I began writing this article shortly after arriving home from demonstrations in central Khartoum on Thursday 5th March. The country has been gripped with the fever of fervent nationalism and absolute defiance in the face of the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court at The Hague against President Omer El Bashir of the Sudan, for crimes against humanity. Contrary to the sporadic accounts in a distinct group of media outlets, that the demonstrations have been orchestrated by the regime, I can attest that the nation has gone out spontaneously to the streets in a show of popular support to the President, unrivalled and unmatched in the history of contemporary politics in the Sudan.
By Dr. Mohamed Ahmed Ghazi Suliman
At the intersection of Shari’ Al Qassr (Palace Avenue) with Shari’ Al Jameaa (University Avenue) in the heart of Khartoum’s commercial district, people marched in their thousands. They marched in anger. University students, civil servants, school children, people in pick up Toyotas, rickshaws, taxi drivers, fruit sellers, women carrying children on their waists and chanting, a bazaar of folk from different sections of society, all representing the myriad of colours and backgrounds that characterise this African giant of a nation. They all cried, “Seer Seer ya Bashir (Forward Forward Bashir)!”
And Bashir was there to greet them. In the staggering heat of the midday sun of Khartoum, a stage was hastily assembled at that historic spot, and Bashir mounted it to view the astounding deliverance he had witnessed, in his honour. He stood within touching distance of the crowd, and addressed them, stirring their defiant emotions and agitating it even further in the local Arabic dialect. It all happened so quickly that his Cabinet were not able to get there on time to join him. As a witness to the events happening all around me, I could not help but feel the searing heat of passion behind my ears, that heartbeat of collective sentiment, an elixir that euphorically suspended one in time, but was nonetheless immensely troubling. Anyone present at such places and experiencing such moments first hand will very quickly realise the power of the mob, and what mass movements can be capable of. A sick feeling welled up in my stomach, and a doomed dismay associated with that omen of “I told you so.” This is what Ocampo and his henchmen, the ICC, and all International Organisations were warned against. They have wilfully and knowingly released the genie, a wave of discontent, a storm of segregation, a realisation that it was ‘Us’ against ‘Them’, perhaps fully aware of its consequences, and unscrupulous in their intention.
Bashir stood defiantly, emboldened not by the might of the State’s military machine and its security apparatus willing to defend him, but rather by the sea of unbridled emotion a nation in all its colours has freely exhibited. And contrary to what observers believe, this show of support to the President transcends the character of Omar Al Bashir himself. Indeed it is ‘The Presidency’ that these people walked for, the notion that the country’s sovereignty and dignity had been violated. A man cried in the middle of the crowd, “This is an insult!”
Demonstrations in support of the President also broke out across other parts of the country: in Nyala, Kassala, El Obeid, Port Sudan, and Merowe (site of the new hydroelectric dam). Anti-riot police forces were lined up to protect offices of foreign agencies and embassies. Largely empty offices I hasten to add, except for a skeleton of local staff left behind to run the day-to-day businesses in prospect of a future return of these missions. History repeats itself. All these missions had vacated their foreign nationals once they received advance intelligence of the upcoming issuing of the arrest warrant, and specific cautionary advice (1) many weeks ago. Sources close to the government had leaked that foreign missions were stockpiling on food and water in preparation for a severe backlash. Indeed, on February 11th (2), a resident reporter of The New York Times newspaper at The Hague (herself a controversial lady) (3) had reported in a front page piece that the PreTrial Chamber I Judges at the Court had decided to issue a warrant of arrest against President Bashir, and that this had been communicated to the Secretary General of the UN, Mr Ban Ki Moon (2). He in turn publicly requested of the Sudanese government ‘to act responsibly’ once the decision of the Court was released ‘regardless of its outcome’ (4). Amazingly, the Court at that point flatly denied that it had indeed reached a decision, but instead set the date for the 4th of March. In the end, it was nothing but a hapless exercise in international diplomacy, and served nothing but increase the Sudanese public’s contempt and derision aimed at the UN and its associated bodies. The arrest warrant was ultimately issued on the date, despite all the previous desperate denials by the Court.
The ICC’s decision in context: Politics, Humanitarianism and Development
In an interview with the local Arabic newspaper, Al Intibaha, Musa Hilal, leader of the government’s tribal counter-insurgency campaign against the rebel forces in Darfur in 2003-2004, declared that his recent trip to Darfur served three purposes: 1) To personally lend his moral support and enthusiasm to the ongoing (and virtually unreported) efforts of tribal reconciliation through civil forums in Darfur; 2) Met with leaders of splinter rebel forces in Darfur to reach an understanding that guaranteed open channels of communication and dialogue, or as a minimum, that centres of civilian concentrations are excluded from any possible future armed clashes. 3) Finally, and perhaps most revealingly, and also as a direct response to the recent markedly improved armamentarium of the Justice and Equality Movement via Chad, Hilal personally oversaw the opening of voluntary training camps for recruits from allied tribes in Darfur. In his own words, this will serve “to maintain the balance of tribal power in Darfur” and it was only “an act of readiness for any future scenarios”. Perhaps he based his thinking on the idea of ‘peace through deterrence’ - that the price of war between two equally powerful adversaries will far outweigh that of peace, all in the context of an intensively militarised society.
In many ways, this reveals the dynamic politics of the civil war in Darfur, and the minute calculations that must be considered by all those claiming to act responsibly in an effort to end the conflict, or to achieve justice. Sadly, many of those who believed they are qualified have produced nothing but impotent suggestions, and exhibited nothing but naivety and rash conclusions in their interpretation of the conflict. The likes of Mia Farrow (5), George Clooney (6), and a handful of other celebrities who have momentously discovered a certain messiahanic urge within themselves, a heroic cause to fill their mundane lives, to save the world and ‘Save Darfur’. How pathetic is it all. And even if one gives them the benefit of the doubt, and assumes their political sense is nothing much beyond that of well-meaning buffoons, there still comes a time when good intention by itself is no longer good enough; when responsibility requires genuine understanding based on proper scholarly work, long standing familiarity with issues on the ground, and an in-depth cultural and sociological insight; all to form a coherent viewpoint about the issues and an acute sensibility to the region in question. No more so than when a whole nation’s destiny is at a crossroads.
The authorities have expelled ten foreign relief agencies and two national ones for conspiracy to supply information hostile to the government to international organisations. It accused them of overstepping their humanitarian mandate. MSF, Oxfam and Care (among others) were told to leave Darfur. Their calls from offices in Nairobi, Cairo and Johannesburg that this step by the government will result in refugees facing food insecurity in camps across Darfur is disingenuous. What most consumers of mainstream media fail to appreciate is that, before these named agencies were expelled, 118 (yes one hundred and eighteen!) national and international relief agencies were working in humanitarian assistance in Darfur, according to statistics issued at a press conference by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs in Khartoum. Indeed, based on the latest United Nations report on humanitarian assistance in Darfur available online, some 85 NGOs and Red Cross/Crescent Movement and 16 UN agencies were working in Darfur up until October 2008 (7). Some distributed food, others distributed water, some provided medical care, some provided seeds, some digging tools, some empowerment courses for women and children, some counselling assistance for post-traumatic stress disorder, and the list continues. Each agency had its particular niche of assistance and mission statement in its drive to recruit funds and donations and perpetuate the relief and humanitarian assistance industry. Each had its own cadre of consultants, logistics managers, press communiqués, emotive television advertisements, fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles, offices in Washington, London, Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Rome, Geneva, etc. etc. Each office worked independently, yet remaining under the umbrella of the ‘parent organisation’. Each applied separately for its licence to conduct its activities at disaster regions. The sheer volume of paperwork involved for Ministries of Interior is overwhelming, as well as entry visas for all the prospective relief workers. Nonetheless, any delay in issuing such permits results in an international outcry. And as for the co-ordination among these agencies or unification of their efforts to avoid duplication or unnecessary waste, or the required emphasis on long term developmental projects, on capacity-building rather than handouts… well, it is at best poor, and most often non-existent.
However, a critical question remains to be asked: Where was the humanitarian plea for caution when the case against the President and the country as a whole was being considered in the Security Council many months before? Where were their calls for further deliberation when Luis Moreno-Ocampo put the case in front of the Judges at the ICC PreTrial Chamber I in July of last year, to issue an arrest warrant against Bashir? Where were they to warn against the probable repercussions this will have upon their humanitarian relief work and the possible harm that such action might inflict on refugees in Darfur? Why did they not utilise their privilege of being ‘on the ground’ in Darfur to warn the International Community about the short-sightedness, naivety and inherent danger of such an act? Now that the milk has been spilled, they cry wolf. Indeed, the Government of Sudan cannot be blamed for its actions. Perhaps most fitting to the situation we find ourselves in today was Mary Wollstonecraft’s prophetic testament. This eighteenth-century British writer and feminist said, “Till men mutually learn to assist without governing each other, little can be done by political associations towards perfecting the condition of mankind.”
In the current environment, no one can contemplate criticising the government for any of its actions. They will be committing treason in the eyes of the people of Sudan.
In the end, one hundred and eight agencies remain in Darfur at this moment, including the World Food Programme (who posses most of the food aid), UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (who jointly provide the majority of medical care), all fully licenced to conduct their humanitarian work. The relatively small reduction in distributive capacity resulting from the expulsion of the above named agencies will have to be compensated for by the remaining agencies and the authorities. Indeed there is a widespread recognition in the developing world that Aid in its current industrial sense, and despite allegedly repeated attempts at reform, has done nothing but perpetuate poverty and has in fact suffocated any hope of development (8). The collective consensus is that the only exit for Africa from this vicious cycle of poverty and disasters is through microfinance, fair and equitable trade, and large investments in infrastructure and development. Although the case for emergency resuscitative assistance in Darfur is currently valid, it is patently obvious that the politics by which humanitarians have conducted their affairs as I highlighted above were both suspect and unscrupulous.
In the words of the Minister of Information and Media, “no options are off the table”. However, it is important to note that the government has so far actually dealt very responsibly with the issuing of the arrest warrant. The President declared that the national unity government will do its best that business will resume as normal. He declared his commitment to the ongoing Doha round of negotiations with the Justice and Equality Movement for peace in Darfur. He also expressed his commitment to hold the general elections at their due date later this year, under international observation. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, he expressed his commitment to continue the robust momentum on aspects of development and nation-building (9).
A day prior to the ICC’s Pretrial Chamber I decision, Bashir was in Merowe in the impoverished northern Sudan to inaugurate the largest hydroelectric dam project currently under construction in Africa (10). In the presence of dignitaries from neighbouring African countries, The Arab World, China, Europe and the United States, he switched on the turbines and generators of the dam, which will triple the national electricity generating power for the country. Bashir declared that electricity bills are to be reduced by a quarter for the poor, and for industry, as a first step in spreading the scheme nation-wide. The dam project was linked with numerous basic infrastructure schemes for the area and its local population, e.g. roads, schools, an international airport that will serve all of the Northern Province and a significant expansion in the agricultural capacity of the area. He declared the country will be a net exporter of oil, electricity, and raw and processed agricultural products by next year. You can forgive the intoxicating sense of triumph and achievement the nation has been experiencing over the last weeks. That is until the decision of the ICC fell like a heavy boulder on our chest.
What further angered and frustrated the nation was that we were far from being the only nation experiencing a conflict these days. Indeed if one applies the logic of the ICC, the Spanish Civil War, the Algerian War of Independence, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan Wars, the Gulf Wars, the protracted Israeli-Lebanese-Palestinian conflict - to name just a few – should all be as genocidal in character, and be up for war crimes indictments: since these wars as well involved massacres of civilians, the use of militias, torture, and forced transfers of populations. Ibrahim Adam, a risk management consultant from El Fasher in northern Darfur writes, “How can anybody expect a regular Sudanese like myself to think anything other than that the US and the rest of the West (despite its gnashing of teeth) is not really serious about solving Darfur, but is just using it as an elixir for self-aggrandising moral posturing - especially given their response to Gaza or Somalia, all of which could have the same charge sheet as Darfur.” (11)
The current climate on the world stage, whereby justice is seen to be administered with extreme bias, and consistently being avoided by certain members of the International Community, only serves to cement the notion that the deterrence aspect of international law is used only as means of a threat and pressure, a political tool, against weak developing countries by world powers. This is a very powerful argument in itself, with slender evidence to prove otherwise in the contemporary history of international relations.
Furthermore, the government declared it will not seek the application of Article 16 at the Security Council (requesting the arrest warrant is suspended for a year to be renewed if necessary), and thereby stripping the Court from any sense of legitimacy in Sudan’s eyes. It will instead completely disregard the warrant’s existence, in an effort to reveal the impotence of the ICC and its failure to implement any of its decisions (12). That effectively makes Bashir under house arrest, unable to leave the Sudan without facing the risk of being arrested and handed over to the Court by a hostile regime or any other government subdued by its commitments to international powers for its very own survival. Then again, in that historic demonstration in Khartoum, the nation was out calling for Bashir to remain in the Sudan, vowing that they will protect him, through thick and thin. Rather than diminish Bashir’s grip on power or weaken him, the arrest warrant has in fact consolidated his position, and today he is perhaps more powerful than ever before.
At the UN Security Council, when presenting the evidence for his case against the Sudan, Ocampo declared, “Al-Bashir used the alibi of the counterinsurgency in order to try to end the history of the people of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa people (tribes in Darfur).” (13) Having never set foot in Sudan, not even once, let alone Darfur (beyond the drawn up map in his office at The Hague), Ocampo failed to recognise that two million Darfurians have sought refuge around the principal government army garrisons of their province. Furthermore, one million Darfurians live in Khartoum, and continue to go about their ordinary challenging lives, like other Sudanese, their harmonious existence completely impervious and uninfluenced by the conflict in Darfur. This is what Ocampo failed to appreciate. Alex de Wall, a prominent academic and a regional expert on issues pertaining to the Horn of Africa remarked, “I came out of the press conference (the announcement that Ocampo was seeking an arrest warrant for genocide and war crimes against Omar Al-Bashir) in a state of shock… he (Ocampo) painted a picture no scholar would recognise… he was basically calling for regime change, making a political statement, which is surprising coming from the chief prosecutor of the ICC.”… “By presenting his case in such stark terms, the prosecutor has made it easy for his critics to dismiss him as ill-informed and driven by desire for publicity, and has made it harder for the advocates of justice in Darfur to pursue the challenge of calling to account those responsible for crimes.” (13) Antonio Cassese, Chair of the UN International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (which incidentally dismissed the charge of genocide), has described the decision as "puzzling" (14). Mark Klamberg, a Swedish academic who has worked in the court, says it should consider removing the prosecutor (14).
I fear that this uncalculated move by Luis Moreno-Ocampo and the Court’s hasty and impatient application of alleged justice will be useless, and even worse, outright dangerous; that is if it destroys peace in the Sudan as a whole, enshrined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in southern Sudan and the constitutional milestones for genuine democratic transformation that have taken place over the last four years since the signing of the CPA. It is absolutely mind boggling that the regime that has brought about peace almost to the whole country is threatened so callously halfway before the work it has started is wound up. In fact, the legal and constitutional alterations the country has witnessed over the past few years has made it one of the most constitutionally progressive states in the region. Any candid observer of Sudanese affairs will attest to that. Furthermore, peace in Darfur will not be achieved by destruction of the peace in southern Sudan, and anything that threatens The Presidency will naturally result in the latter.
I fear we are now in jeopardy of having all these positive changes rolled back, to return to the dark days of the military junta, to a scenario similar to that existing in Myanmar. I fear that rather than the problem of civil unrest being relatively confined to Darfur, society across the whole country will now become militarised, directly as a result of the International Community’s impotence and lack of foresight. If that were to happen, the situation will be very grim indeed.
On the other hand, the rebels’ response to the arrest warrant has been far from reassuring. JEM declared they will revise their commitments to the Memorandum of Understanding signed in Doha two weeks ago, and that they will direct their forces’ efforts to arrest Al Bashir (ironically the ICC has specifically instructed them not to engage in such action) (15). Contrary to what most believe, the conflict in Darfur is not driven by a cause for justice and equality. In fact, it is in its essence a struggle for power in Khartoum.
One is left to wonder if all of this could have been predicted? The answer is an emphatic yes. A few hours worth of study one afternoon in any decent library anywhere in the world, and anyone can get an adequately informative synopsis of the history of conflicts this part of Africa has experienced, and therefore, what the likely outcomes of different scenarios may be. Ignorance is not an excuse.
Ocampo, the ICC and International Relations: A critique
The International Criminal Court was deformed since its inception. The very reservation expressed by the government of the Sudan against the ICC is the same as the one expressed by US diplomats in Rome in 1998, when they voted against the Rome Statute because of suspicion that the court could become politically motivated to target US soldiers and peacekeepers. And just like the Americans, we will not allow for any of our citizens to be prosecuted abroad. Furthermore, the legacy of the court, and Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s as acting Chief Prosecutor, in their capacity to administer swift and proper justice is highly doubtful. In October 2006 a media spokesman in the Prosecutor’s Office filed an internal complaint accusing Moreno-Ocampo of sexual misconduct. A panel of three ICC judges investigated the complaint and found that it was unfounded, but Moreno-Ocampo generated a controversy when he summarily dismissed the staff member who made the complaint. The Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization subsequently awarded the employee almost £120,000 in damages (paid out of the coffers of the International Criminal Court and not by Ocampo), ruling that Moreno-Ocampo had breached due process and seriously infringed the employee's rights. The ILO held that the original complaint against Moreno-Ocampo had been made in good faith, and that Moreno-Ocampo should not have participated in the decision to fire the employee as he had a personal interest in the matter (16).
In the case of the Congolese military leader Thomas Lubanga (the first war crimes suspect to appear before the court), Luis Moreno-Ocampo has already been shown to have withheld from the defense information given to him by the UN that exonerated the defendant. The Judges ruled that the Congolese warlord could not have a fair trial because the Prosecutor had wrongly used confidentiality agreements to withhold evidence that might have pointed to the innocence of charges of conscripting child soldiers. Ocampo appealed the judgment, and Mr Lubanga remains in custody (17).
Indeed, the way International tribunals conduct themselves would be unacceptable in any well-established liberal democracy with properly established civil liberties. They hold entire sessions in secret and censor trial transcripts. Those charged and detained can be held for unrestricted periods of time. Theoneste Bagosora from Rwanda was arrested in 1996 and it took over ten years for the prosecution to conclude its case. The trial is expected to last several more years. This new international system of justice is reminiscent of the pre-modern feudal world in which the application of law and court procedure were totally unpredictable and heavily weighted against the accused (18).
The African Union is indeed showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the direction of the court, and the ICC’s exclusive focus on African cases to date is causing much unease among Africans. Half the countries in Africa have not signed to become Parties to the Rome Statute, and those already signed up are considering withdrawing. It is felt that the Court represents an expansion of Western power at the expense of African concerns, including national sovereignty and the possibilities of pursuing local mechanisms for justice (19). Indeed, it was Robin Cook, the late Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in the UK government, who commented so revealingly, “this is not a court set up to bring to book Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom or Presidents of the United States” (20). Furthermore, Tony Blair’s former senior diplomatic adviser, Robert Cooper, and currently Director-General for External and Politico-Military Affairs at the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union, is overt in his belief that Europe must evolve into what he calls a ‘post-modern Empire’. He believes that countries that make up the EU and their allies outside it must “get used to the idea of double standards”. “We need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era (when dealing with states outside Europe’s borders) – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world… Among ourselves we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle.” (21)
At any rate, I take immense comfort in knowing Sudan will not face this crisis alone. Only a few weeks prior to the ICC issuing its arrest warrant, the Sudan was elected to head The Group of 77 and China at the UN, the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing states in the United Nations, which provides the means for the countries of the South to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity on all major international economic issues within the United Nations system, and promote South-South cooperation for development (22). This stood as a clear statement of will from the countries of The South, a testament of their disregard and indifference for the impending judgment on Omar Al Bashir, and their view on the way the case of Darfur has been dealt with at the Security Council.
Peace is a necessary pre-requisite to justice. We desperately need a more nuanced approach to conflict resolution in the whole region. The solution in Darfur is primarily a political one. There must be a comprehensive cease fire from all warring factions, and the West (especially France) must instruct the Sudanese Liberation Army and Mr Abdel Wahid Nour, who is currently residing in Paris, to join the Government and Justice and Equality Movement at the negotiations table at Doha. For such talks to be successful, however, it is imperative that they are joined by Mr Mani Arko Minawi, leader of the faction of the SLA in Khartoum and signatory to the Darfur Peace Agreement. Other obligatory attendants include all the leaders and tribal elders from the major tribes in Darfur, including Musa Hilal. Beyond political negotiations over topics on security, power and wealth distribution, discussions must involve the historical and eternal aetiology for the fighting: the feudal society in Darfur, the widespread access to weapons, and the conflict over land and water rights, as the International Community has so conveniently ignored. A roadmap for political and developmental milestones must be agreed, and this time, funding secured from the nation’s resources and regional players if possible, thereby explicitly avoiding the empty promises of the conventional international donors. Once peace, stability and political reform has become embedded, and the Darfurian society realised that the fruits of peace are too precious to be abandoned again (we are talking of perhaps years here), only then can a comprehensive multinational investigation into the atrocities committed begin. Granted, some evidence may be lost by then. However, the risk of major indictments of influential players causing the peace to unravel rapidly dissipates as time goes by. On the other hand, what I personally prefer and indeed what I can see as being the natural catalyst to a genuine transformation in Darfur is a paradigm shift beyond that of punishment and condemnation and instead towards one of truth and reconciliation, as South Africa has so beautifully displayed to the world. I reiterate the words of Alex de Waal in regards to this subject, “Though the option of peace first - justice next is a tortoise move, yet it is a sure race for a lasting victory.”
There are no quick fixes. It is too late now.
On the day the nation went out to support its President, I saw an eagle perched on the highest mast in the area, one mounting the national flag and overlooking the sea of people, perhaps bewildered as to the occasion causing all this upheaval. Beyond it, only a stone’s throw from this gathering, the serpentine Blue Nile meandered its way through the fertile farming land at Al Mogran, to join the White Nile in the far distance, in this land of antiquities.
Dr Mohamed Ahmed Ghazi Suliman BMedSci (Hons) BMBS DTM&;H (Graduated from the University of Nottingham, England. Currently working as a doctor in Khartoum. His father, Advocate Ghazi Suliman, is a prominent human rights lawyer and politician who was previously imprisoned by the regime in Sudan prior to its commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, and entered a national unity government with the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement. As per the Agreement, fair and transparent elections were due to be held in the Sudan in 2009).
1- British Foreign and Commonwealth Office
2- New York Times: Judges approve warrant for Sudan’s President
3- Marlise Simons and the New York Times on the International Court of Justice Decision on Serbia and Genocide in Bosnia
4- Sudan Must Act ‘Responsibly’
5- Darfur Dying for Heroes
6- George Clooney’s Darfur Dilemmas
7- Darfur Humanitarian Needs Profile No. 33 01 October 2008
8- Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa, Dambisa Moyo. Allen Lane Publishers, Jan 2009. ISBN 1846140064
9- ICC decision Will Not Change Anything in the Plans and Programmes of the Government
10- Sudan Hails World’s Longest Dam
11- The Rush to Nazify Sudan by US Academics
12- U.N. Security Council to meet Africans, Arabs on Sudan's Bashir
13- Moreno Ocampo’s Coup de Theatre
14- Human Rights: â€¨Growing Clamour to Remove the Hague â€¨Prosecutor Who Wants Sudanese President Arrested
15- Darfur Rebel Group Welcomes Warrant
16- Luis Moreno-Ocampo
17- Thomas Lubanga
18- The ICC and the Murkier Waters of Deals and Fixes
19- Sudan and the International Criminal Court: A Guide to the Controversy
20- Where’s the Humanity in Human Rights?
21- Robert Cooper: Why We Still Need Empires
22- Sudan Elected as Head of Group 77 within UN