Friday, March 13, 2009

The Arab Waltz With Bashir

Omar al Bashir, the Sudanese dictator who once gave shelter to Usama bin Ladin and supported the Janjaweed, has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Sadly, many Arab leaders have reacted to this news by supporting Bashir: "Arab diplomats described the decision as setting a dangerous precedent that would enable the international court to seek to hunt down any Arab or Muslim head-of-state in the region in accordance with what they see as double standards in dealing with human rights violations." Whatever.

From Arab News: "The Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (APU), a regional grouping of 22 Arab parliaments, has called on the UN Security Council to suspend the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Sudanese President Omar Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity."

Some Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps expressed similar support with banners that state "The Americans and Zionists leaders who have commited crimes in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, are the one who should be taken to International courts".

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. This is another embarrassing moment in history for the Arabs. Arab lawmakers of the APU - now that is comedy. Why embarrass themselves and ordinary Arabs like this? Why not say nothing? Arab leaders are not the only ones who have expressed their support for Bashir. Iran and China have as well. The Economist explains:

Yet the attitude of many countries over the past week to the ICC’s indictment has been worse than disappointing. Many have expressed dismay at the ICC’s decision and yet said nothing about the expulsion of the aid agencies. China, long Sudan’s main backer, blocked a mere press statement from the UN Security Council that would have condemned Mr Bashir’s government for the move. Such countries say they want the Security Council to defer the ICC’s indictment, on the ground that seeking justice against Mr Bashir will upset the “peace process” in Darfur. They would have a reasonable point if there were indeed a genuine peace process under way which the indictment would jeopardise. But Mr Bashir has long since emptied the process of meaning. His government has done nothing to bring any of the mass killers to justice. In these circumstances, the ICC has become the last resort.

Mr Bashir’s cry that the ICC is a weapon of Western “neo-colonialism” has gone down well with some African governments, many Arab leaders and Iran. Not all African countries have rallied to his support, however. Sierra Leone, for instance, which experienced horrors rather like Darfur’s, has become a strong proponent of justice and a firm believer in the part it must play in ending conflicts. Most African governments subscribe to a “peer review” mechanism that invites them to judge each other’s human rights records. Few, unfortunately, take this seriously.

The ICC indictment has served as a wedge between Bashir and his allies in the Janjaweed -some commanders have abandoned him, fearing they too may be arrested, and apparently Bashir fears that members of the Janjaweed will testify against him.

At least one Sudani Islamists says that Bashir deserves to be indicted because Bashir violated Islamic law and says that Bashir should give Usama bin Ladin $200 million. This is a dilemma for Bashir, and it's also a dilemma for the US and western countries. What to do with Bashir? If he is overthrown, radical Islamists may take control, and may make the situation in Darfur worse.

The UN chief said yesterday that 'it was not too late for Sudan's own courts to take "very credible" measures to prosecute those responsible for crimes in Darfur.' That Bashir would prosecute those responsible for mass murder is, in my estimation, doubtful, even if the Arabs do decide to do the right thing and condemn him.

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