The killing is as bad as it ever was
by PETER DÖRRIE
It’s hard to gauge if Sudanese Pres. Omar Al Bashir regards his visit to the African Union summit in Johannesburg as a victory or failure. On the one hand, he eluded arrest over his outstanding warrant from the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Technically a fugitive since his indictment for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in 2009 — the first against a sitting president — Al Bashir was able to once again set foot into another country and return unscathed.
This is all the more impressive because South Africa is a founding member of the ICC and was once one of the strongest proponents for the respect of human rights in international politics. It has probably the strongest division of powers on the African continent and a very active and competent civil society.
These two factors contributed massively to Al Bashir’s hasty retreat from South Africa back to the Sudan, after the Southern Africa Litigation Centre filed a motion to have him arrested only hours after he stepped of his plane.
In the first injunction, a South African judge ordered the government to prevent Al Bashir from leaving the country until the matter had been decided.
But the administration under Pres. Jacob Zuma promptly ignored this injunction, allowing Al Bashir to flee early on June 15, shortly before another judge ordered his arrest — despite the government making the argument that Al Bashir had immunity under international law.
So while Sudan’s president and war criminal-in-chief was able to embarrass the ICC and its supporters once more, it’s unlikely that he will risk visiting South Africa again in the future. Meanwhile, his escape has provoked heated debates over whether heads of state should be immune from prosecution for war crimes.
But while those debates happen, it’s worth taking a look at the current situation in Sudan itself, especially its eastern region of Darfur where the atrocities that have earned Al Bashir his warrant have taken place.
The United Nations Security Council referred the case of Darfur to the ICC in 2005 — in reaction to the violence between government troops and rebels from 2003 onwards. The war has resulted in possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Al Bashir’s indictment came in 2009, years after the violence began.
The war has worsened and recovered, but Darfur today is by no means peaceful. “The violence is as bad as anything in 2003 or 2004,” Sudan researcher and analyst Eric Reeves told War is Boring. “Almost half the population is displaced.”
“Some 450,000 persons were displaced in 2014 and another 100,000 in January 2015 alone, adding to some two million long-term internally displaced persons (IDPs) since fighting erupted in 2003,” the International Crisis Group stated in a recent report.
Some observers have criticized the ICC’s indictment of Al Bashir as an obstacle to the peace process. But the warrant dates to 2009, after Darfur’s peace process had gone into a steady decline. Since then, Reeves says, “violence has been escalating.”
The main reason for this is that Sudan’s military establishment has taken complete control of the state, according to Reeves. The generals want a military solution to the crisis in Darfur and for the country’s several other civil wars. During the past several months, Reeves published a collection of leaked notes from meetings between Sudan’s leadership that support this analysis.
“Even if a definitive military victory is not possible, hardliners in the regime seem to have grown in influence and have repeatedly been given the upper hand at the cost of the peace process,” Jerome Tubiana, a researcher for the Small Arms Survey, told War Is Boring in an email.
These regime hardliners “are still bent on resolving the conflict by military means, even if Darfur rebels have survived more difficult times.”
That Al Bashir’s regime will be able to squash the various armed rebellions is highly unlikely, especially because Sudan’s economy is going down the drain. This is due to its reliance on transfer fees from South Sudanese oil fields, which have seen only marginal production due that country’s own civil war.
Depressed world market prices on oil have also devalued Sudan’s own limited oil reserves.
But the rebels seem to be unable to capitalize on the regime’s weakness. The main armed groups opposing the Sudanese government have “increasing differences over the strategy to follow,” according to Tubiana, while Reeves noted a “fractioning of the rebel groups” since 2006.
Meanwhile, thousands of people are dying and even more live as refugees. Attacks against civilians happen daily, and government troops are frequently accused of engaging in systematic rape and torture. The war has spread malnutrition and illness — which kills more people than direct violence.
Al Bashir’s arrest wouldn’t have ended this situation immediately. Maybe it wouldn’t have changed … anything. But it’s hard to argue that it would have made the situation worse. His removal, by means of arrest or natural death, are a necessary but not sufficient condition for the killing in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan to stop.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to be too angry with the South African government. First of all, it seems like the Sudanese regime anticipated the situation and essentially held more than 800 South African soldiers, who are currently deployed to Darfur as peacekeepers, hostage until Al Bashir returned home safely.
But more importantly, the international community has made it very easy for African governments in general to ignore the ICC.
Since its inception, the ICC has only indicted Africans, giving the likes of Al Bashir an easy claim to a perceived racial bias. This is not much of an argument, because the perceived discrimination can just as well be interpreted as bias in favor of African victims, instead of racism against African perpetrators.
Then there’s another problem. While the court promises to deliver international justice, the fact is that some of the world’s most important countries are not members.
The United States has followed the schizophrenic policy of simultaneously calling for South Africa and other countries to respect the ICC’s decisions, while itself passing a law that would allow the U.S. to invade The Hague should an American national ever face trial there.
As long as he remains president of the Sudan, Al Bashir will have an easy time avoiding trial in The Hague, if the international community continues to remain uncommitted to the ICC. And at the moment, it looks like he plans on holding this office indefinitely.