Omar al-Bashir is a controversial man. His most news-worthy moment came when a South African court held he was to be arrested in line with an International Criminal Court arrest warrant during an African Union gathering. Somehow, he slithered out of the South African hands with the S.A. government claiming it lost him after he went for shopping. How he ended up back in Sudan after going shopping is anyone’s guess! South Africa herself was trying to prove it was committed to the values of “pan-Africanism and regional integration”. The truth of the matter is that South Africa let him go. Almost a year after, the same Omar al-Bashir has been honoured by the African Initiative for Pride and Dignity “in recognition of Sudan’s efforts for the development of Africa and prosperity for African people”. He took to the stage and gave a speech calling on all African leaders to adopt practical measures and be committed to the African justice mechanisms, for guaranteeing dignity and human rights in the continent. The African Initiative for Pride and Dignity is a group of academics from African countries who established the forum to preserve the freedom and dignity of Africa. It is against foreign intervention in African Affairs.
The biased International Criminal Court
The ICC charged President Omar al-Bashir with ten counts of war crimes as a co-perpetrator in 2009 then adding three counts of genocide in 2010. Having charged him, the ICC then called upon countries that hosted Al Bashir to arrest him in accordance with the Rome Statute so he would stand trial fro his crimes but not one complied. The closest the man came to being arrested was in South Africa but he made it out. This shows the increasing pressure on the ICC’s legitimacy. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has called it a tool to target Africa while Paul Kagame has called it out for selective justice. The South African ruling party, the ANC also said, “The ICC is no longer useful for the purposes for which it was intended – being a court of last resort for the prosecution of crimes against humanity.” Indeed, the ICC has tough questions to answer. Of all the cases it has decided on, only Africans were indicted yet the ravages of Western belligerence and unlawful wars are in the open for all to see. What gives Western powers immunity? This has been the main support for Omar al-Bashir who is beginning to look like a hero for defying the ICC yet in reality, the man is no saint.
The Omar al-Bashir dichotomy
The Sudanese President came to power in 1989. His country had been in a 21 year civil war which continued into his tenure at the top. He stands accused for killing members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups, causing the groups serious bodily or mental harm and inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about these groups’ physical destruction. He has also been charged with crimes against humanity which include murder, extermination, forcible transfer, rape and torture. As if that long list is not enough, he has also been accused for the attacks on civilians in Darfur and pillaging towns and villages. After South Africa let him leave following the court ruling that would have resulted in his arrest, Justice Malala, a South African writing for The Guardian bemoaned the ideological crisis the move had caused. He said, “Allowing him to escape was a kick in the face of the 400,000 people who have died in the ongoing conflict – and the 2.5 million who have been displaced.” In essence, when the continent decides to side with Omar al-Bashir, the suffering he has caused is downplayed to the point of irrelevance. However, supporting the arrest warrant against him is almost selling out the continent to an unfair international justice system.
The faults of the ICC have made Omar al-Bashir a hero yet he should be answering for his crimes. On his return from Ethiopia, he again exhibited his heroics, “Western countries do not know that I represent the Sudanese people. We are bigger than the oppressors and arrogant circles.”
Instead of the discussion being centred on justice for the millions who have been displaced and the hundreds of thousands who have been killed, it degenerates into another cheap politicking fest. The lost lives are forgotten in a bid to prove a point to the West. It is the ordinary Sudanese who suffers. The ICC is unfair and almost useless for its purpose because of its partiality but that does not make Omar al-Bashir a saint. He has to answer for his crimes. Instead, he has been honoured by institutes of academics and heads of state in Africa. This ends up being an endorsement of genocide but it seems no one cares since it is an opportunity to make a political point.
The words of Nesrine Malik that, “The Sudanese people are not only victims of Bashir, but also victims of a world where the justice system accommodates a sovereignty class system,” cannot be argued against. Such confusing situations as Bashir’s are the reason Africa should have its own justice system to deal with such cases. The ICC’s weak legitimacy diverts the debate from the human rights violations to politics thus defeating the cause of the victims.