Aid workers, peacekeepers watchful as president charged

[Sudan] Bashir.
Sudan's President Umar el-Bashir invited the two groups to meet in Khartoum. (IRIN)

The indictment against Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) could shrink humanitarian space due to a backlash against aid workers and peacekeepers, various analysts say.

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber announced warrants of arrests against Bashir for crimes against humanity and war crimes on 4 March. Charges of genocide were not included, although the court left open the possibility of a later amendment.

Observers fear the announcement could increase local hostility to NGOs seen as pro-western or cooperating with the ICC and could lead to expulsions.

Some aid workers left Sudan ahead of the announcement; UN agencies and NGOs have already reviewed their security protocols, in some cases moving families abroad. Even UN peacekeepers have made contingency plans. 

Six aid agencies, including Oxfam and Médecins sans Frontières, moved international staff out of camps for displaced people and towns, for their own safety.

Political and security fallout

The indictment could also compromise the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and affect upcoming July elections. A collapse in the CPA would mean heightened tensions between North and South, analysts suggest.

Southerners prefer diplomatic route
JUBA, 4 March 2009 (IRIN) - Southern Sudanese leaders will work with the North to seek a political and diplomatic resolution to the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Omar el-Bashir, top officials said. full report

"The indictment has the potential to derail the ongoing peace process given that Bashir and his administration were signatories to the CPA," said Timothy Othieno of the London-based Overseas Development Institute. "With Bashir indicted... Bashir’s ability to push ahead with the CPA may stall."

Analysts have suggested the ICC decision could also split the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), or embolden rebels to increase attacks against the government.

Franklin Graham, chief executive of the NGO Samaritan’s Purse noted that "his removal could also spur retaliation by Bashir loyalists and other forces against civilians, UN peacekeepers or international aid workers... The removal of Mr Bashir will make it harder to negotiate an end to the crisis in Sudan."

According to Othieno, the decision would legitimise claims in Darfur of Bashir’s role in atrocities committed there, which could increase violence in Darfur, other regions of Sudan and in neighbouring countries.

"This would explain the reluctance of the GoSS [Government of Southern Sudan] to support Bashir’s indictment since Bashir’s control of the means of violence as well as power could lead to an anarchic situation," he added.

[Sudan] Country Map - Darfur region.

[Sudan] Country Map - Darfur region. ...
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Aid workers, peacekeepers watchful as president charged
[Sudan] Country Map - Darfur region. ...

The conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region escalated in 2003

Government defiant 

The Sudanese government insists it will reject any ICC decision against its leaders. "They want us preoccupied with their issues, their accusations... This is a proud people, a people that do not accept insults, do not accept humiliation," Bashir told supporters on 3 March.

Army spokesman Osman al-Aghbash told state-owned Radio Omdurman: "The armed forces will firmly deal with whoever cooperates with the so-called International Criminal Court, and uses it as a platform for political blackmail and for destabilising the security and stability of the country."

The North’s position is buoyed by the African Union, which has named former South African President Thabo Mbeki to lead a process of finding a comprehensive solution to the Darfur conflict, and address the question of judicial impunity.

The ICC Statute does not bind regional organisations such as the African Union, though it invites them to work with the court and the prosecutor. Experts say because the AU charter recognises the fight against impunity, it is bound to respect the statute even if Sudan is not among the 30 African signatories.

Opposing viewpoints, bias and double standards?

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, writing in the New York Times, criticised the African position. "Justice is in the interest of victims, and the victims of these crimes are African," he noted. 

The conflict in Darfur
NAIROBI, 4 March 2009 (IRIN) - The conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region escalated in 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) principally, took up arms, accusing the government of neglecting the region. full report

"To imply that the prosecution is a plot by the West is demeaning to Africans and understates the commitment to justice we have seen across the continent."

Prof Andre Thomashausen of the University of South Africa said the ICC was being “partisan” in the way it had handled its investigations and principles of international law.

"There is a sense that there must be international justice," he told IRIN on 4 March. "In this case, too many people have lost everything... but the ICC must not offend the principles of international law.

"We are increasingly worried about seeing the ICC being an instrument in political processes of individual [African] countries without bothering what their constitutions or the African Union says."

The ICC, he added, was undermining its own authority by taking sides in the Sudan conflict. "The NGOs would not like to see an escalation of the situation and the ICC must be aware that it should not lead to more suffering."

The case against Bashir
NAIROBI, 4 March 2009 (IRIN) - Presenting evidence against President Omar el-Bashir on 14 July 2008, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Bashir had committed the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. full report

There was also suspicion about ICC activities in Africa. "The question that needs to be asked is whether there are non-African sitting heads of state who have or are suspected to have committed similar atrocities," Othieno added. "If there is no evidence or suspicion pointing to this direction, it would definitely raise interesting questions as to the impartiality of the ICC."

Peacekeepers on guard 

At a news conference in New York, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alan Le Roy, said he had an assurance that peacekeepers in Darfur would not come under threat.

"The government would assume its full duty of protecting UN missions in Sudan against any negative impact that may result from a possible ICC decision against the Sudanese political leadership," he said on 2 March.

"Of course, we are making some plans as any country would have contingency planning to try to react to any situation," he added. There are 25,000 UN personnel in Sudan.

"For the millions of Darfur victims, this landmark decision provides independent legal recognition of the massive crimes committed against them, and confirms that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Bashir is personally criminally responsible," deputy president of the International Crisis Group Nick Grono, said.

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