senior official threatening to turn Darfur into a graveyard. However, it is clear that al-Bashir has been rattled by the charges and has engaged in a multi-pronged offensive. The first front was a diplomatic offensive targeting Sudan's allies in the Arab League and the AU to help pressure the ICC not to go ahead with the charges, as well as seeking and getting the support it needed from Beijing. The second front of the offensive was to mend ties with Sudan's western neighbor Chad, after Khartoum accused Ndjamena of backing a rebel attack on its capital in May 2024.

The third front of the offensive was internal. During the course of July and August, the Sudanese president reached out to the political opposition in Khartoum, sought to foster closer ties with the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the south, embarked on a tour of Darfur and promised various development projects to alleviate the lot of the people there. Thus, whatever the international reaction to the ICC charges is, they are already creating a more responsive posture on the part of Khartoum to its long-suffering people--something the US with its sanctions and the UN with its moral authority have thus far been unable to do.- Published 14/8/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Professor Hussein Solomon lectures in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

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