With the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis
Moreno Ocampo's application for an arrest warrant this week against Sudan's
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the volley of threats between the
international community and the Sudan government is intensifying. What do
Darfur's own citizens feel is the best way to get Khartoum to stop bankrolling
the janjaweed attacks and letting them return to rebuild their ravaged communities? Attorney Sara Darehshori is Senior Counsel
with the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch. After traveling to the region and listening
to others who have spoken extensively with Darfur refugees, she says that given the sense of hopelessness
that negotiations to stop the government-sponsored attacks were at an end, many
Darfuris passionately want the international community to intervene and indict
Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir for genocide.
I heard a woman who just spoke to a bunch of people in refugee camps and they
said that after the prosecutor's announcement, this was the first time they
could sleep. It was a big deal for them
to hear that the international community was going to hold Bashir accountable,"
herself interviewed dozens of refugees at the Darfur border with Chad in
July of last year, shortly after the ICC's indictments of two Sudanese
officials, cabinet minister Ahmad Haroun and janjaweed militia commander Ali
went to Chad to the border, where there are over 200-thousand Darfuri refugees
last summer, as part of, basically, a research mission to investigate how the
International Criminal Court is performing on the ground because we wanted to
see what kind of impact the court is having on the communities most affected by
the crimes and how they perceived justice.
When I was there, I talked to numbers of refugees in four different
camps about their perception of justice issues. And at the time, there had been two arrest warrants issued, the
first two against Haroun and Kushayb. And they were pleased with those
warrants, but they were hoping for more," she said.
found the refugees convinced that Khartoum's intractability to international
demands, coupled with a faint exhibition of world determination to take action
to punish Sudanese officials had embedded an overriding mood of
hopelessness. But she was encouraged to
detect a spirit of resolve in the refugee camps that international institutions
would find the means to make Khartoum pay for its crimes.
perception was: there's no justice in Sudan.
So their only hope for justice was the International Criminal Court, and
the fact that the ICC was investigating was encouraging to them. But they wanted them to go up the chain of
command. And what surprised me was how
many people said, 'When are they going to bring charges against Bashir'?" she
fears of government retribution against humanitarian workers and attacks and
other crippling moves against UN and African Union peacekeepers, refugees,
according to the Human Rights Watch legal counsel, were determined to press
their grievances in the hope that the outside world would listen and take
action. She discounted warnings by some
African Union officials that this week's start of investigations against
President Bashir were "dangerous" A threat of repraisals, she said, was no
"reason to drop charges against a suspected war criminal criminal because
there's a fear that they are going to commit more war crimes. It's kind of a self-defeating argument in
that you can't have the international community or the court held hostage to
threats of additional violence."
a historic perspective, Sara Darehshori points to several high-profile
indictments for war crimes that initially were given little chance of success,
but which ultimately paved the way for groundbreaking achievements in the
restoration of human rights and the rule of law in other unresolved conflicts.
"We can look to other examples in
which sitting heads of state have been charged with war crimes, like Milosevic
or Karadzic, or Charles Taylor. At the
time when those warrants were requested, they were all seen as controversial,
but in the long run, they all eventually contributed to peace and
stability. And the sky that was
supposed to fall never actually fell," she pointed out.