SUDAN WATCH: Defer ICC arrest warrant against Bashir

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Defer ICC arrest warrant against Bashir

In the following excerpt from Eric Reeves' opinion piece at the Boston Globe, Reeves states that "before the ICC announcement, Darfuri sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of al-Bashir's arrest warrant." Surely such a sweeping statement authored by someone based in the USA is nonsense. Even Rob Crilly who writes for the Times and recently reported direct from Darfur, was hard pressed to find any displaced people who had heard of the ICC. Eric Reeves' articles are well written but terribly misleading and inaccurate.

Arrest warrant too costly for Darfur
By Eric Reeves
March 21, 2009 - excerpt:
The one option that remains - a distinct long shot - is Security Council deferral of the al-Bashir prosecution for a year under Chapter 16 of the ICC's Rome Statute, in return for re-admission of humanitarians with security guarantees. A Chapter 16 deferral has long been expediently supported by the Arab League and African Union; however, for Western nations - including Security Council permanent members France, Great Britain, and the US - supporting a deferral now would be transparently succumbing to the ugliest form of blackmail. And yet given the inaction by the West and other international actors, are we in any position to invoke scruples about "deferring" international justice? Does anyone dare say that justice for Darfur must go forward, even at the expense of countless Darfuri lives threatened by humanitarian expulsions?

Before the ICC announcement, Darfuri sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of al-Bashir's arrest warrant. That may well be changing, however, as suffering and deprivation grow. Is anyone bothering to ask the people of Darfur?

Eric Reeves, a Smith College professor, is author of "A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide."

Comment by Karana Dharma, an independent consultant focusing on community peacebuilding:

Eric Reeves opines that we have two options in the face of the growing conflict in Darfur - to defer the indictment of President El Bashir or stick to our guns at the cost of a humanitarian crisis that will cost human lives.

With all due respect to Professor Reeves and his very laudable work in this area, these two options leave the Darfuri people and the international community at the same stalemate that has led to the current standoff.

I worked for a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Sudan for over a year and the manipulations of the humanitarian community, both by the rebels and government officials, has long been the status quo. National and international NGOs are regularly denied access to one area in favor of another in a game of chess with the relief organizations as the pawns.

The current limited expulsion of 13 relief organizations and the threat to kick out or restrict the access of the remaining 85 operating on the ground is a heavy play on the part of the government to force the international community to limit its analysis to the very two options Mr. Reeves has presented.

But what Mr. Reeves and other analysts seem to ignore is that relief and recovery/development organizations in Darfur have faced the cancellation of their licenses and expulsion from Darfur many times before. Each time, with a few exceptions, they have won out with persistent shuttle diplomacy, appeals at the local administrative offices, and finally pressure from the Darfuri people themselves, especially the thousands who would lose their jobs when the projects folded and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will be lost to the local market. In this current crisis, NGOs have reverted to this old playbook and started working with whomever will listen to get a quiet reversal of the political decision or at least an extension to allow them to work until the political storm has found a more appropriate target. But thus far, no clear target has presented itself. And here is where the international community is failing Darfur.

The US government and its European allies have developed a very confusing relationship with Sudan - ally in the war on terror, pariah in the human rights world, trading partner in the market for oil and gum arabic. This type of bi-polar diplomacy is hardly unique to Sudan but it clouds the field, hinders bilateral dialog, and makes any representative of the international community in Sudan fair game from the Sudanese administration's perspective.

Presenting a strong diplomatic team with a clear and transparent agenda will help to diffuse the current crisis and allow the local and international NGOs to go back to work, and spare the Sudan officials the embarrassment of admitting that they do not have the capacity to handle the crisis without help.

One parting anecdote, back in 2008, shortly after the ICC prosecutor submitted his request for an indictment against President El Bashir, the Sudanese Humanitarian Assistance Commission (HAC) began replacing the technocrats who approved and tracked the activities of the relief operations in Darfur with security agents loyal to the government in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Suddenly, travel and work authorizations, normally approved on the spot, were held up for days or weeks or simply denied out of hand without explanation. The backlog of food and non-food items and various other programming and services created such a uproar among the Darfur people that local security officials began to fear for their lives and quietly left the Darfur capitals on permanent vacations. The technocrats returned and the work resumed.

Should the Darfuri people get a say in all this? The short answer is yes, but first you need to be clear who is speaking and who has the right to speak on their behalf. Is the local NGOs? Is it the rebel leaders? Is it the national, state, or local governments? The traditional leaders such as the Sheikhs, Shattais, Omdas? To some degree, all the above have lost influence and trust among their own people. But I agree that the need for Darfuri self-expression is desperately needed. A few programs on the ground are seeking to help local communities find their voice, and we have not heard any mention of the ICC or the desire for peace negotiations to continue. Even the word peace has been so deformed that it is associated with wat and politics.

The Darfur people need something more. Local and international groups are attempting to bring them a broader range of self-expression than the ICC and Peace. But the diplomats need to do their part to keep the options open.


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