Tag Archives: Omar Al-Bashir

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 http://ellieteramoto.photoshelter.com)

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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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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Omar Al-Bashir goes to Chad, ICC goes 4th

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir (Image courtesy of http://www.fettan.com)

Last week, Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir decided to thumb his nose at the International Criminal Court  by paying an official state visit to Chad. As a fully signed up and ratified member of the Rome Statute (which founded the ICC), Chad is technically supposed to have arrested Al-Bashir upon arrival due to his outstanding arrest warrant for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and – added just last week – genocide.

Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, yet again, the ICC looked just as weak and ineffective as always as it called for Chad to do ‘the right thing’ while having absolutely no means to make it do so. Al-Bashir, as any good internationally shunned leader would, has made the most of this powerlessness, claiming his trip as “more than a double victory”.

And so it was. As well as strengthening ties with notorious frenemy Chadian President Idriss Deby, this trip was the first taken to a country that recognised the ICC and was thus something of a risk. As for Chad, while it may have earned wide condemnation from the UN and the EU for its decision, it was an opportunity to establish itself as something more than just an international puppet, as well as curry favour with a fairly important neighbour.

No doubt it is the ICC who have come off worst with Al-Bashir’s little holiday. Not only was its helplessness over arresting one of the world’s most wanted men freely advertised, but the familiar claim of its racism was rehashed too, as Chad, in a frenzy of support for Sudan, accused it of anti-African bias. While this claim may not be strictly true (let us not forget that of the 5 investigations currently being carried out into situations in Africa, 3 were referred to the Court by the governments of those countries themselves), it has been one that the Court has had to fight off multiple times in its short history and has not been helped by the African Union taking this opportunity to reiterate its decision to order member states not to co-operate with the ICC. So far, as all indications go, most of its members are listening. Except for arguably the strongest member: South Africa, who has just released a statement that Bashir had better not try his luck in Johannesburg.

One can’t help but feel pity for the Court; afterall, it is simply trying to arrest someone accused of extremely serious crimes. And if Al-Bashir really is as innocent as he claims, why not defend himself in a Court of law and clear his name once and for all?

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The World’s Worst Dictators go 4th

Dictators, like all of us, suffer from insecurities. It’s hard to know if you’re really very good at being a dictator – there are no books that tell you exactly how to crush freedoms and sideline opposition; and there’s rarely any positive affirmation, someone telling you what a good job you’re making of this authoritarianism business. Which is why dictators all over the world – and there are a lot of them – would have been waiting in nervous anticipation for the release of Foreign Policy magazine’s list of the World’s Worst Dictators, basically the Oscars for autocrats.

Kim Jong-Il did very well, as always, stamping his authority all over the top spot in the same way he stamps his authority over renegade elements at home. His mix of repression, secrecy and potential nuclear threat proved simply too good, as it has done for decades now. The good news will come as a relief to the country after their football team’s 7-0 humiliation by Portugal at the World Cup. No Portuguese figures make it onto this list, a fact likely to be emphasised by North Korean media.

Robert Mugabe too will be pleased. A silver medal is nothing to be sniffed at, especially when you consider that he’s had to invite his main opponent into government with him. To be the world’s second best dictator in a government of national unity takes some skill, but no one is surprised –Robert is a consummate professional, indeed a role model for some of the younger names on this list, such as Bashar Al-Assad and Hugo Chavez.

Than Shwe will accept his bronze medal, but might quibble the definition, and will need to make sure that the glory is shared around a little; after all, Burma’s meant to be more of a junta than a dictatorship, and there will be a few displeased generals to placate.

There are also a few figures which will be deeply troubled by the list. Most notable of course is Raul Castro, ranked only 21st; this is hardly a continuation of Fidel’s far more impressive dictatorial legacy. Also unhappy is Muammar Al-Gaddafi, out of the top 10, although he must have seen it coming. In February, Gaddafi launched an audacious bid to stop the rotation of the African Union’s rotating presidency, and make himself African Union president for an unprecedented second time. If the move had succeeded, he would have been dictator of an entire continent; as it was, he failed, and lost some of his dictatorial capital in the process.

The likes of Gaddafi, Kim Jong-Il, Hosni Mubarak, Islam Karimov, etc., will also be unhappy with the inclusion of a few controversial names. They are proper, old-school dictators; cult of the personality, individual control, and absolute power. Hu Jintao surely doesn’t fall into this category. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly doesn’t; in fact, some would argue he is more of a flawed democrat than a real dictator. Paul Kagame too would be unlikely to describe himself as a dictator, and the World Bank and IMF will not be happy with the inclusion of their golden boy on this year’s list.

Nonetheless, congratulations to Kim Jong-Il, who looks like he’s got a secure hold on the title for many years to come. That’s not to say that other dictators of the world should give up – being a dictator is a somewhat precarious position at the best of times, so Jong-Il might pop off (or be popped off) at any time. And if this doesn’t happen, one can always hold out for a lifetime achievement award.

Here are the complete rankings (note that pretensions of royalty seem to be an immediate dis-qualifier):

  1. Kim Jong-Il (North Korea)
  2. Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe)
  3. Than Shwe (Burma/Myanmar)
  4. Omar Al-Bashir (Sudan)
  5. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (Turkmenistan)
  6. Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea)
  7. Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan)
  8. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran)
  9. Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia)
  10. Hu Jintao (China)
  11. Muammar Al-Gaddafi (Libya)
  12. Bashar Al-Assad (Syria)
  13. Idriss Deby (Chad)
  14. Teodoro Obiang (Equatorial Guinea)
  15. Hosni Mubarak (Egypt)
  16. Yahya Jammeh (Gambia)
  17. Hugo Chavez (Venezuela)
  18. Blaise Compaore (Burkina Faso)
  19. Yoweri Museveni (Uganda)
  20. Paul Kagame (Rwanda)
  21. Raul Castro (Cuba)
  22. Alesandr Lukashenko (Belarus)
  23. Paul Biya (Cameroon)


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Do not Genocide, Do not War Crime – the ICC goes 4th

Even Ocampo's reassuringly steely gaze cannot mask the ICC's problems

In honour of the recent review of the International Criminal Court in Kampala – attended by all sorts of dignitaries, both major and minor, including Ban-Ki Moon and his prosecutorship Luis Moreno Ocampo – it seems appropriate for Third World Goes Forth to conduct its own review of this most recent of all the international institutions.

The conference in Kampala was, of course, self-congratulatory and upbeat. Ocampo was on fine form: “It is only a matter of time [before] Sudan president Omar Al Bashir and LRA’s Joseph Kony will be arrested,” he said, sounding every inch the bullish wild west sheriff that he always reminds me of. But I’m unsure – both of the likelihood of arrests, and of exactly how much the ICC is achieving.

The ICC is, of course, a wonderful concept. That all men and women should be bound by the bare minimun of human dignity. That there is a point where one person’s behaviour is so bad that the world rejects it out of hand. And that punishment will follow for those found guilty of contravening the court’s central tenets – Do not Genocide, Do not War Crime.

The first problem is in the name. The ICC is not ‘international’; it does not represent the world. Specifically, it does not represent the USA, or China, or Israel, or Russia; to name but a few. There was another international institution that didn’t have the support of the USA – it was the League of Nations, the predecessor of the UN which was, somewhat ironically, established largely due to the ferocious campaiging of the then-US president Woodrow Wilson. He persuaded the world to join, but not the US Congress; and from that moment the League of Nations became a lame duck, failing utterly to prevent the the second World War.

Similarly, the ICC suffers massively from the lack of support from key countries, allowing others to ignore it as and when necessary. This was most evident after the March 2009 arrest warrant for Sudan’s Omar Bashir, when all African countries (with the honourable exception of Botswana; again leading the continent in respect for rights for all humans except bushmen) chose to ignore the warrant at the AU conference in Siirte. The refusal of the US and China to participate in the ICC process meant that they would face few repercussions by ignoring the ICC’s arrest warrant.

There is also a distinct whiff of the political in the ICC’s choice of exaclty who to prosecute, and when to do so. African countries have been up in arms at the perceived anti-African agenda of the court. A quick look at the list of faces being prosecuted by the court reveals an astonishing racial bias – they’re all black Africans. According to the ICC, only black people have committed war crimes in the last few years. And bear in mind that not all these faces are from countries which are signatories to the Rome Statute. Sudan “unsigned” the Rome Statute – relieving itself of all obligations to the ICC – in August 2008, six months before Bashir was indicted. Yet the ICC has not gone after the citzens of any other non-signatory nations for atrocities; say in Iraq (Fallujah, perhaps, or Abu Ghraib?), or in the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. It has also not gone after seemingly obvious targets such as Osama bin Laden. Of course, there are enough people looking for Osama, and enough charges against him, that another one from the ICC would make little real difference [For the record, Osama’s hiding here]. But it would make significant symbolic difference, and this is what the ICC so far has failed to understand. Of course, the UN Security Council must take some responsibility, as one of the primary bodies that can refer cases to the ICC. But by only prosecuting African faces – regardless of the fact that those faces are fully deserving of prosecution – the court is sending a message that citizens of other countries are above the law; defeating the whole point of an impartial, international criminal court, and making it so much easier to ignore.

As soon as the law is applied to everyone, then the ICC will stand a much greater change of gaining the respect it deserves. Investigating the Gaza flotilla incident might be a good place to start.


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