Questions and answers on Darfur and the arrest warrant against Sudan's Bashir


Comments on the feedback to the article "The ICC’s arrest warrant against Bashir: Facts and Reflections"

By Dr Mohamed-Ahme d Ghazi Suliman



Darfurians’ opinion on the current events? Were they represented?

Darfurians live in Khartoum in the capacity of rich merchants, frustrated civil servants, street vendors, private-sector workers, state ministers, refugees, self-employed businessmen, jobless others, and students who toil through the hardship of their studies; in short, like ALL other Sudanese. Incidentally, students from Darfur and southern Sudan get exclusive free state education, including university education, in recognition of their disadvantaged economic status due to war and conflict (no means-testing involved here). Others from different parts of the country are expected to pay regardless of their economic background.

As for the demonstrations that day, I had the chance to speak to many people, but it never occurred to me to ask each of them which part of the country they were from. Sudan is a huge nation, an ethnic melting-pot, and although sometimes one can guess the regional affiliation from the person’s features and/or attire, most times this is absolutely impossible. Especially when everyone is wearing the long white robe (Jalabiya) and the white head-dress (Imaa), in the middle of an excited demonstration, with everyone cursing the savage heat on that memorable afternoon. It just wasn’t the appropriate time or place for provincial questionnaires.

Jokes aside, I get the gist of your question. You see, the simple truth of the matter is that no one knows for sure if there were in fact an opinion the Darfurians’ hold towards the ICC issue. The friends I have here in Khartoum from the region, for example, are split in their views. Indeed until a proper transparent survey of opinions is conducted, everything else would be speculation and valueless propaganda. In the midst of war, the fact is not many people are speaking about justice, or at least not in the sense of it being a desperately immediate priority, as is abundantly professed by some commentators. Few refugees have time for this debate. Few have heard of the International Criminal Court. The only incontestable certainty is that the refugees’ primary wish is to return to their villages. They just want to go home. I guess one can be forgiven for interpreting that as putting peace ahead of justice.

Taking Bashir to The Hague may well be a victory for the self-indulgent activists far away from Sudan than for the people stuck in this miserable war and who have a stake and a livelihood in the political stability of the country. The real challenge remains in post-conflict repatriation, rebuilding their homes and compensating the victims.

Another incontestable truth is that the arrest warrant has not made any remarkable changes to realities on the ground. In regards to the security situation in Darfur, displaced peoples’ migration patterns remain towards Khartoum, as well as to IDP camps like Abu Shouk and Kalma outside the government garrison towns of El Fasher in northern Darfur and Nyala in Western Darfur, respectively. This trend would not be consistent with an ‘ethnic’ war by the government against its own people. Of all the other places in the country, including rebel held territories, the displaced people of Darfur, and indeed aid organisations, hold a majority view that government-held areas are most secure.

I call them garrison towns merely for the fact that they incorporate a significant military presence for reasons of war. Although it will be far-fetched to label life there as ‘normal’, these towns are nonetheless thriving with life: bustling markets, schools, hospitals, busy airport activity (aid-related, military-related and otherwise), etc. And with the ongoing construction of the Western Highway, the area will realise its ultimate gateway to the heart of the country.

Why would the ICC/International Organizations ‘wilfully and knowingly release the genie’?

You tell me. It is absolutely crazy!

I was talking to a cafeteria owner last week and he said something remarkably pertinent, a statement which perhaps crystallised the confusion and frustration of the common man in the street. He questioned, “On the one hand the UN is working for peace in coordination with the Sudanese government (in southern Sudan), and on the other hand the UN wants to overthrow the same government by issuing an arrest warrant for its President!” Allowing for the slight inaccuracies in what he said, namely that it is the ICC and not the UN per se (although the ICC is closely related to the UN and seen as a UN body), the poor man’s words were absolutely true)! He asked me, rhetorically of course, to justify to him why this was happening. I only shook my head in shared disbelief.

It is appropriate to compare the removal of Bashir in the Sudan to that of the removal of Saddam in Iraq. Perhaps the resemblance is astoundingly accurate in many ways. But before we start revealing in the delight of this fantastic knowledge of comparative international relations, we should be mindful of one thing: Saddam did not have a working peace agreement that re-united warring factions within his country when he was deposed from power. He was not the head of a national unity government that was implementing genuine democratic changes. There lies that critical juncture in the road. Perhaps a more accurate comparison of the potential repercussions of this arrest will be that crux in time which defined so many of the 20th century’s other bloody memories: the assassination of Lumumba by Belgian intelligence, which helped plunge the Congo into decades of slaughter, still continuing until today; or the overthrow of the democratic government of Guatemala in 1954, or the coup in Iran against Musadaq’s Socialist regime in Iran by the CIA (which Jimmy Carter publicly described as the single most spectacular blunder in US foreign calculations in the Middle East during the 20th century).

The principles of sovereignty and dignity – are they absolute?

Very good question.

I don’t believe sovereignty is absolute. Nor do I object to the ‘principle’ of international justice. Then again, the list of conditions and reservations I hold relevant to the legacy of contemporary applications of the above concepts are of such length that I have effectively rendered myself opposed to them. My reasons are probably obvious to any person with a rudimentary following of current affairs and international news, and we can perhaps explore them further at a different context and time. I only have two observations to share for now:

I wonder what criminalising Kim-Jong Il will do to efforts for peace and reconciliation in the Korean Peninsula, or what criminalising Martin McGuinness would have done to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, or the continued pursuit of Paul Kagame, for committing war crimes, to efforts for peace in Rwanda and Burundi (indeed to the whole vicinity of the Great Lakes in central Africa)? I could go on…

You may be aware that several powerful nations were opposed to the concept of the ICC, including the US government, China and India. Their reasons varied. Which brings me to my point: A very interesting concept of International Law was applied in the case of Sudan’s referral to the ICC for investigation of the ‘situation’ in Darfur. This concept is called “Discriminatory Prosecution”. In paragraph 6 of the Resolution 1593, by which Sudan was referred to the ICC, it was decided that:

“National, current or former officials or personnel from a contributing State outside Sudan which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that contributing State for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in Sudan established or authorized by the Council or the African Union, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been expressly waived by that contributing State.”

The reason for this inclusion is widely known.  It was a condition for the United States not to veto the resolution. The US ambassador was very open about this section’s objective:

“This resolution provides clear protections for United States persons.  No United States person supporting the operations in the Sudan will be subjected to investigation or prosecution because of this resolution.”

On another point, The House of Representative of the United States passed the “American Service-Members’ Protection Act of 2001” (ASPA) which restrict U.S. cooperation with the International Criminal Court, on May 10 as an amendment to the Foreign relations Authorization Act of 2001. The following is a summary of the key provisions of the bill:  

•    The bill restricts U.S. participation in any peacekeeping mission and prohibits military assistance for those nations that ratify the ICC Treaty, with the exception of NATO member countries and other major allies (Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand were cited as members of this category).

•    In addition, the bill authorizes the President to use “all means necessary and appropriate” to bring about the release from captivity of U.S. or Allied personnel detained or imprisoned against their will by or on behalf of the Court.

•    The President may waive this restriction for countries that ratify the treaty if he reports to Congress that such cooperation is in the national security interest of the U.S. and the country has entered into an agreement with the United States protecting U.S. personnel from extradition to the Court.

•    No governmental entity in the United States, including State and local governments or any court, may cooperate with the International Criminal Court in matters such as arrest and extradition of suspects, execution of searches and seizures, taking of evidence, seizure of assets, and similar matters.

•    No agent of the ICC may conduct in the US any investigative activity.  The President should use the U.S. voice and vote at the Security Council to ensure that each resolution authorizing any U.N. peacekeeping operation permanently exempts members of the U.S. armed forces from prosecution by the ICC.

•    No classified national security information can be transferred directly or indirectly to the ICC or to countries that are Party to the Rome Statute.

China has opposed the Court, on the basis that: It goes against the sovereignty of nation states; the principle of complementarity gives the court the ability to judge a nation's court system; War crimes jurisdiction covers internal as well as international conflicts; The court's jurisdiction covers peace-time crimes against humanity; Inclusion of the crime of aggression weakens the role of the Security Council in this regard; The Prosecutor's right to initiate prosecutions may open the court to political influence.

The government of India, as well, has consistently opposed the court. It abstained in the vote adopting of the statute in 1998, saying it objected to: The broad definition adopted of Crimes against humanity; The right given to the Security Council to refer cases, delay investigations and bind non-State Parties; The use of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction not being explicitly outlawed.

Regardless of what view you hold on the ICC and International Justice, surely we can agree that involving power politics and cronisim is the administration of justice worldwide is abhorrent and achieves nothing but undermines justice itself.

To summarise, until the day arrives when citizens of Sudan, China, India and the US (as examples) can face justice equally and on the same footing in international courts, until then, I will remain sceptical and stauncingly opposed to the concept of applied international justice, and strongly protective of our soverignty.
Any value for the UN?

The UN is composed of the bad, the not-so-bad, and the outright dangerous.

Let’s start with the outright dangerous as it’s the most interesting. I think the Security Council is the biggest impediment to the will of the world’s nations. Calling itself the ‘Security Council’ is a parody! In fact it is the biggest source of ‘insecurity’ in the world. Historically, it has served nothing but to paralyse all sentiments for justice and freedom in the world.

The not-so-bad includes docile bodies within the umbrella of the UN, including the UNESCO, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change – although I’m an environmental sceptic, but anyhow), the UN Human Rights Commission, and various other groups like the Group of 77 and China (which incidentally is led by Sudan), the WHO, etc. etc.

And lastly the bad include all international bodies of finance and economy, those put in place to instruct and oversee the restructuring of national economies, debt repayments and trade jurisdictions. The likes of the IMF (and its allied Paris Club), the World Bank, etc.

Musa Hilal’s move to start recruiting for voluntary training camps is only one of the many sad faces of a militarized society, the next step in the natural evolution of a protracted and lengthy civil war. He believed, or probably he hoped, this will serve as a deterrence against any prospective rebel attacks. In this sense, the Darfur conflict is no different from many other examples from around the world. You can find examples of voluntary civilian militas from modern day Iraq to Republican Spain in the 1930s to the American war of independence.  

‘Judgmental’ assessment of the role of celebrities in raising awareness of issues?

Well, let me clarify two things.

First, it wasn’t my intention to patronize peoples’ good will and celebrities’ efforts in wanting to utilize their high profile in publicizing issues and raising awareness. In fact this issue was discussed during a panel discussion I arranged at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine with Prof Munslow and Prof Valadez. I think the general impression was that these people need to conduct extreme caution when they approach issues in that way. Especially sensitive ones like AIDS, poverty, and most recently Darfur.

There is something disheartening about the way in which Darfur has turned into a designer crisis, a sentimentally over-simplified media event, by popular culture celebrities as well as media celebrities who have a professional duty to properly research the facts, and research them well, and to follow an Orwellian sense of scepticism towards what is made available for public consumption before they broadcast their material. Darfur represented a further journalistic trophy for the likes of Hilary Anderson of the BBC and Christian Amanpour of the CNN (who made her name out of glorifying war and war reporting to a new dizzying height). I bet you that once she retires journalism, she will launch a Consultancy firm specialising on Conflict Reportage, claiming expertise from the Balkans to Darfur. Why, she might even throw in a small workshop on how to manoeuvre through the clergy-infested corridors of the Iranian state whilst adorning a pseudo-scarf. In fact I can already see the title of an upcoming book called: The Art of Multi-tasking in Journalism: Pleasing the Corporation and the State Department (especially if your spouse works there) all at once!

As one commentator has said, it is indeed sobering to realise that there is more wisdom in the satirical writings of bohemian internet bloggers than in the solemn deliberations of the UN Security Council  (I remember reading that when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, someone remarked that reality has gone beyond parody).

I don’t believe for a moment that political decisions are ‘complex’. The issues are in principle quite simple and straightforward. But people must seek the facts, and that I’m afraid is no simple feat. Darfur represents a particularly special case. When it comes to running public campaigns, fund-raising on a colossal scale, and calling for international intervention and no-fly zones, the discussion moves from one over a coffee table to one over the fate of a whole nation.

George Clooney for example has never visited Sudan – not even once! I agree, we can’t have enough of ‘enlightened citizen diplomacy’ and a ‘long-term commitment to engage’ rather than a brief ‘ a photo op’. This alleged complexity of politics is false, and that the call for citizens and the concerned public to delegate the decision-making as well as the engagement on such issues to politicians is in fact an exercise in disempowerment. More participation is a good thing. But people must research the facts, and there lies the complexity and the difficulty. The scope for research is what I believe defines the genuine will to learn the truth and the commitment to help, as opposed to a brief spell at campaigning and being on centre-stage, under the lime-light. And there lies my reservation towards the issue of celebrities’ involvement so far in the topic of Darfur, mainly in that the statements they made were equally poorly researched as well as naïve and disingenuous. The proponents of the group ‘Save Darfur’ for example, have created an enormous amount of confusion and misinformation. They unashamedly disclosed a morbid deficiency in their faculty of intelligence and an ignorance of realities on the ground. At times, they unashamedly lied (flaunting around ridiculous numbers for casualties in Darfur). Worst of all, they portrayed a sense of distasteful moral arrogance and self-indulgent but falsified intellectual aloofness that reduces the nuanced complexities of the world we live in into a lazy convenience a perilous dichotomies of Arabs vs. Africans and Muslim vs. Christian. I’m sorry, but I do think they were pathetic.

Critique of Humanitarianism

Again let me clarify a few things:

I am not against humanitarian aid as such. In fact I think it has done a lot of great work, especially in the Sudan. But having read up on some of the facts, I have become increasingly sceptical about the whole ‘industry’ and indeed have found some quite disturbing stuff.

Hunger and disease (the two causes of the largest number of casualties in Darfur) are a direct result of lack of peace and stability rather than a product of shortage of humanitarian aid. There lies a fundamental premise that perhaps defines my humble perspective on the current crisis. Whether you agree or not will define how the argument evolves from here.

I believe there are priorities in emergency disasters like providing food, clean water, shelter (including safety) and medical care. I don’t believe providing counselling or therapy for PTSD is a necessity in an emergency, nor is it good use of resources. And neither is it ethical. These people are victims of conflicts and war. They are refugees. Their primary problems are not personality disorders, depressive illness or acute psychosis. Cognitive behavioural therapy and psychoanalytical counselling are no answer to the tragedy and bereavement these refugees face. Nor will it stop the problem.

Natural disasters and wars have continually devastated the country and the whole region for the last few decades, washing away millions of lives and livelihoods. For the last 50 years, Khartoum has been surrounded with IDP camps of refugees from conflicts in southern, central and eastern Sudan, as well as refugees in their hundreds of thousands from Ethiopia and Eriteria. These camps have now developed into small towns, bustling with businesses and civilian activity. Many have permanently settled. What made these people face hardships and move on was ‘hope’ and opportunities for a better future for them and their children, not counselling sessions. Their safety net and salvation lies in the resilience of their communities, and the longer the conflict propagates, the greater is the risk that the latter will disintegrate.

Anyhow, my point on the various permutations of assistance now available was to emphasize the inflated nature of the humanitarian industry that has evolved over the last two decades. Aid is now propagating itself for itself. It has taken on an ever-palpable sense of corporate growth. Furthermore, it has not been immune from political controversies and suspect associations that tainted its ethos and moral goals. For example, CARE has received funding from Lockheed Martin Corporation, one of the biggest and most secretive weapons manufacturers in the world. The likes of Henry Kissinger and his associates sit on the Board of Trustees of the International Rescue Committee, overseeing its aid mission… an irony of cataclysmic proportions!

In addition, I worry about the political issues surrounding wholly new concepts like the European Civil Protection Force and the idea of New Humanitarianism, and that they lay the ground for intervention under the guise of humanitarianism. In the early weeks of the DTM&;H course, some of us at the School attended a talk in Manchester discussing this topic. This is becoming a familiar ruse. And it seems that we are, as always, at the receiving end of such measures.

In the end, I wonder if all the fresh twinkly-eyed recruits to aid agencies are aware of these facts before they sign-up? Or am I putting a heavy burden on people here?

I don’t want to sound like I’m on ‘preaching mode’, for I am far from being in a position to do so. But what I think is of value is this sensitive point about us being ‘responsible for our actions’. I have lately started to realize more and more that responsibility is in fact a very heavy burden indeed.
The fact is tens of INGOs were competing to provide the same sectoral services at different localities in Darfur. Effective coordination, scale up of support and use of efficient cluster systems, that would lead to smooth delivery of services to all IDPs were non-existent. I thought everyone had learned from the terrible experiences of the Asian Tsunami? It is plain and simple (the simple truth may be impossibly evasive when it’s findings are delicate to handle, even when it is glaringly obvious) that there is a lot of exaggeration and political agenda in the recent claims that one million people in Darfur will not have access to basic services because of the expulsion of 13 aid agencies out of a total of about 100 (some of which are branches of the parent organisation whose other branches remain operational in the province, for example the Swiss, Italian and Spanish branches of the MSF Group still remain and are operating as we speak in Darfur). What are the remaining 100 or so organisations doing?

Darfur is the single largest humanitarian relief effort currently in place across the world. I am continually surprised by how the International Community has shown considerably less interest in addressing human tragedy unfolding in other parts of the world, e.g. the 4 million deaths in the Congo.

A good indication of the politicisation of the conflict is the way the number of conflict-related death was handled. The actual toll can only be surmised. I remember reading once that Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled in August 2006 that the statistic used by the Save Darfur Coalition in its 2006 advertising campaign – 400, 000 deaths in Darfur since the conflict began in 2003 – was unsubstantiated. The authority said this figure should have been presented as opinion, not fact.  

By some accounts, mortality levels in Darfur currently are in fact marginally better than they were before the war. The sad irony of the displacement of people into IDP camps is that it helped in significantly reducing armed combat-related deaths (or more widely referred to by the obscene phrase ‘collateral damage’). Most civilian deaths are now secondary to the risks met by large vulnerable populations inside the camps, e.g. epidemics (most recently meningitis), malnutrition, high maternal and infant deaths, etc. The sooner peace is realised and these people can go back to their villages, the better.

On Bashir, and the government of Sudan’s actions

I hope by now I have explained myself adequately that it is in fact not Bashir himself that is under attack here, but the Presidency and the sovereignty of the country. This makes the question of whether Bashir is a good or a bad man irrelevant. And just for the benefit of everyone, I personally have all the reasons to despise the man. But again, that is not the point at this moment in time.

As to the issue of expulsion of the aid agencies, I thought its timing was ill-advised and unfortunate. Personally, I believe the process should have been started much earlier than now, in a gradual but determined manner. I am delighted to hear that the government, allied with civil society, have set a goal to ‘Sudanize’ (in structure and management and not necessarily personnel) all humanitarian relief aid by next year. I genuinely hope we will be able to achieve this goal, but I am under no false illusion of the enormity of the challenge.

Section 13 of Sudan’s Organization of Humanitarian and Voluntary Work Bill 2006, “Refusal of Registration”, sets out the criteria by which all organizations are to be afforded registration, without which they will be illegal. Section 4 for “national non-governmental organizations” stipulates in point (c) that it does not include “any group which seeks to achieve partisan political objectives”. Section 5 (f) states “non-interference by foreign organizations in the internal affairs of the Sudan” as a basic principle, and doubtless this includes co-operation with the ICC in direct violation of the law of the land and indeed jeopardizing its national security. The Bill gives the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs the right to immediately act in such circumstances, and withdraw and/or deny registration for the agency in question. And unless Ban Ki Moon and Hilary Clinton have a realized a new capacity by which they can dictate to the Sudanese people how their government should run its affairs, I see no right for them to ‘demand’ agencies be allowed immediately back into Darfur.

Do you believe Bashir is innocent or just that it is not up to foreigners to intervene??!

I think we’ve already been through this one…

“There is an exercise my statistics teacher used many years ago: it is a game where the players are told what strategies to employ and we analysed the outcome. If all players are honest, all do well but as soon as one person cheats it becomes better for any individual to cheat but overall everyone is worse off. So if you don’t cheat yourself, you lose big time.  Everyone has to trust the others in order for it not to degenerate”.

Yeah, I know that game! It explains a lot about human civilization don’t you think? I think it goes a long way in explaining how co-operatives, unions, organisations, political parties, etc. work. Perhaps it even helps in understanding the limits of economic incentives and the great potential of peer pressure and psychological incentives.

In the context of conflict resolution, and specifically de-militarisation of heavily armed societies, I think the latter (psychological incentives) is probably the only guarantor of peace, i.e. peace will become sustainable when possessing weapons to terrorise people becomes a taboo in society, and rogue individuals are pressured by their peers to relinquish their arms for the sake of peace. That will be the best and most efficient form of securing populations and achieving peace and justice. Of course, it does not totally negate the need for courts, prisons, etc. (I am happy to debate whether capital punishment has a role, if any, on another occasion).