Supporters of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir
continue to rally around him following claims by the chief prosecutor of the
International Criminal Court that he's guilty of war crimes in Darfur. Luis
Moreno-Ocampo says Mr. al-Bashir orchestrated crimes against humanity,
including genocide, against black ethnic groups in the region. The United
Nations says at least three hundred thousand people have died so far and two
and a half million have been forced from their homes in Darfur. President
Al-Bashir's colleagues say the action by the ICC's prosecutor is unfair, and
they lay the blame elsewhere. VOA's Darren Taylor reports.
summary of the case against Mr. al-Bashir contains this paragraph: "The
evidence establishes reasonable grounds to believe that al-Bashir intends to
destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups as such.
Forces and agents controlled by al-Bashir attacked civilians and towns and
villages inhabited by the targeted groups, committed killings, rapes, torture
and destroying means of livelihood."
Ocampo has asked the ICC
judges to issue a warrant for the arrest of the Sudanese leader, and they're
expected to announce their decision on whether or not to indict him within two
or three months.
Even as Mr.
al-Bashir's supporters rally around him and the African Union calls for the
charges against him to be suspended, international human rights activists
continue to express elation at the possibility of the president being called to
account for his alleged crimes.
Omer Ismail, policy advisor for the Enough Project and
founder of the Darfur Peace and Development NGO, calls the ICC action "the way
to go" and says "all evidence points to high-level involvement" in the
'Everyone to blame…. just not al-Bashir'
But Dr. Eltigani Salah Fidail, Sudan's minister of
international cooperation, who's originally from El-Fasher in Darfur, says the
roots of the crisis in his homeland are to be found in "geography and history,
not in the office of the president."
While Fidail acknowledges that the state has largely
failed to develop Darfur, he attributes the problem more to natural disasters
and even the international community for not providing enough aid for the
ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.
The minister says when drought in Darfur intensified in
the 1990s, the government of Sudan was "unable to cope with the disaster, and
the international community failed to provide the technical and financial
support to contain the consequences. The pressure on the scarce resources
became more and more acute and triggered a number of problems."
One of these problems, according to Dr. Bakri Osman Saeed,
a senior member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP), was the rise
of several militias in Darfur, including the janjaweed. Activists blame this
group for many of the gross human rights abuses in Darfur, and Ocampo holds
President al-Bashir responsible for organizing, funding and instructing the
Government authorities, though, insist that the militias
in Darfur are independent and not under state control. Fidail says the groups
rose to "protect their own interests," including access to water sources and
grazing for their animals. He adds that "banditry and poaching" are to blame
for much of the violence and have been rife in the region since the "early
days" of Khartoum's war in southern Sudan against the Sudan People's Liberation
"The government at the time was mobilizing its resources
and energy to face the growing threat from the SPLA and its allies. All these
factors led to some kind of security vacuum in the area," Fidail states.
As a result of "intertribal conflict," he says, the people
of Darfur "retreated to their ethnic or tribal groups to seek protection
through the semi-organized armed groups. Small arms flooded the area, and
(were) made available at a low price by roaming Chadian rebels."
Fidail adds that "tribal polarization" has become "very
strong" in Darfur and a "culture of violence has contaminated the whole area.
Groups loyal to their ethnic roots started to fear and hate each other. It's a
very sad reality."
minister contends that the "elite" of each warring "tribe" in Darfur "fanned
the flames of the tribal hatred, and other actors joined the course" until the
situation was so bad that Mr. al-Bashir's government could no longer contain
also partly blames Sudanese opposition parties.
parties who were not happy with the NCP tried to make life difficult for it
through the manipulation of different groups loyal to them. The neighboring
countries (such as Chad and Central African Republic) contributed to this
complex situation" by supporting anti-Khartoum rebels in Darfur.
dismisses Fidail's contentions.
comments just continue the pattern of the Sudan government blaming everyone but
themselves for what is happening in Darfur," the activist says. "The minister says
the climate, tribal arguments, ethnic rivalries, the SPLA, Chadian rebels, the
Chad government, the CAR, rebel groups are to blame for all the killing –
everyone is to blame, just not al-Bashir. It's very hard to swallow."
continues: "Just to say this Darfur thing became too big for the government to
control is a very lame excuse. They did not even try to stop any violence
there. In fact, they are the one's who caused all the killings – either by
turning a blind eye to the janjaweed's murderous actions or by bombing and
attacking the villages with their very own forces."
Gerard Prunier, an internationally respected political consultant on East
African affairs based in Addis Ababa, says when he listens to those who defend
Mr. al-Bashir, he gets the impression that "it's all a question of natural
catastrophe, it comes down from heaven or drought" when in reality, Darfur is a
Prunier says it should now be left up to the ICC to decide
whether or not it was President al-Bashir who planned and executed it.
Mudawi El-Turabi, the chairman of Sudan's Parliamentary Defense and Security
Subcommittee, says neighboring Chad must shoulder a large part of the blame for
crisis in Darfur is…. a regional problem, and it also involves the use of
multiple proxies. A number of Sudan's neighbors are involved, including Chad….
And according to a recent study, the conflict is characterized by cross-border
activities by the combatants with fluid loyalties."
El-Turabi says rather than the janjaweed "exporting"
conflict to eastern Chad, as activists say, the reverse is true, and rebels
supported by N'Djamena are attacking Sudan government forces in Darfur.
problem of Darfur was caused (by) the Chadian wars in Darfur; we just found
that in 2005 the proliferation of small arms in Darfur raised up to
one-point-five million small pieces of guns in a population of four to five
million," he says.
El-Turabi is convinced that not enough attention is being
paid to the "political crisis" in Chad itself as a key underlying cause of the
violence in Darfur. Instead, he maintains, the spotlight is now on one man:
El-Turabi says, "The chronic conflict between the Chadian
government" and political groups in Sudan's neighbor who feel they have no
other alternative than to take up arms against the administration of President
Idriss Deby, means that "this (Darfur) crisis is rooted in the failure of
democratization in Chad."
a spokesman for the Chad government, Nurane Bashir, denies that N'Djamena is
supporting rebels against Khartoum.
Sudanese government wants (Darfur) to be a proxy war," he says, because they're
increasingly eager to divert attention away from themselves, especially in the
light of the ICC charges against their leader.
explains, "The conflict in Darfur (is) no longer a Darfurian problem, it's an
international problem. It's related to human rights, it's labeled as genocide.
So the consequences of such a label will be enormous…. Khartoum wants to (say)
this issue is not the janjaweed supported by Sudanese government, trained and
funded by Sudanese government, rather that it's a regional, tribal conflict, a
dispute of land and grass and… water resources…. This is the purpose of trying
to label the conflict as a proxy war…."
'Regime-change, not justice'
Dr. Bakri Saeed says the international
spotlight on Mr. Al-Bashir and a "government gone mad" in Darfur "suits the minds of some politicians, who obviously have an
interest in bringing the government down."
The gist of Saeed's argument,
which is shared by others in Khartoum, is that the ICC action and international
condemnation of the Sudan government as a result of the Darfur situation is
less about ending the violence there and gaining justice for the victims and
more about a quest for "regime change" in Sudan.
They say "the West" is using the ICC to overthrow President al-Bashir
in order to put in place a more "Western-friendly" government.
"When I talk to my colleagues
and friends in the government (in Khartoum), it's what they tell me; that this
is the objective of these people, they keep accusing the government (of various
crimes that) it didn't do, because their final objective is to change the Islamist
regime in Sudan," says Saeed.
Omer Ismail responds, "This is what we expect from the
Sudan government, that they will use any international actions against
al-Bashir to show that he is being victimized, that he is a victim of
international interference and therefore deserves protection from the Arab
League, from the AU, from whoever is for Western hegemony…."
But Mr. al-Bashir's supporters insist that the way to peace in Darfur lies not in war
crimes charges against the president, but through negotiations between the
conflicting parties. With a view to national elections in Sudan in 2009, they
maintain that ICC action against Mr. Al-Bashir will disrupt the entire country at potentially the most important juncture in its history.