Sudan's Bashir in legal crosshairs
By John J. Metzler, Special to The China PostThere was an almost giddy enthusiasm when many human rights activists heard the news that an arrest warrant had been issued for Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir for his role in war crimes in the ongoing Darfur crisis. Across the world in Sudan's capital Khartoum the mood was predictably defiant, bitter, and self-righteous, going so far as to stage support rallies where General Bashir in full military regalia buzzed around the city. And at the U.N., mixed emotions swirled, not because of any serious support for Sudan's strongman, but what the consequence of such actions may be for a network of humanitarian agencies and fragile peacekeeping operations inside the vast African country.
March 7, 2009, 12:50 am TWN
The warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague sets a precedent as the first time a ruling head of state has been indicted and now slapped with an arrest warrant. Given Omar al-Bashir's sanguinary record ruling Sudan, the charges are overdue, expected, and most deserving. Let's face it, calling President Al-Bashir a war criminal seriously sugarcoats his credentials and the ICC's moves are richly justified as would and should be charges against Comrade Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and the Burmese military junta to name a few. For example, the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and Liberian leader Charles Taylor were taken to the Hague for trial only when they were out of power.
But now we see the law of unintended consequences as the ICC actions against Bashir can and will imperil a fragile U.N. humanitarian assistance in the Darfur region, possibly effectively affect regime cooperation with the U.N. over the snail-pace deployment in U.N. hybrid peacekeepers in Darfur, and imperil a shaky settlement of the long-running civil conflict in south Sudan which has killed more than a million people.
Already Bashir's military have booted out 13 humanitarian agencies such as the French Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), CARE and Oxfam who aid millions of destitute civilians. Should aid agencies be totally evicted from Sudan, the humanitarian situation will quickly deteriorate from bad to worse. Equally U.N. staff members in Sudan serving in a number of civil, military and aid capacities could be threatened by pro-Bashir thugs.
Consequently U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was very cautious in his comments regarding the arrest warrant; he was very clear in condemning the action which could “cause irrevocable damage to humanitarian operations there.” A U.N. statement added, “The operations of these agencies are key to maintaining a lifeline to 4.7 million Sudanese people who receive aid in Darfur.”