One of the most controversial topics at the UN General Assembly underway this week is the International Criminal Court's looming indictment of Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir.
Last Thursday I attended a panel discussion in New York, sponsored by the International Refugee Rights Initiative on "The Case Against Bashir: Perspectives from Sudan." Veteran Sudanese human rights activist and former director of the Sudanese Organization Against Torture (SOAT) Osman Hummaida and renowned Sudanese human rights lawyer and parliamentarian Salih Mahmoud Osman were among the presenters. They spoke eloquently about the need to pursue both peace and justice for Darfur - no easy task. International Crisis Group's Fabienne Harah, another presenter, posited that the Bashir charges present "perhaps the hardest peace versus justice dilemma the international community has faced."
Osman Hummaida has been closely monitoring the Sudanese media discourse in the wake of ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's July 14th landmark announcement that he would pursue charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against President Bashir. Osman argues that the ICC pressure has opened NCP hardliners up to public criticism (particularly in newspaper opinion pieces) from a wider array of voices than have previously spoken out against the dominant partner in Sudan's Government of National Unity.
While the press faces serious governmental restrictions in Sudan ( ranked 140/169 on Reporters Without Borders press freedom index)the country is home to a vibrant and diverse community of independent journalists and public intellectuals. The intense polarization that initially followed July 14th has relaxed in the past two months. More Sudanese academics and commentators are warning that the international isolation the country faces as a result of the NCP's confrontational stance with the Court (and broader international community) is not worth it. As a result, those who don't think Bashir should face ICC prosecution are increasingly arguing that the appropriate way to fight the charges is through technical legal procedures, rather than pressuring allies in the Security Council to invoke Article 16 of the Rome Statute.
Osmane's analysis that the public discourse in Sudan on this topic is widening is heartening. As one activist in Khartoum recently reminded me, for such a diverse country, it's futile to try to construct a single Sudanese perspective on this issue. Even as different perspectives are held within civil society, the political opposition and the academic community, still other distinctions exist between the views of these elites and ordinary Sudanese who lack access to information about the Darfur conflict.
This Save Darfur Coalition video has interviews with some of the civil society leaders who participated in the recent Darfur Consortium conference in Kampala, including Salih Mahmoud, Darfur Relief and Documentation Center's Abdelbagi Jibril and Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdullah of the Amel Center for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture in Darfur.