Sunday, October 12, 2008

Do Not Deprive Darfurians of their Right of Justice

by Salih Osman

from the ICC Coalition website:

AS SOUTH Africans reflect on the legacy of Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, many have praised his foreign policy contributions.
They consider his work elsewhere in Africa to be the hallmark of his presidency. Unfortunately, few are aware of how his foreign policy has negatively affected the human rights of millions of Africans and SA’s reputation on the global stage.SA’s current approach to the situation in Darfur is a prime example.

On March 31 2005, the United Nations Security Council decided, against all odds, to refer the crimes committed in Darfur to the newly created International Criminal Court. Amid the misery of the camps in Darfur and in eastern Chad, there were celebrations that day. Not only did Darfurians for the first time believe that justice could finally be done, after years of atrocities, rapes and killings, they were also safer. In the months following the announcement, there was a noticeable decline in the level of attacks on civilians, aerial bombardments were scaled back and the militias were curtailed in their violence.

However, as the nearly two years between the commencement of the investigation and the presentation of the first charges passed, the violence increased once again.
As the work of the court faded into the background, the climate of impunity, and the violence it breeds, returned.

The court initially focused on smaller players. Last year’s first indictments were against a government minister, Ahmad Haroun, and a janjaweed militia leader, Ali Kosheib. Darfurians were pleased to see that the court was working, but felt that the indictments were too few, and aimed too low.
Then, in July, everything changed. The prosecutor requested an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir himself, for crimes against humanity and genocide. The head of state had been called to account for the atrocities suffered in Darfur.
Yet even before the announcement was made, some expressed doubt about its effect. They argued that justice should be taken off the table in case even more violent mayhem was unleashed.

The danger may be real — the recent killing of dozens at Kalma camp in south Darfur, mostly women and children, reminds us that violence is ever-present. However, further violence and threats of violence should never be accepted to bargain away justice.
In July, SA and Libya led an attempt to insist that the Security Council should order the International Criminal Court to stop its work. That bid was thwarted, for the moment at least.
Now, however, another idea is gaining popularity among some European and African governments alike — that a few months of good behaviour by Bashir might be enough to let him off the hook.

Recently, while still president, Mbeki travelled to Sudan and issued a statement arguing that the proposed arrest warrant would undermine lasting peace in Sudan. If only we can tempt Bashir to co-operate with the UN for the first time, the argument runs, who cares about responsibility for the hundreds of thousands who already lost their lives in this conflict, and millions more driven from their homes?
The answer is that Darfurians will care. And so should anybody who cares about Darfur. Darfurians do not have peace (there is no peace process in Darfur) and they do not have security, they cannot now be asked to give away justice as well.

Contrary to Mbeki’s statement, most of the displaced see justice as a precondition for return and for lasting peace.

Indeed, there will be no peace and no security in Darfur without accountability.

Theoretically, the deal which governments now seem so eager to agree on would be valid for a mere 12 months. But the chances that the immunity would then be renewed are dangerously high.That would be an insult to the people of Darfur, and to victims of human rights abuses worldwide. If there is no accountability for Darfur, that will set a dangerous precedent at the council, which tyrants of the future far beyond Darfur and Sudan will be eager to repeat. The preventive and the punitive power of the court will be immeasurably damaged. Darfurians wish to live in peace. After what we have lived through, how could we not? But to do so we need the support of the international community, much as South Africans did to overcome apartheid. Unfortunately, the international community has failed to give necessary material and political support to peacekeeping troops on the ground or to peace negotiators.

Now it risks turning away from justice as well. If the Security Council decides to override the prosecutor’s attempt to gain accountability for these crimes, that will be the international community’s most shameful act of all.

Osman is a lawyer from Darfur and a member of the Sudanese parliament. Last year he was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

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