International lines drawn in Sudan war crimes warrant

The Sudanese government announced March 14 that President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur, would attend two consecutive summits scheduled for late March in the Qatari capital of Doha. The first is a meeting of the Arab League, to be followed by a meeting of Arab and Latin American leaders. The Arab League has officially rejected the ICC warrant, saying it threatens peace talks in Sudan. (Xinhua, AFP, March 14) Earlier this week, a delegation of officials from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah joined Syria’s parliament speaker and the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group traveled to Sudan to express international support for al-Bashir. (AlJazeera, March 7)

African Union divided?
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, the sitting chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), likewise called for dropping the charges against al-Bashir. Wade insisted there is no genocide in Sudan. The African Union has joined the Arab League in officially rejecting the warrant. (Xinhua, March 7)

However, there appear to be divisions on the question within the AU. Uganda joined with South Sudan’s leadership in saying any deferral of the arrest warrant should depend on whether Khartoum implements increasingly shaky peace deals. Deferment “would have to be tied to the performance of the peace processes in southern Sudan, in Darfur,” Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni told reporters. When asked to comment on Museveni’s statement, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir said: “I don’t see any better option.”

Under the peace deal with South Sudan, Kiir is now Sudan’s first vice president, as well as leader of the southern autonomous region. Kiir said he would not execute the arrest warrant. “It is not my responsibility to hand him over. He’s my president and I’m the vice president,” Kiir said. “I’m not the police of the ICC.” (Reuters, March 12)

South Sudan’s leadership also urged Khartoum to reverse its decision to expel aid groups from the country. Khartoum shut down 13 aid agencies after the warrant was issued, accusing them of passing information to war crimes prosecutors. The groups deny the accusations. Yien Matthew, a spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), said the expulsion could have a “catastrophic” impact on tens of thousand of displaced Darfuris. (AlJazeera, March 7)

There were apparently concerns that Nigeria would dissent from the AU position on the warrant. These were allayed when Sudan’s Minister of International Cooperation Eltigani Fedail traveled to Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and announced that he had been assured of Nigeria’s support for the AU position. Briefing journalists after meeting with Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chief Ojo Madukwe, Fedail said Nigeria is committed to the peace process in Sudan. He said the Khartoum government under al-Bashir has allocated $1 billion on development aid in Darfur, adding that al-Bashir is the only Sudanese president that was able to sign peace agreement in 20 years of conflict in Darfur. (Daily Trust, Abuja, March 13)

This ignores the fact that it was only under al-Bashir that the simmering 20-year “conflict” went over the edge into open war starting in 2003 (in other words, when the Darfuris started fighting back)—and that the “peace agreement” has utterly failed to bring peace.

United Nations divided?
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held out hope that al-Bashir might still order his country’s courts to prosecute war crimes in Darfur—and possibly avert his own war crimes trial by the International Criminal Court. “You can never say that it is too late,” he said. “Even now, I think they can take — and they should take — the necessary measures.”

Since 2004, Sudan has failed to comply with UN Security Council demands “to apprehend and bring to justice” perpetrators of war crimes in Darfur. Because of the government’s failure to act, the council in 2005 referred Darfur to the ICC. The secretary-general did not make clear if he was suggesting that a Sudanese courts could prosecute al-Bashir. (AP, March 12)

Taking an opposite tack, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo protested the Court’s decision not to charge al-Bashir with genocide. Ocampo has filed an appeal that refers to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, stating that genocide could also be defined as “dictating living circumstances to a particular group” intended to destroy that group partially or entirely. Moreno Ocampo said starvation in Darfur’s refugee camps are resulting in a “slow death” for the refugees, while “mass-scale rapes” committed by government-backed militia serve as a “weapon of genocide.” (DPA, March 13)

Sudan’s Islamist movement divided?
On March 9, Sudanese authorities released imprisoned opposition leader and Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Turabi, citing the his fragile health. Turabi was arrested Jan. 14 and sent to a prison in the eastern city of Port Sudan after telling reporters that al-Bashir should surrender to the ICC if charged, rather than risk further instability.

Turabi, a major figure in Sudan, was once a key Bashir ally and seen as the spiritual force behind the 1989 coup that brought him to power. During the 1990s, he was a leading advocate for the imposition of sharia law, spurring conflict between the Muslim-dominated North and the largely Christian and animist South. He was also said to be a strong supporter of the presence of Osama bin Laden in Sudan, which led to US airstrikes against that country following the 1998 terrorist bombings of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. But Turabi’s political partnership with the regime crumbled as his outlook became more moderate. In January, Turabi was the only major Sudanese politician to call for Bashir to cooperate with the ICC.

Even after his detention, with his wife, Wisal al-Mahdi, told the Sudan Tribune that her husband had been detained because of “personal grudges.” She protested: “There is no rule of law in this country. He who has the power makes his own laws.”

Turabi was also briefly detained last year following a audacious attack on Omdurman, just outside Khartoum, by the Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)—which he has denied all links to.

Bashir spent the day of Turabi’s release in Darfur, rallying his supporters there against the ICC indictment. He reportedly waved a sword at the crowd and threatened to expel aid workers and diplomats deemed disloyal to his presidency.

“Whoever deviates, we will not let them stay, whether a voluntary organization, an envoy, a diplomatic mission, or a security force,” he said. (CSM, March 9)

See our last post on Sudan.

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