Friday, March 6, 2009

Can the ICC save Darfur?

In my humble opinion, the answer to this question is simply, no.

On Wednesday, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese president al-Bashir. The warrant included charges of war crimes and acts against humanity, but did not specifically charge Bashir with genocide. This is the first warrant for a head of state issued by the ICC since it's creation in 2002.

al-Bashir dances after the announcement of the warrant for his arrest

I'm slightly surprised to see the enthusiasm over the indictment. George Clooney was very supportive of this action as were most of my friends who are interested in Sudan. It only makes sense to support such an action. Clearly al-Bashir is directly responsible for supporting the Janjaweed tribes responsible for all the death and rape in Darfur over the last 5 years. Over 300,000 people have died and the Western world is struggling to find any notion of a solution. Concerned citizens write letters to Congress, and Clooney even made it to the White House just last week, all with the message of "Please do something to save Darfur." Finally, after years of deliberation, a case was brought before the ICC and warrant was handed down for the arrest of Sudan's president. Justice.

Well, it's only been a few days and we are already seeing several predictable problems emerging. The most obvious being that it will be impossible to capture Bashir. The UN peacekeeping force already said they would not do the job, and I'm not sure who else the ICC could send. To go into Khartoum and arrest the guy would require a large scale military operation resulting in thousands of casualties, with a limited possibility of success. It'll never happen. But just for the sake of argument, let's say they were actually able to capture Bashir. Would that help Sudan? The citizens of Khartoum are now becoming more anti-West as each day passes. The removal of their president would cause such a stir that the next president would likely be much more radical than Bashir. Bashir is very popular amongst the Arab majority of Sudan, and you can't just rob a country of their president without a significant backlash from his supporters. This might in fact be the worse scenario for Darfur.

There are so many similarities here to our intervention in Iraq. How popular was the Iraq war on the eve of the invasion? How many people did we have to kill in order to capture Sadam? Now that Sadam is gone, how has that improved Iraq? After years in Iraq, if we were to leave today, there would likely be a Sunni genocide. This is certainly not progress, and removing Sadam, oddly enough, might have been the worst thing we ever did in Iraq. Let's not forget that the product of "The Great War" was WWII, a much larger catastrophe. Our hard nosed solutions more often escalate conflicts than resolve them.

The simple truth is that the ICC will not be able to capture Bashir. In retaliation to the warrant, al-Bashir has already removed 13 aid organizations from Darfur; Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders being the two most notable groups. My guess is that Bashir is attempting to remove as much of the Western World from Darfur as possible in order to achieve what he has already been charged with. If things were bad before, I'm deathly afraid that it could get much worse.

So without justice, how do we find peace? I firmly believe that the answer lies in the freedom of the press. The overwhelming majority of people who suffer from human rights violations live in countries who deny freedom of speech. Only when lines of communication are opened can equality be attained. Oddly enough, I thought al-Bashir was slowly (albeit, very slowly) sliding in this direction. News and aid organizations were allowed into Darfur, the South was finally getting a voice in government, and Bashir was open to meeting with just about anybody (he met with Franklin Graham just the other day). I'm not implying that Sudan was freeing itself from censorship, but it was opening up to the outside world more and more. The power of the open media is a powerful deterrent to those who burn down villages and rape women. People only commit these atrocities when they know they are not being watched. Instead of demanding justice, what the West needs to demand is openness. That is the pathway to lasting peace.

Unfortunately, what is left of Darfur is a group of people without modern weaponry, without media, and without the aid of doctors, waiting to defend themselves against radical militias who wish to destroy them completely. My prayers go out to them, and I truly hope that the ICC is right and that I am the one who is wrong.

Other opinions: Franklin Graham, Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur, Desmond Tutu


Kizzie said...

I was so looking forward to the elections in July. They keep restating that they are never going to delay the elections. I think it's our best chance.

Amy said...

I don't pretend to have a solution, or even an informed opinion, but I do think that they never should have issued the arrest warrant without a solid plan to carry it out quickly. You are right in that what they did was to take someone who was somewhat cooperative and completely alienate him. He now not only has no incentive to cooperate, but the ones committing these aweful crimes are the only ones on his side. We have given him only one option...and that is not to turn himself in.