The crimes committed against innocent people in Darfur
represent a shameful episode in the history of Sudan and its neighbours,
including Chad, which has played a dubious role in sustaining the seething
conflict. Equally disgraceful is the politicising of the bloody conflict in
ways that will ensure its continuation.
The decision of the International Criminal Court�s (ICC)
prosecutor-general, Luis Moreno- Ocampo, to file an arrest warrant for Sudan�s
current President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, and the international responses to his
decision, demonstrate both the politicising of the crisis and the selectiveness
of international law.
Consider this bizarre twist. The US Congress passed a
resolution, on 22 June 2004, declaring that the violence in Darfur was state-sponsored
genocide. The resolution -- named the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act --
was signed into law by President Bush in October 2006.
Between the vote and Bush�s signature, the United Nations
conducted a sweeping investigation -- unlike Congress�s rash decision which was
based almost entirely on lobby and interest group pressure -- declaring, in
early 2005, that both the government and militias were systematically abusing
civilians in Sudan�s western province. It insisted, however, that no genocide
had taken place.
The US is not a signatory of the ICC -- understandably so,
given that many legal experts deem the war crimes of invading and occupying
Iraq as the worst since World War II. Although the ICC is, in theory, an
independent body, it often investigates or provides legal opinions on cases
passed on by the United Nations Security Council which is dominated by the
United States, its vetoes and foreign policy interests.
It is anomalous that Moreno-Ocampo�s request adhered to
Congress�s political labelling of the conflict in western Sudan and not that of
the United Nations� own comprehensive and less politicised report.
Equally interesting is the response of the US and other
governments, as well as regional and international bodies to the decision.
The US, which like Sudan doesn�t recognise the jurisdiction
of the ICC, was pleased by the court prosecutor-general�s move. �In our view,
recognition of the humanitarian disaster and the atrocities that have gone on
there is a positive thing,� said US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack.
China and Russia -- both of which have immense and growing
economic interests in Africa -- found the decision unhelpful and called for
restraint. It�s not only the Sudanese government that they wish to woo but other
African states, alarmed by the court�s move which is likely to worsen the
tribal war and jeopardise the safety of the people of Darfur and the numerous
humanitarian missions and workers in the region. (The UN has already declared
its intent to pull back staff from a joint UN-African Union mission, one
welcomed by the Al-Bashir government and which is credited for contributing to
the slight improvement in the situation there).
The African Union, often discounted, if not entirely
undermined, by Western political institutions, has called on the ICC to suspend
its decision until the crisis in Darfur is resolved. In fact, intense efforts
have succeeded in bringing warring parties to the negotiation table and
extracting important concessions that, with international support, could bring
the crisis to an end. But the call made by AU chairman, Tanzanian Foreign
Minister Bernard Membe, is unlikely to be heeded as economic and political
interests in Darfur are too significant for Western countries to allow Africa�s
own leaders to meddle.
While some human rights organisations and many media
pundits, largely based in Western capitals, welcomed Moreno-Ocampo�s request --
conveniently ignoring the hypocrisy of the decision and the mayhem and
instability it will create in the already fractious region -- others in Africa
and the Middle East are not impressed. African and Middle Eastern media decried
the selectiveness and rigidity of international law when the conflict concerns
poor countries, and its blindness and flexibility when the perpetrators of
crimes are countries that wield military and economic might, and often the
power of veto.
The ICC was established in 2002, immediately before the US
aggression against Iraq. Interestingly, the ICC�s jurisdiction -- for obvious
reasons -- doesn�t include the crime of aggression. Equally telling is that the
court has so far investigated just four conflicts -- in Northern Uganda, Congo,
Darfur and the Central African Republic. One cannot help but wonder if only
Africans are capable of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and
It�s this selectiveness that makes Moreno-Ocampo�s request a
textbook example of the inner workings of international law. It exposes
governments like the US and Britain which condemn war crimes and authoritarian
regimes in Sudan, Zimbabwe and elsewhere while perpetrating war crimes of their
own, aiding and abetting authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, Africa and
elsewhere, as hopelessly addicted to double standards.
For Moreno-Ocampo�s decision -- and the entire international
legal apparatus in the West -- to be taken seriously, impartiality and fairness
are essential. They are qualities, however, that remain conspicuously absent,
vetoed, or otherwise shunted, into the sidings of history.
Regardless of whether the ICC judges will honour Moreno-
Ocampo�s request to issue an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president, the
Darfur conflict cannot be settled by selective justice, self-serving politics
or contract-seeking oil corporations. Justice in Sudan, or anywhere else for
that matter, cannot be obtained through such practices which are at best �unhelpful�
and at worse could be used by the international order�s self-appointed
policemen to further legitimatise their destructive policies of �intervention�
-- economic sanctions, war, and the rest.Ramzy Baroud is an author and
editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many
newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The
Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People�s
Struggle (Pluto Press, London).