After 3 years of gathering evidence, last Monday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced his intention to prosecute Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir for "10 counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide" for the violence against civilians he has helped orchestrate in Darfur. See Africa Action's press release on the case from last week. Many Arab and African governments have criticized the move for complicating the peace process and violating Sudan’s sovereignty. Predictably, the voices of the people of Darfur have been ignored.
The Sudanese government has indicated that it will ignore the indictment of its president. Government ministers swiftly staged a protest against the actions of the ICC and chief prosecuter Luis Moreno-Ocampo, painting the ICC as a Western tool. The African Union’s response has been only slightly less damning. Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka told reporters "the move by ICC would threaten the on-going implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan and possibly worsen the fragile situation in Darfur." In response to Bashir’s plight, the Arab League convened an emergency meeting to show support for his government. Hours before the meeting, Yemen released a head-in-the-sand dismissal of the ICC charges as a “complete falsehood and an infringement on Sudan’s internal affairs.” Many Western analysts, including the former U.S. envoy for Sudan, have sided against the ICC, arguing that an attempt to try Bashir needlessly complicates the political situation in Darfur.Despite criticism, Ocampo has promised to continue his quest to bring Bashir to justice. “I am the prosecutor and I have to do my judicial part of the work for the court,” he told the Washington Post. “I cannot be a political factor.”
The people of Darfur are hailing the ICC's bold move with excitement. Predictably, rebel groups have lauded the move, but so have Darfuri refugees and others in the diaspora and leaders in displaced persons camps in Sudan. Sudanese refugee and teacher Halima Bashir recently told an audience in London, “I can't explain how happy I am for the ICC case. It is now more than five years this has been going on and very little has been done. It's as if we've been talking to deaf people. For me this is a step for justice.” Representing Sudanese refugees across the U.S. and the world, the Darfuri Leaders Network submitted a letter to the U.N. Security Council pledging “unequivocal support” for the ICC trial and asking the Security Council to ensure the trial proceeds regardless of its doubters.
From the Sudan Tribune: Hussein Abu-Sharati, the spokesperson of Darfur displaced and refugees at the Kalma camp in South Darfur, with some 90,000 residents, said that "there is not a single dissenting voice among displaced when it comes to supporting bringing Sudanese officials before the ICC."
Besides Africa Action, several major U.S.-based human rights organizations have been supportive of this perspective. U.S.-based advocacy-organization the ENOUGH Project (advised by Darfuri activist Omer Ismail among other experts) lays forth its views on "The Merits of Justice" - “Holding people accountable for war crimes is not only the right thing to do from a moral perspective-- it directly promotes peace and makes future such abuses less likely.” The report details how the same criticisms of the Bashir trial were advanced before the similar trials of Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor. As Human Rights Watch attorney Sara Darehshori points out, "At the time when those warrants were requested, they were all seen as controversial, but in the long run, they all eventually contributed to peace and stability. And the sky that was supposed to fall never actually fell."
While acknowledging that "in the short-term, the situation will be messy," The New York Times’ Nick Kristof argues that “the course we were on was failing. There was no movement toward serious peace negotiation, no prospect of Bashir leaving office, and the north-south agreement was fraying so that a larger war seemed likely.”
Visit VOA for more on the reactions of people living in Darfur.
Check out ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo's thoughts on the role of the international activist movement in a July 22 interview with Genocide Intervention Network below: