Ordinary Darfuris Opposed to Prosecuting Rebels

Ordinary Darfuris Opposed to Prosecuting Rebels

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting has a must-read article today about how ordinary Darfuris view the OTP’s decision to seek arrest warrants for the rebel leaders allegedly responsible for killing 12 peacekeepers in 2007.  According to the article — and all the usual caveats about anecdotal evidence apply — the response is uniformly negative:

Yasir, an IDP (internally displaced person) from the Zalingei camp, said people are confused by the application for indictments against rebels.

“Violence against civilians is ongoing almost daily. The only way to stop that is to work faster in [the] al-Bashir case, not to announce another case. People are listening to news day after day to hear the next step in al-Bashir case,” he said.

Darfuri lawyer Khalil Tukras, working in El Fasher for a human rights monitoring NGO, agrees that the request is confusing.

“People [are not concerned about] indictments of rebels… More important is indictments for government people – who committed higher levels of human rights violations. If you measure the violations by the government, and the rebels, there is no comparison,” he said.

“The government should be charged and arrested, this is the main issue. People on the ground say the international community failed to bring peace to the ground, and failed to stop the government committing more crimes.”

Schoolteacher Assha Ismaiel from Algenena in west Darfur said the rebel attack on the peacekeepers was a one-off and does not compare to government-orchestrated atrocities.

“The only time I heard rebels commit crimes is the Haskanita attack, but I saw horrors beyond human imagination committed by the government forces and its janjaweed militia. All the villages and places that I knew around the Algenena areas since my childhood are now ruined and destroyed, yes, hundreds of them,” said Ismaiel

“Who did this? Is it the government or the rebels? Who forced 600,000 out of their villages and chased them to Chad and the Central Republic of Africa? Who committed crimes of mass murder and rapes?

“It’s the government of Omar al-Bashir who destroys our life and turns it into hell. The world should stop this now.”

Musa Alsanosi from Nyala in south Darfur acknowledged that rebels have made mistakes and committed crimes, but says they do not compare to those of the government and janjaweed.

“Let the figures speak: how many villages the rebels burned since the start of the conflict? I can say not one village. How many civilians did they target and kill? I can’t rule that out, but few. How many women they raped? None. So, you can’t speak about a comparison here.

“The [rebels] belong to the same people who have been killed and displaced by the government. Across Darfur, it’s difficult to find those who put the blame on the rebels. When the government sends aircraft to drop bombs on Darfuri villages, how can we speak about comparison between rebels and government?

The more I read articles like this, the more opposed to the potential prosecution I become.  As I have noted before, I think attacks on peacekeepers are extremely grave crimes, regardless of how many victims they involve.  It does not make sense, however, to prosecute the Darfur attack if ordinary Darfuris reject the prosecution.  The OTP has already lost significant credibility in Uganda and the DRC, according to empirical studies by human-rights groups, by appearing (rightly or wrongly) to be working on behalf of the governments in those countries.  It should not compound the problem by losing the Darfuris, as well, in a misguided attempt to appear even-handed — particularly when “fairness” requires  once again diverting attention from state crimes to rebel crimes.

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Mark C
Mark C

Dear Kevin, This is a valid point, but I’m not sure it is made in quite the right way. “It does not make sense to prosecute the Darfur attack if ordinary Darfuris reject the prosecution.” But – the ICC does not work for the people of Darfur, nor does it intend to favour any group of persons or any party to a conflict; rather, it is an impartial, non-partisan Court of law and any benefits that Darfuris receive from its work are welcome side-effects.  With this in mind, I do not think we can criticise the Prosecutor’s decision based on the wants of a certain group of persons (in this case “ordinary Darfuris”), as doing so would be to say that the Prosecutor should take political considerations into account when making decisions (sure, we know that he does, but lets not be overt about it!). The real issue here is, in my opinion, the problem of gravity.  I have read your excellent essay on the matter and agree with your conclusions.  But when the crimes committed by the parties genuinely do not compare, as the interviewee in the exceptional IWPR article points out, we might legitimately ask ourselves whether the Prosecutor should be putting his limited resources into the Haskanita attacks when he could be focusing on… Read more »