Targeting a President

Published : Aug 15, 2008 00:00 IST

The International Criminal Courts indictment of the Sudanese President for genocide in Darfur angers African states.

THE unilateral decision of the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to file genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al Bashir on July 14 has angered the majority of governments in Africa and West Asia. This is the first time that a sitting head of state has been targeted by the ICC.

The Chief Prosecutor grandiloquently pronounced that genocide is a crime of intention we dont want to wait until these 2.5 million people die. Moreno-Ocampo was referring to the casualties of the civil strife in Darfur. The Government of Sudan has maintained that only 10,000 people have been killed since the civil strife erupted in 2003. United Nations agencies have put the toll at between 200,000 and 300,000.

Mahmoud Mamdani, Professor of Government at Columbia University, in an article published in the London Review of Books last year, showed how human rights activists in the West, led by an array of Hollywood personalities, transformed the conflict in Darfur into a platform for moral posturing. These activists, according to Mamdani, who has his roots in Uganda, have portrayed the conflict in simplistic terms. A complex struggle involving various armed factions and government forces for dwindling resources, grazing rights and water supplies has been labelled as genocide by the Save Darfur activists. This view has now been formally endorsed by many governments in the West and the ICC.

According to Mamdani, for the American activists and liberal intellectuals Darfur is a far more uncomplicated place to focus on than Iraq. Iraq is a messy place with messy politics, while Darfur is viewed as a place where the villains are labelled as Arabs victimising Africans, he wrote. Mamdani describes their activities as part of the pornography of violence being perpetrated by the Western media. This is evident in the constantly fluctuating figures of the numbers of those killed in Darfur. On any given day, the figures in the Western media of those killed as a result of the fighting in Darfur vary from 120,000 to 400,000.

Many persons in the international community also fear that a precedent may be set whereby elected heads of state will be selectively targeted by groups such as the ICC specifically set up by Western nations for the purpose. Sudan is not a member of the ICC. India, the United States, Russia and China are also not its members. India, in fact, was opposed to the ICC from the very outset.

Interestingly, India and the U.S. signed a pact in 2002, agreeing to the non-extradition of nationals of either country to any international tribunal without the other countrys express consent. However, 106 states signed the treaty that led to the creation of the ICC. The ICC says that it has the authority to act against the Sudanese President on the basis of a U.N. Security Council mandate. The Security Council passed Resolution 1593 in March 2005 authorising the ICC to issue warrants against those it judges guilty.

The African Union (A.U.) and the Arab League have been critical of the ICCs move to charge the Sudanese President with genocide against three ethnic groups and crimes against humanity. Moreno-Ocampo had requested a warrant on 10 counts. These include allegations of murder, torture and rape.

Eighteen ICC judges will weigh the evidence Moreno-Ocampo has gathered against al Bashir and then decide whether to issue a warrant for his arrest or not. Under Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, the Security Council has the power to suspend any indictment under deferral of investigation and prosecution. Russia and China, both veto-wielding states, have indicated that they would use their influence in the Security Council to stymie Western attempts to isolate Sudan and its President.

For that matter, the Bush administration has also been seemingly ambivalent on the genocide charges against Omar al Bashir. The Bush administration is reluctant to lend legitimacy to the ICC for a variety of reasons. It has questioned the ICCs jurisdiction despite its antipathy towards the government in Khartoum. President George W. Bush, at a press conference shortly after al Bashir was indicted by the court, underlined the fact that the U.S. was not a member of the ICC.

However, his predecessor Bill Clinton had a big role to play in the creation of the ICC. Clinton, in fact, signed the 1998 Rome Statute. But the document was never submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification. The Bush administration officially withdrew the signature. It is no doubt aware that the crimes it has committed against humanity far outweigh the alleged sins of the Sudanese government.

More than a million Iraqis have died after the invasion of Iraq and a couple of millions have been made homeless. Thousands have been killed in Afghanistan as a result of American occupation there.

Israel is equally guilty of horrendous crimes against civilians in the territories it has occupied. The Bush administration had actively intervened to see that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not face trial in a court in Brussels for massacres he supervised in Shabra and Shatila.

Mark Levine, a professor of West Asian history in the University of California, has written that much of the indictment could just as easily be applied to Bush. Levine says that if al Bashir, as commanderin-chief, is to be held responsible for the activities of the militias in Darfur, then Bush is directly responsible for the horrific disaster in Iraq.

According to Levine, Bushs imperial Presidency, which abrogated the right to declare war from the constitutionally appointed Congress, had used the whole state apparatus to wage war. Levine describes the Iraq invasion as a crime against humanity and a clear breach of the U.N. Charter. He adds the torture of civilians, illegal secret renditions and other human rights abuses to the list.

The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by the noted American author and criminal lawyer Vincent Bugliosi, which have been on The New York Times bestseller lists for the last couple of months, also makes a strong case for the impeachment of Bush. Bugliosi reminded the American mainstream media, which have cold-shouldered his well-researched and cogently argued book, that impeachment proceedings were initiated against Bill Clinton on a comparatively frivolous issue of sexual impropriety.

President al Bashir has described the accusations against him as lies and said that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Sudan. The main allegation against him was that of command responsibility. The Sudanese government had refused to hand over two senior officials, Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Haroun and a former militia commander in Darfur Ali Kushayb. They were earlier indicted by the ICC on war crimes charges.

Western diplomats have told the media that Moreno-Ocampo was angered by Sudans refusal to engage with the ICC on the issue. Ali Othman Taha, Sudans first Vice-President, said that the ICCs decision was of no consequence to Sudan. Everybody knows that Sudan is not a member of the ICC and [the court] has no jurisdiction over Sudan, he said.

There have been protests against the ICCs move on the streets of Khartoum and El Fasher, the capital of north Darfur. All the political parties in Sudan have condemned the ICC except the separatist groups in Darfur. The ICCs dangerous moves come at a critical juncture in Darfur. The Sudanese government had promised full cooperation to the U.N./A.U. peacekeeping force in Darfur. In the second week of July, U.N. peacekeepers accompanying a food convoy were killed.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was quick to distance himself from the ICCs ruling. He said that the move would have very serious consequences for peacekeeping operations, including the political process.

The Arab League and the A.U. have said that the ICCs move could adversely impact on the peace process in Darfur. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was also of the view that the ICCs charges would threaten the peace process. Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe said that the timing of the ICCs decision was bad. Tanzania is the current chairman of the A.U. The A.U.s Peace and Security Council expressed its concerns about the misuse of indictments against African leaders.

The Chinese government has expressed grave concerns and misgivings over the ICCs decision to seek the arrest of the Sudanese President. It said that al Bashir had shown compliance to peace demands. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the ICCs actions must be beneficial to the stability of the Darfur region and the appropriate settlement of the issue, not the contrary. China has taken credit for persuading the Sudanese government to agree to the joint deployment of A.U./U.N. force in Darfur.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a statement that the chief prosecutors legal strategy poses major risks for the fragile peace and security environment in Sudan, with a real chance of greatly increasing the suffering of very large numbers of its people.

Many Sudanese, and even the U.N., want al Bashir at the helm of affairs to revive the faltering peace negotiations in Darfur. Sudan is going to the polls in 2009. The Sudanese government has pledged that the elections will be free and fair. Darfur and other restive parts of the country will be able to select their representatives freely. President al Bashir signed a law on July 14, which allows for greater electoral transparency. In what is seen as a radical step, the law has guaranteed 25 per cent of the seats in the new Parliament for women.

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