Rebel Leader Turns Himself In; Is Bashir Next? (Updated)
Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC has summoned Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, a Darfuri rebel leader, to appear before the court to face war crimes charges:
Abu Garda, member of the Zaghawa tribe of Sudan, is charged with three war crimes allegedly committed during an attack carried out on 29 September 2007 against the African Union Mission in Sudan (“AMIS”), a peace-keeping mission stationed at the Military Group Site Haskanita (“MGS Haskanita”), Umm Kadada locality, North Darfur.
Pre-Trial Chamber I considered that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the attack against the AMIS occurred in the context of an armed conflict not of an international character that existed in Darfur between the Government of Sudan and several organised armed groups at the time of the attack. It was allegedly carried out by splinter forces of the Justice and Equality Movement (“JEM”), under the command of Abu Garda, jointly with troops belonging to another armed group.
It is alleged that the attackers were approximately 1,000 persons armed with anti-aircraft guns, artillery guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They allegedly killed twelve and severely wounded eight AMIS soldiers, destroyed communication, installations, dormitories, vehicles and other materials and appropriated property belonging to AMIS, including 17 vehicles, refrigerators, computers, cellular phones, military boots and uniforms, fuel, ammunition and money during and after the attack.
I am ambivalent about the prosecution. On the one hand, as I have argued in my essay on situational gravity, an attack on peacekeepers is precisely the kind of crime that should be viewed as extremely grave despite not involving large numbers of victims. On the other hand, ordinary Darfuris are overwhelmingly opposed to the prosecution — the rebels didn’t systematically kill, rape, and displace them; the Sudanese government did — and it will be a shame if the first case that makes it to the Court involves a rebel leader instead of Bashir, Haroun, or Kushayb. It would be better, I think, if the OTP prosecuted an attack on peacekeepers that either involved government forces or involved rebel forces in a country in which the government wasn’t the more significant perpetrator of serious international crimes.
That said, it is difficult to deny that the prosecution will ratchet up the pressure on Bashir. According to the ICC website and news reports, Abu Garda has already arrived at the Court to face the charges. If a Darfuri rebel leader respects the Court enough to appear — an arrest warrant wasn’t even required — what possible rationale is there for Bashir not to do likewise? And how can Bashir’s enablers in the international community continue to insist that the ICC’s efforts in Darfur are harming the peace process?
Kudos to Abu Garda for doing the right thing. If his lawyers are out there reading this, I’m happy to lend a hand to his defense, pro bono!
UPDATE: Ah, the hypocrisy. According to news reports, Senegal and Nigeria helped secure Abu Garda’s voluntary appearance before the ICC — the same Senegal and Nigeria that have insisted that the Security Council defer the ICC’s prosecution of Bashir. Prosecuting genocidal dictators: impermissible. Prosecuting rebels who oppose genocidal dictators: just fine. Do we really need additional evidence that many of the countries who have criticized the ICC warrant for Bashir’s arrest are motivated not by concern for the peace process, but by a desire to see their crony escape justice? (Hat-Tip: Michelle at Stop Genocide.)