by Anders Hastrup.
It’s official: On March 4th, 2009, the International Criminal Court in The Hague, ICC, will make public their decision about whether or not they will issue an arrest warrant on Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir accused of genocide in Darfur.
This will end weeks of speculation in the media about the ICC decision. Many leading US newspapers including New York Times and Washington Post have in the past weeks reported that the ICC have already issued the warrant. To many, the ICC decision to issue an arrest warrant signals a triumph for international global justice where action is put behind words and no world leader can get away with committing countless atrocities and genocide against his own people. No matter if it takes place in one of the remotest corners of the world, justice will prevail and the guilty will be punished. No matter if the accused is the President of a sovereign nation-state, he will be brought to justice. If the arrest warrant is issued they will forever see March 4th as a day of triumph for justice and cherish the brave decision by ICC.
For others, including myself with 2 years experience as a relief-worker in Sudan, primarily in Darfur, scepticism is my immediate response and I am preparing myself for a worst-case scenario. Let me explain:
The horrors will not stop in Darfur, they will mutate and embrace the entire country, unleashing a total mayhem in Africa’s largest country. Relief agencies responsible for the provision of food aid to up to 4 million people in Darfur – the most expensive relief- operation in the world – will be kicked out, international agencies will be targets of deliberate violent attacks and all diplomatic relations between Sudan and the international community will be severed.
The true victors will not be the international community and their bodies of justice and the collective sense of rights and wrongs in the world that UN member-states share imbedded in the declarations the member states have signed The victors are anarchy, terrorism, Islamic extremism and general violence. The victims are the civilians, not only in Darfur, but also in the entire country. In more detail:
A pragmatic revival of Islamic extremism
Sudan emerged as a place of particular Western concern with regards to international terrorism after the Islamist revolution in 1989, where military officers took power in a bloodless coup d’état. In the first half of the 1990s Sudan housed a range of international terrorist networks from across the Middle East. Most famous of these was Al Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden spent years in Khartoum investing in various infrastructure projects and expanding his network. The Sudanese government’s decision to provide such a safe haven for extremists resulted in international isolation and sanctions.
The revolution was masterminded by Hassan al-Turabi, the “Ayatollah of Sudan”, who left the presidency in the hands of the un-intellectual war- veteran Omar al Bashir. However, “Mind” and “Muscle”) had a fight, allegedly over divisions of power. President Bashir placed the revolution’s chief-architect Turabi under house arrest. The Islamic revolution had lost its momentum and while the Bashir government took a more pragmatic stance, the extremists went elsewhere.
In the first half of this decade, Sudan realised the benefits of having better diplomatic relations with the outside world. It paid off to have friends – especially as oil was discovered and the country was desperate for infrastructural investments. The rhetoric was cooled down a bit, the hijabs applied more loosely around women’s heads and “special tea”, Heineken in tea mugs, was served at the Chinese restaurants in Khartoum. Sudan had eased up.
However with the ICC threatening the President, who also vehemently opposes the deployment of UN troops in Darfur, the Islamist momentum is consciously re-invoked. By warning that Darfur will turn into a “new Iraq” if international troops are deployed, Bashir has successfully gained sympathy throughout the Arab world and has pitted the Arab League and AU against the UN, US and ICC. As head of the Sudanese National Security Council? Salah Gosh said in a recent interview about the consequences of an ICC arrest warrant:
“We [the government] were Islamic extremists then became moderate and civilized believing in peace and life for everyone. (…) However we will revert back to how we were if necessary. There is nothing any easier than that”.
This statement underlines with utmost clarity the opportunist approach that the Sudanese government has toward Islamism. Osama bin Laden rightly criticized the Sudanese government for being tujjar fi al diin, “merchants in religion”, ready to trade their beliefs for political power and selling out for the purpose of buying in elsewhere.
If the ICC issues an arrest warrant, the Sudanese government will put up a stall in the global terrorist suq, attracting ruthless criminals from around the world with the promise of a hot ticket to the latest frontier in the war against the Zionist, Christian crusaders and their colonization of dar al Islam. It takes one suicide-bomber in an international relief agency compound in Darfur or Khartoum and all international agencies will withdraw leaving as many as 4 million civilian Darfurians without the humanitarian assistance they so desperately need to survive.
The CPA and National Elections
The threat is not only to the civilian Darfurians and the international agencies. An arrest warrant will make the Sudanese government less willing to implement their part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between North and South Sudan that ended the 23-year civil war in 2005. Though this peace agreement is full of holes and fighting has since erupted again in the South, it did bring about a sense of stability for the Southerners as the climate of constant war was replaced by a new reality. The Southerners were given an interim period of 6 years after which they will decide to remain part of a unified Sudan or become an independent nation-state.
Mid-term elections throughout the country are scheduled for later this year. But how will Bashir react? Will he care about the elections that are to be closely monitored by a variety of international bodies? When the CPA was signed in Naivasha, Kenya in 2005, it was the beginning of a new spirit of cooperation between Washington and Khartoum. The US was very much in need of Sudanese intelligence in the War on Terror, and Sudan realised the benefits of stopping a very costly and endless war against the South. Through skilful diplomacy and a great deal of patience the CPA was signed. It is far from perfect, but it has provided a room for manoeuvre. The door to that room is being shot firmly by the arrest warrant that will not only affect future solutions to the Darfur crisis, but will seriously endanger the CPA.
“Contradictory” is a euphemism if one is to analyse the overall Sudan policy and the steps taken by the various international actors involved in bringing peace to Darfur and Sudan as a whole. The problem in my view is that Darfur is perceived as an isolated incident in the history of Sudan, an unprecedented genocide erupting out of nowhere. It is not. The campaigns in Darfur, where Arab militias are armed to do the dirty work for the Sudanese government is a structural repetition of the way the war was fought against the Southerners. Living in South Sudan, my friends would often tell me that they were puzzled by the attention Darfur was getting. “Why is everyone only talking about Darfur? We have lived through the same things for more than 20 years!”
Grave human rights violations have been committed in the war against the South, no doubt, and horrific crimes are being committed in Darfur. The international community should look back at the mechanisms that brought about the CPA and apply the same patient tactful diplomacy in its negotiations with the President Bashir to end the nightmare in Darfur. This is the only way a window of opportunity can be opened and the civilians of Darfur can see a new horizon – and a chance for peace and a better future.