Category Archives: 4th

Gaddafi indicted by the International Court of public opinion

It doesn't help that the ICC's Chief Prosecutor always looks so smug. (photo courtesy

The International Criminal Court, like so many other international institutions, suffers from its own lofty ambition. The dream of an international tribunal which upholds basic decency in the world, where tyrants are brought to book and mass murderers are served justice, is a beautiful one. Unfortunately, the ICC does not – can not – live up to this dream, and as the years go by it’s finding itself dragged further and further into the ugly world of modern international politics.

Take this week’s issuing of an indictment for war crimes against one Muammar Gaddafi. On the surface, this makes sense; he’s a monster who’s hunger for power is slaughtering thousands of his own people. He’s exactly the sort of person who the ICC should be indicting.

But dig a little deeper, and it all starts looking a little murkier. For a start, there’s the practical consequences; the ICC’s decision was criticised by a number of people involved in the negotiations with Gaddafi, who said it would shut down communication routes and prevent the possibility of a peaceful solution to the problem. This echoes the reaction of much of the NGO and academic community after the ICC indicted Sudan’s president Omar al Bashir, particularly the ones with hands-on experience in Sudan. They said that the indictment would have little impact except to anger the government and prevent any moderation of policy; sure enough, the morning after the indictment all the international NGOs in Khartoum were ordered out of the country, a move that had a real impact on many lives.

But perhaps you believe that justice should be served no matter what the consequences; it’s a valid viewpoint. Still, the ICC falls short. For in this case, you must believe that justice should be served to all, regardless of race or location or political expediency. And here, the ICC is hamstrung by its indictment processes, which allow an investigation to occur only when a matter is referred to the ICC by a country, the UN Security Council, or when the prosecutor gets special information from another source. In practice, this means that countries can refer people for investigation, or the UN Security Council gets to do it, as they did with Libya. This means essentially that figures linked to sitting governments can only be referred if there is an overwhelming international consensus about the issue. It’s no surprise that it’s taken so long to refer Gaddafi; after all, Russia only gave its tentative support to the rebels two weeks ago, and until it did so there was no chance of a referral being passed. This is why other high-profile figures are not brought to book, or even investigated – Henry Kissinger being one example, for his role in the bombing of Cambodia, and Ariel Sharon another, for his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

In fact, the only people that have ever been indicted by the ICC are African – and black. This is because no single African country exerts any significant pressure on the international stage, meaning that there is often an international consensus to prosecute an African figure. This is not to say they should not be indicted, that there is not good reason for them to be brought before the court – there certainly is. But the fact that it is only Africans seriously undermines the message the court is trying to send – that the court is for everyone, no matter what your race or nationality. It also opens the court up to accusations – which are being made, to the extent that the ICC’s deputy prosecutor had to deny them – that the court’s targets are not legitimate.

We don’t live in a perfect world, with perfect justice. The ICC is an admirable attempt to plug that gap, and should receive significantly more funding and international support to do so. But unless it cleans up its processes, and stops launching investigations only when they are politically expedient, it risks fatally flawing itself before its done any of the good work it should be doing.

VERDICT: The ICC goes 4th; it can keep targeting Africans, as long as it targets the bad guys in the rest of the world too.


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Yemen and the new Counter-Revolution

Finally, they’ve figured it out. How to to do counter-revolution properly. It’s not about machine-gunning protestors or throwing them into solitary confinement. That’s old school, and in this age where everyone, including the usually subservient and quiescent populace is up in arms about rights and freedoms and suchlike, and they can all get the documentary proof through their smartphones (which is promptly beamed to Al-Jazeera), the normal strong-arm tactics just aren’t working.

Effective counter-revolution in the 21st century is far more nuanced, and is premised on the popular confusion between the president and the regime. The idea is simple: get rid of the president and keep the regime going. In Tunisia, Ben Ali’s departure didn’t herald a new dawn of democracy and participation; rather, it saw a cabinet stuffed with old guard appointees. In Egypt, Mubarak went off into the sunset but left his military in firm control, and they’ve been up to all his old tricks (read here for Third World Goes Forth’s take on how the military continues to censor Egyptian media).

And in Yemen, we have the news announced today that Ali Abdullah Saleh, perhaps the only man who fully understands how Yemen’s delicate balance of power works (he’s had to in order to keep himself in power for so long), is going to step down sometime ‘in the next 30 days’. The deal for his departure has been organised by the Gulf Cooperation Council, the same august body that supported the rebels in Libya and the monarch in Bahrain, so we know exactly where their moral compass is pointing (south, in case you were wondering). The 30 day window should be just enough time to rearrange things so that even though Saleh is gone, his regime will linger. And the protestors, their core demand having been met, no longer have a symbol to protest against.

And so the revolution fizzles out at the expense of one man. While Saleh might not be happy – as Ben Ali and Mubarak weren’t – the state he established will continue in his image.

VERDICT: subtle counter-revolution goes fourth; evil is so much more so when it is intelligent.

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Christian and Muslim extremists unite to kill 8 UN aid workers

Remember late last year when the media storm over Terry Jones, the mad Florida pastor who wanted to burn the Qur’an to honour those who died in 9/11, happened? The uproar, worldwide, was instantaneous and furious. Everyone who was anyone condemned the actions, from Obama to Ahmadinejad. Even those who defended his right to free speech and expression admitted his idea was tasteless and designed  to provoke. Ultimately, as we all remember, Jones was beaten back and on September 11th, 2010, stated that “We will definitely not burn the Qur’an…not today, not ever”.

Fast forward to today. 12 dead, 8 of whom were UN aid workers are dead in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan. Why? Because on the 21st of March, 2011, a pastor at the very same Dove World Outreach  Centre, burnt a copy of the Qur’an was burnt. Reports vary as to who actually burnt it, with CNN reporting it was Jones himself, while other news outlets reporting that it was a pastor by the name of Wayne Sapp who did so under the supervision of Jones. Why did they do this? Well, the reason has to be seen to be believed. On its website, the church proudly proclaims (verbatim): “the Koran will be put on trial, then, if found guilty of causing murder, rape, and terrorism, it will be executed! According to our International Poll, it looks like the choice for this will be BURNING.”

As if this isn’t ridiculous enough, it then updated the site to add, the next day, that “yesterday we put the Koran on trial. The event is over, the Koran was found guilty and a copy was burned inside the building.”

(Image courtesy of Christian Science Monitor)

And so here we are. 10 days later and riots  are running through Afghanistan and 12 innocent people are dead. Aside from the obvious, I have several problems with this story:

1) I read on average about 6 major news outlets every day. These range from Al Jazeera to Fox News. On not one of them in the last week, have I seen any story about a Qur’an being burnt. On not one of them did I see any build up, any fuss being kicked up, over what was about to happen. After what happened last year, why on earth not? Where was the media when they were actually needed?

2) Now that the media have woken up to cover the story, after these tragic deaths, why are most stories focussing on the Qur’an burning instead of today’s events? Most articles purporting to cover the Afghanistan riots of this afternoon have used the deaths as a headline and then proceeded spend most of the article focussing on what should have been covered last week?

3) Why, 11 long days after the event took place, did some Imam decide it would be a good idea to inform his congregation of what had happened? His irresponsibility contributes just as directly to the deaths of these innocent people as Sapp’s. It just goes to show that there are people are are willing to abuse faith in every religion.

Most of all though, I am frustrated. Frustrated that the media didn’t try to prevent this burning as they did the last one. Frustrated that the reaction of the Afghans has only really allowed those who did the burning to have an ‘I told you so’ moment. Frustrated that two sets of hatred and bitterness (the Jones camp and the Imam’s camp) can wield so much power.  Frustrated that these riots will probably spread now that the news is out. Frustrated that the UN will probably downscale its efforts in Mazar-e-Sharif as a result of today, and that the only people who will suffer from this will be the Afghanis themselves. Frustrated that Jones and Sapp will probably never be held properly accountable for the deaths they have caused. And finally, most of all frustrated that those who have suffered the most from this, were, as usual, those who deserved it least. As much as the UN may be criticised, the deceased UN workers were there doing their best to to aid and protect Mazar-e-Sharif as it grows into a stable city. They were there, because even though it was a crazy and tough place to work, it was something they probably cared about greatly. And they certainly had nothing to do with burning any Qur’an anywhere.

VERDICT: The media goes 4th by ignoring a story it shouldn’t have and the religious crazies on both sides of this go 4th for causing the deaths of 12 innocent people.




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Bashir says it with cows…

Supporters of the Egyptian revolution will be glad to know that Omar Al-Bashir, president of Sudan and supporter of democracy everywhere (except Darfur, South Sudan, East Sudan, eastern Chad, Eritrea, northern Uganda…you get the picture) has given the Egyptian revolution his blessing, with the gift of 5000 head of cattle (worth over $1 million, depending on the state of the cows). The cows began the trek from Khartoum to the Egyptian border on Monday, coinciding with the visit of Egypt’s prime minister Essam Sharaf (himself, incidentally, completely unelected). The two leaders talked about water. Specifically, about the Nile Basin Initiative. If Sudan and Egypt lose any significant portion of the Nile waters to the upstream countries, on which they both depend, they’re up shit creek without a paddle. Except the creek will be dry.

The cows are just one part of Bashir’s strategy of ingratiating himself with Egypt’s new leaders, which began with a visit to Cairo at the beginning of the month. Since Mubarak fell, his government has been very critical of the Mubarak regime, claiming that they’d been a victim of ‘blackmail’ ever since Mubarak narrowly survived an assassination attempt in Khartoum. This is all posturing; Bashir would have been very unsettled by Mubarak’s departure. For a dictator, any form of people power is far more dangerous than another dictator, no matter how much they do or do not get along.

VERDICT: Omar Al-Bashir goes 4th; he’ll have to try a lot harder to impress his more sophisticated Egyptian colleagues than that. And no, camels won’t cut it either.

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A tale of two rocket attacks

This weekend, rockets rained down on two African countries. There’s Libya, of course; front page headlines all round, especially since everyone realised that nuclear disaster in Japan would be averted. It helped that the mission had a noble name – operation “Dawn Odyssey” –  and that there were some spectacular pictures coming out of Libya.

At the same time, receiving barely a mention in the international press, Laurent Gbagbo – the authoritarian president of Cote D’Ivoire who’s refused to leave power after accidentally losing the elections (accidentally because he’d rigged them to win; he just didn’t rig them well enough. Which gives me little faith in his competence, even as a dictator) – rained down mortar on a market place in the major city of Abidjan, killing anywhere between 25 and 30 people. It’s starting to get really ugly in Cote D’Ivoire; Gbagbo also called on his supporters to “neutralise” his enemies, which is a fairly unmistakeable call to arms.

In a related story, the South African diplomatic service found itself red-faced this weekend after City Press revealed that a hoax letter, purporting to be from French president Nicholas Sarkozy, was “sold to African leaders” by the Gbagbo regime. The fake letter was used as evidence that Sarkozy put pressure on the electoral commission to declare for opposition candidate Ouattara. Despite its shady provenance, and the fact that it was written in poor French, the SA foreign ministry has been using it to support its pro-Gbagbo posturing, showing it to the EU and to Hilary Clinton.

A few questions arise. How was this letter “sold to African leaders”; and for how much? If the French really was poor – I haven’t come across a copy of the letter – this is strange because Cote D’Ivoire is a largely francophone country, as its name suggests. And why is the South African government supporting Gbagbo?

VERDICT: Gbagbo goes 4th, for murdering his own people; South Africa goes 4th, for being a bit stupid and for supporting an illegitimate ruler who murders his own people; and the international media goes 4th, for having completely blinkered priorities.


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He’s gone.

18 days that changed Egypt forever, on the Daily Maverick.

Verdict: Mubarak goes 4th, finally. Egypt goes forth into a whole new chapter.

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SA gives Cote D’Ivoire’s opposition the navy blues

And in more other news…

While Egypt has been receiving rolling 24-hour news coverage of its political crisis, Cote D’Ivoire’s impasse is starting to look suspiciously permanent. Alassane Outtara, by most accounts the winner of the run-off elections, is still holed up in Abidjan’s Golf Hotel, protected (or penned in?) by 800 UN peacekeepers, and presiding only over the swimming pool bar. Laurent Gbagbo, the country’s president since 2000, is defying a chorus of international calls to step down. Sources at the United Nations have assured me that this policy is based on the reports of qualified election observers and not because no one can pronounce Gbagbo’s name.

But that chorus is looking a little disharmonious of late. First, there were the rumours swirling round the African Union summit in Addis Ababa that some big countries had outright refused to contemplate tougher measures to force Gbagbo out (so far, all the AU has done is send Thabo Mbeki – who returned swiftly, tail between legs – and then Raila Odinga, the Kenyan PM appointed after the violence on Kenya’s 2008 elections, to mediate the situation. This is like asking Eugene Terreblanche to resolve a racial discrimination case.).

So, who were these big countries behind Gbagbo? Well it wasn’t Nigeria, who’ve been calling for military action to depose Gbagbo, perhaps remembering all the fun they had in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It wasn’t Egypt – they’ve got a bit too much on their plate.

Ghana is a likely candidate – despite immense public pressure, John Atta Mills’ government has remained behind Gbagbo, for motivations that are puzzling; some say that it’s in recognition of the two governments’ shared socialist history.

And now, it emerges that a South African warship is stationed off the coast of Cote D’Ivoire, lending quiet but essential support to Gbagbo; acting as protection against any Nigerian-led invasion. While it is good to see the South African navy is finally being used for something other than photo-ops in Simonstown, I haven’t quite worked out what South Africa’s motivations are. It seems a good bet that SA were also playing heavy at the AU summit. For some reason, the country has decided that now is the time to start flexing their military and diplomatic muscles, and this could have ramifications beyond Cote D’Ivoire. Watch this space.

VERDICT: South Africa’s warships (well, one of them) sail forth; but African unity takes a nosedive and goes 4th.

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