11 Oct Bashir’s “Committment” to Peace — and a Hidden Benefit of the ICC
The Christian Science Monitor ran an important story on Darfur a few days ago, detailing how Bashir is using the claim that his indictment will derail the peace process as a smokescreen for continuing to wage war against the Darfurians. The title says it all — “Sudan Makes Case Abroad While Still Bombing Darfur”:
“How will the ICC hamper the peace process? What peace process?” asked one international observer in Darfur. “I don’t see anything happening.”
In fact, quite the opposite is true. Last month saw heavy fighting between government troops and rebel factions in North Darfur. Many of the areas targeted by the government were under control of the only rebel group to have made peace with the government in 2006, contrary to the agreement’s cease-fire. Tens of thousands of Darfuris are believed to have been displaced, many of them still hiding in the mountains afraid the bomb-dropping Antonov planes will return.
“The government has not even tried to implement the Darfur Peace Agreement. Not one move,” added the observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Disarming Arab militias, for example? Quite the contrary, they started to give them more weapons and send them out again.”
Many Darfuris continue to bear the brunt of Bashir’s alleged decision to unleash Arab militias – known as janjaweed – on the non-Arab rebels and civilians of their ethnic groups – through harassment by the government’s central reserve police and border guards, who villagers and international observers say are simply former janjaweed.
Analysts have characterized the current conflict as low-level, compared to the height of the conflict in 2003-04, when government troops and allied militias allegedly burned villages, raped women, and looted animals en masse. But many Darfuris say the conflict is worse today than it was almost five years ago. Rape, looting, and killing by government police are weekly occurrences in camps for the displaced, residents say.
“[Government troops] are the ones attacking us. How will the ICC threaten the peace process? It won’t jeopardize peace. If the criminal is caught, we won’t be afraid anymore,” said one sheikh at a camp for the displaced in Tawila. “We have run out of hope. We have given up on everything. How long can we live like this?”
Last month, 31 civilians were killed in South Darfur when government troops opened fire on a camp for the displaced, claiming they were trying to confiscate illegal weapons from within the camp.
“And this is while the government is supposed to be putting on its best act,” said one UN official. “They don’t care and they can get away with it.”
This has been Bashir’s modus operandi for nearly two decades: promise peace and then, when the world gets tired of paying attention to Darfur, continue killing. When will the international community finally realize that there will be no peace in Darfur as long as Bashir is in power?
Fortunately, the ICC sees through Bashir’s protestations. And there are already signs — albeit small ones — that his pending indictment is affecting his ability to govern effectively. The ICC, which lacks a police force, is often criticized for not being able to enforce its arrest warrants. That’s certainly true, but the threat of ICC prosecution still has an effect on those who cannot be arrested at home. Witness Bashir “abruptly” exiting stage left from a recent diplomatic summit:
The Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir left abruptly from Accra, where a two-day summit of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP Group) was in progress.
Sudan state media had announced that Al-Bashir will be attending the summit for which he held its chairmanship. There was no mention of a condensed itinerary. The Sudanese head of state was the ACP bloc president since December 2006 when Sudan hosted the fifth summit of the 79 member body.
Al-Bashir’s visit to Accra came amidst a pending arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Ghana as a member of the ICC has an obligation to apprehend Al-Bashir if an arrest warrant is issued while on its territories.
However Ghanaian officials made it clear that they have no plans to carry out an arrest.
Mahjoub Hussein, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-Unity) spokesperson said in a statement released today that he sent an “urgent” letter to Ghanaian president John Kufuor urging him to arrest Al-Bashir until ICC judges make a ruling on his arrest warrant.
This is the second foreign visit by Al-Bashir since ICC indictment after Turkey and the first to an ICC member country.
However at the time the Sudanese president hinted in an interview with Reuters that he may only visit countries which are not members of the ICC.
“We are not concerned about traveling, ourselves, we have good relations with a number of countries that do not have relations with the ICC” he said.
Some observers have said that Al-Bashir travel to Accra was confirmed only after receiving assurances from Ghanaian officials that he would not be arrested.
This is an important development — and a hidden benefit of ICC pressure on a genocidaire like Bashir. By limiting the number of countries Bashir can visit safely, the ICC limits his ability to govern “effectively.” And the less Bashir is able to govern effectively, the easier it will be for his opponents within (and without) the Sudanese government to justify removing him from power. That day is, to be sure, a long way off. But thanks to the ICC, it’s getting ever closer.