SUDAN WATCH: Re ICC indictment: UK to back immunity for Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir in bid for peace (Update 1)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Re ICC indictment: UK to back immunity for Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir in bid for peace (Update 1)

Good news. Recent 'diplomatic speak' by UK Minister for Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Lord Malloch-Brown, has been made more clear today by Chris Stephen's report (The Scotsman, September 24, 2008) entitled 'Britain to back immunity for Sudan president in bid for peace'. Excerpt from the report:
BRITAIN is backing efforts to provide Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir with immunity from an expected genocide indictment from the International Criminal Court.

Foreign Office officials confirmed to The Scotsman that London is backing a plan to give immunity to al-Bashir, accused by ICC prosecutors of masterminding massacres that have claimed 200,000 lives.

The deal, which will be discussed this week at the United Nations General Assembly, would involve Sudan promising to make significant progress with peace talks, supporting the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur, and holding war crimes trials of its own for lesser figures. "We're not getting involved in negotiations", said one British official. "There has to be a very substantial change in Sudan's cooperation."

London is supported by Paris, whose UN ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told news agencies that immunity was the prize that could be offered for Sudan agreeing to full inclusive dialogue.

Al-Bashir was accused of genocide in July by ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who says he was the mastermind behind a campaign of ethnic cleansing that has left an estimated 200,000 dead and two million refugees.

Since the charge was laid, there have been mounting calls for al-Bashir to be given immunity from China, Russia, the Arab League and, most recently, the African Union. But human rights groups are furious, and have launched a campaign of intensive lobbying at the United Nations seeking to get London and Paris to change their minds.

"We are expressing the strongest possible opposition to granting Omar al-Bashir a get-out-of-jail-free card," said Richard Dicker, international justice director of Human Rights Watch. "The Security Council made a commitment to bringing justice to the people of Darfur for horrific crimes, and to derail the judicial process would be a betrayal."

His organisation, and Amnesty International, are hoping to meet with David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, at the UN later this week and press their case, reminding him of the strong support Britain has previously given to the ICC.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has given strong support to the ICC in the past, in line with the Labour Party's public commitment to international justice. But Foreign Office officials have begun to despair at the lack of progress in Darfur and see the lifting of the indictment as offering them leverage. A mixed Africa Union and UN peacekeeping force is facing obstruction from Sudan as it tries to deploy, and peace talks between Khartoum and a splintering rebel alliance are stalled.

One possibility backed by London is that al-Bashir would end the obstruction and hand over two other ICC indictees, government minister Ahmad Harun and militia commander Ali Kushayb, who were charged last year.

The ICC was mandated by the UN Security Council to investigate Darfur in April 2005. But the Council has the right, under Article 16 of the ICC constitution, to suspend a prosecution if all members agree.

Supporters of the court argue that granting immunity to al-Bashir would undermine the value of the court. Former human rights chief of the UN, Louise Arbour, said giving such immunity would send a dangerous signal to would-be war criminals that justice is negotiable.
Note the report says that the deal, which will be discussed this week at the UN General Assembly, would involve Sudan promising (1) significant progress with peace talks (2) supporting the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur (3) holding war crimes trials of its own for lesser figures.

The "lesser figures", one presumes, would be the two other ICC indictees, government minister Ahmad Harun and militia commander Ali Kushayb, who were charged last year?

The other thing is that although the Sudanese president is accused by the ICC of three crimes, namely (1) genocide (2) war crimes (3) crimes against humanity, the report mentions immunity against genocide only. What about the two other charges?

And hey Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and former human rights chief of the UN, Louise Arbour: you are playing into the terrorists' hands and doing the people of Sudan a disservice. Your time and energy would be better spent on lobbying for more equipment and helicopters for the peacekeeping force in Darfur and not letting up on expressing outrage over the attacks on, and slayings, peacekeepers (not to mention what happened at Haskanita).

The welfare and lives of peacekeepers, and of workers within organisations such as the Red Cross, are just as important as the welfare and lives of rebels and IDPs. Imagine the outcry if several Red Cross workers had been slain at Haskanita. Where's the outrage at the maiming and murder of peacekeepers? You misguided bunch of terrorist supporting warmongers make my blood boil, especially considering most of you probably cried out against intervention in Iraq, and the arrest of Saddam Hussein, despite the number of UN resolutions it thumbed its nose at.


Image and caption via Global Voices: "A cartoon by Latuff that sums up the mood of many" (Source: Sudan Watch archive Saturday December 30, 2006: SADDAM EXECUTED - How should we react? )
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Related reports

Sudan Watch September 18, 2008:
Hey Africa correspondent Alex Duval Smith: Is your report in the Observer true or what? Excerpt:
Sudan Tribune report September 14, 2008:
Britain & France will support freezing indictment of Sudan president

Sudan Tribune report September 18, 2008:
France says Sudan’s cooperation with ICC a condition to defer Bashir Indictment

Sudan Tribune report September 18, 2008:
British official denies plans to freeze ICC indictment of Sudan’s Bashir
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Sudan Watch September 19, 2008:
ICC prosecutor says decision on Sudanese President Al-Bashir arrest warrant unlikely in October. Excerpt:
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno-Ocampo downplayed speculations that judges will reach a decision on an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir.

“Normally, when the judges start to analyze [a case] they call us for hearings and they ask for more information. They have not yet done that” he said. “I don’t know how long it will take, the judges will decide, but I don’t think October would be possible” he said. The ICC Judges has been in a month long recess from July 18 to August 18.
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Sudan Watch September 19, 2008:
France says will block any UN resolution seeking to suspend ICC indictment of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. Excerpt:
Last Sunday, September 14, 2008, the Guardian's sister newspaper, The Observer, published a report by its Africa correspondent, Alex Duval Smith, saying that the British and French governments will back efforts in the UN to stall the issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir.
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Sudan Watch September 20, 2008:
TRANSCRIPT OF BLIP.TV VIDEO: Lord Malloch-Brown in discussion at the Frontline Club

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Sudan Watch September 20, 2008:
Khartoum should not count on an Article 16 Deferral of the ICC (Alex de Waal). Excerpt:
In private conversation, there are few diplomats who believe that an ICC arrest warrant against President Bashir is a good idea, writes Alex de Waal in the concluding paragraph of his post at ssrc.blogs, September 18, 2008 entitled 'Khartoum Should Not Count On an Article 16 Deferral of the ICC'.
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Sudan Watch August 21, 2008:
Sudan's leader al-Bashir says ready to go to war. Excerpt:
Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir has told a pan-Arab TV network he would go to war and ask Darfur peacekeepers to leave if the International Criminal Court formally indicts him and seeks his arrest.
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From The Scotsman
Appeasing dictators is never the right thing to do
Published Date: September 25, 2008
YESTERDAY The Scotsman revealed that Britain was supporting a plan to offer Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, immunity from a genocide indictment issued by the International Criminal Court, which tries cases of human rights abuse. This is a dubious move on the part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and calls into question the independence of the ICC.
On 14 July, Bashir was formally accused by the ICC's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, of ten counts of organising genocide in Darfur. The regime in Khartoum has engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing of African peasant farmers in Darfur, on ...
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Justice the price paid for peace? It wouldn't be the first time

From The Scotsman
Justice the price paid for peace? It wouldn't be the first time
Published Date: September 25, 2008
By Chris Stephen
GORDON Brown, the Prime Minister, and David Milliband, the Foreign Secretary, have flown into a human rights firestorm at the United Nations this week after offering Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, immunity for genocide in Darfur.

Rights groups fear, correctly, that such a get-out-of-jail-free card could sound the death knell for international justice because it will undermine its credibility.

Mr Brown's argument is simple: Sudan's president may have blood on his hands after orchestrating one of the most violent campaigns of ethnic cleansing of recent times, but he is also the man standing in the way of peace.

In July, Bashir was accused of genocide by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Now London wants to use this indictment as leverage, dropping the charge if Bashir will stop the fighting, let a UN force deploy and allow two million refugees to return home.

The logic is clear: horrible things have certainly happened, but that is in the past and a trial will not bring back the dead. On the other hand, a war crimes indictment could prolong the fighting, causing yet more suffering.

This argument, peace versus justice, is the Achilles' heel of the war crimes movement because it pits practical politics against idealism.

In the case of Darfur, the Foreign Office says there is no other option, with China blocking attempts to impose sanctions on Sudan and no end to the fighting in sight.

Britain is not alone in its thinking. China and Russia have already called for the same thing and so, this week, did France.

Unlike Mr Brown, who made the announcement via Foreign Office officials instructed to speak anonymously, Paris was big and bold. President Nikolas Sarkozy has gone public, telling the UN: "In the event the Sudan authorities do change, totally change, their policy, France would not be opposed to using, I believe it is, Article 16."

Article 16 refers to a clause in the ICC constitution that allows the UN Security Council to block a prosecution or an entire case on a 12-month renewable basis.

Perfect, says the Foreign Office, for forcing Bashir into a peace deal and ensuring he sticks to it in future years.

But human rights groups are horrified. They point out that, in the first place, it was at London's behest that Bashir is facing indictment. Until 2005, the ICC had no power to investigate crimes in Darfur. Then, in April of that year, Britain led the charge in the UN to confer upon it that power.

And the crimes Bashir is accused of orchestrating are horrific. Mr Moreno-Ocampo has identified whole villages where women and girls were lined up to be raped, with many later butchered. At least two tribes have been targeted for annihilation, hence the genocide finding that was first made three years ago by the United States.

And if Bashir gets immunity, rights groups fear other warlords will want similar treatment.

On Monday, Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, asked the UK's Africa minister, Mark Malloch Brown, at the UN to press London to extend the ICC immunity deal to Uganda. Mr Museveni wants the immunity not for himself but for his former enemies, the rebel Lords Resistance Army, who, like Bashir, have offered to end fighting if indictments against four of their leaders are dropped.

This is not the first time that the Westminster government has put its own interests before justice.

At the end of 2006, the then prime minister, Tony Blair, blocked investigations into bribes offered by British Aerospace to Saudi officials, worried that defence industry jobs would be lost.

Since then, Foreign Office officials have complained that Britain's reputation has been damaged.

They can hardly lecture foreigners on the primacy of the rule of law when London itself makes exceptions.

The same is true in the case of Bashir. For rights groups, an immunity deal for the Sudanese leader will hole the ICC below the waterline, by setting the precedent that war crimes indictments can be negotiated away.

At a stroke, London will have undermined the whole mechanism of international justice.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are now pressing the London government to look beyond the end of its nose.

They argue that if the UN sticks to its guns, it will give real teeth to the ICC, sending a tough message to other warlords about what they can expect if they launch their own ethnic cleansing campaigns.

Secondly, a tough stance weakens Bashir's grip on power, because his political opponents know that sanctions by Europe and the United States can be lifted if he is handed over.

It was this logic that saw Serbia this summer hand over former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic to the Hague Tribunal after he had been on the run for 13 years.

So far, London is unmoved. The government hopes to get outline agreement for the immunity deal at this week's UN General Assembly.

It is likely that a formal offer will then be delivered by Mr Malloch Brown to Khartoum early next month, with the Security Council meeting within weeks to cement the deal.

While Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have united to try to shame Britain into changing its mind, their best hope lies, ironically, with the US. The Bush administration had previously been a thorn in the side of the war crimes movement, opposed to the creation of the ICC.

But the horrors of Darfur have become a popular cause in the US among the Left and Right, with the result that the US remains the only permanent member of the Security Council yet to support an immunity deal.

Rights groups hope that with an election coming up, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama will want to offer immunity, guaranteeing an American veto that would kill the offer for Bashir before it can be issued.
Chris Stephen is the author of Judgment Day: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic, published by Atlantic Books.



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