With moves underway at this week’s Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar to stifle the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, government officials and anti-genocide groups around the world are urging nations to abide by the court’s directive and try to overturn Sudan’s expulsion of international aid organizations to avert a deeper humanitarian disaster.The Sudanese leader was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Hague-based tribunal on March 4, but charges of genocide in Darfur were dropped.
Shortly after being indicted, Sudan’s President ordered the 13 most prominent international aid groups that administered humanitarian relief in Darfur to leave the country.Between 200- and 300-thousand Darfur residents are said to have lost their lives since attacks began in 2003, and about 2.5 million people have left their homes and live in refugee camps under vulnerable conditions, while Darfur rebel groups continue to battle government-supported militias.
Last week, UN – African Union (AU) Special Envoy for Darfur, Djibril Bassole told the Security Council that he has found the indictment of President Bashir has compromised opportunities for rebel groups to settle their conflict with the Khartoum government.The Executive Director of the Genocide Intervention Network (GIN) Mark Hanis explains why he disagrees with that assessment.
“I think Bashir is an individual and his government has made the decision to expel the aid groups and to travel outside the region in defiance of the indictment.The indictment itself didn’t force him to expel these aid organizations or force him to go on a tour to try to recruit people to support him getting a deferral of the indictment or dropping the indictment completely.So I think the ICC had all the rights of investigating, and it found evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.
Hanis points out that the preponderance of international resolve continues to advocate keeping up the pressure on Sudan’s leader in order to achieve a peaceful diplomatic solution to the crisis.But he says that in the face of an ongoing genocide in Darfur, all options should be kept open.
“I think when it comes to genocide and mass atrocities, all options should be kept on the table, so military options should be considered.However, I think they should be used as a last resort because we’ve been able to see a lot of traction using diplomacy and economic pressure.So if it gets to that point where military options should be considered, then we are supportive of those options,” noted Hanis.
Expecting to receive leniency from Arab leaders who are reluctant to hand over one of their peers to an international judicial body, President Bashir was able to visit Qatar and three of Sudan’s neighboring countries, Eritrea, Egypt, and Libya, during the past week without fearing being placed under arrest. Other governments, dodging a possible rebuff from a Doha resolution that rejects President Bashir’s indictment, or urges the UN Security Council to reject or delay execution of the arrest warrant for a year or longer, are continuing to explore diplomatic openings. In addition, Hanis notes, the United Nations and its associate aid agencies, have been careful to steer a neutral course in their dealings with the Khartoum government.
“The UN requires the consent of the host government, so in Sudan, it requires Sudan’s consent to operate inside of the country.The other agencies like UNICEF or World Food Program (WFP) aren’t invading the country of Sudan, so they need the consent to function. So that’s the limitations.As long as Sudan gives them permission, they’re able to operate.When they don’t, then they’re significantly limited in the impact they are able to have,” he noted.
As for the consequences of Sudan’s expulsion of nongovernmental aid agencies (NGOs) that administered relief aid to millions of internally displaced Sudanese in regions throughout the country, Hanis says the international assessment of proportions of the aid deficit are going to change over time.
“There’s still speculation on what the impact is. The government is claiming to be more proactive in being able to substitute the international aid organizations that were expelled.But as more information is coming out, not just in Darfur, but in south Sudan…the Blue Nile-Kordofan region, there’s going to be a significant impact on the civilian population where the death toll is going to skyrocket, either because of malnutrition or public health disaster – malaria or diarrhea or other diseases – because the aid agencies have been expelled. So I think this is just a snapshot on what the UN, in its assessment, made.And we’ll see that change as the other aid agencies are allowed back in,” he observed.
In the United States, anti-genocide advocacy groups continue to press members of the Obama administration, who have fervently embraced the popular movement, most notably during the 2008 presidential campaign, to increase the pressure on Khartoum. Reaction to the Bashir indictment and subsequent expulsion of aid groups spurred President Barack Obama to name Major General J. Scott Gration on March 18, as his Special Ambassador for Darfur, a position that is expected to bring focus to US policy toward Sudan. In addition, the Genocide Intervention Network continues to earn bipartisan support in the US Congress as growing numbers of Americans dial a genocide hotline phone number to make lawmakers pay attention to their concerns for the plight of Darfur’s population.
“This process has galvanized American public support for ending the conflict in Darfur, both through diplomatic means and ensuring justice, ending the culture of impunity.So we’re seeing more people calling 1-800-GENOCIDE to get more involved in ensuring that the US is on the right side in this and pulling the rest of the international community to support it,” says Hanis.
Last week’s reports of a January air attack in Sudan on a convoy of trucks heading toward Egypt has stirred speculation that the trucks were carrying weapons from Iran which were to be smuggled into Gaza for Hamas fighters. Sudanese officials say that 39 people were killed in the raid and dozens were wounded.No one has claimed responsibility, but various sources have suggested that Israel or the United States may have staged the raid.The Genocide Intervention Network’s Mark Hanis says the facts on this story still need to be clarified. He admits that it could complicate efforts to turn over Sudan’s president to the International Court, but he urges the international community to stay focused on solving the war and humanitarian emergency in Sudan.
“Sure, I can imagine there would be some resistance, but we need to find out exactly what happened and address it, and then come back to the original situation of bringing peace to all of Sudan.So while this might be a distraction or substantive issue that needs to be dealt with, it comes back to bringing an end to all of the conflicts in Sudan,” he pointed out.