July 16, 2008

Arab Analyst Says ICC Strengthened Bashir, Worsened “Victims’ Tragedy”

Text of report by London-based newspaper Al-Hayat website on 16 July

[Commentary by Abdallah Iskandar: "When the International Criminal Court Works Against its Objectives"]

In the hours that followed the accusations against President Umar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court's Prosecutor General, it appeared that the results produced were the opposite of what Luis Moreno-Ocampo sought. These grave accusations against a sitting head of state aim to pressure Khartoum within the framework of dealing with the human tragedy in the Darfur Province, but the first victims of this step are precisely the ones Ocampo wants to protect.

No sooner had the international prosecutor finished reading the charges than humanitarian and non-governmental organizations began packing their bags to leave the area which is the most in need of their presence, thus threatening the already fragile subsistence of thousands of refugees who are the beneficiaries of the relief programmes provided by these organizations. The joint international- African forces in Darfur also launched a redeployment that focuses primarily on protecting its staff and forces, something which deprives refugees of the little security provided by these forces.

More than this, the accusation sends completely mistaken messages not only to the rebels in Darfur but also to all oppositionists in Sudan on how the government is running the affairs of the country, especially in the South with its problems with the central government which have not ended and in the East which is waiting for solutions to complications of past crises. When the head of state is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, he will not be able, even if he wanted, to pursue internal peaceful negotiations, and the other sides will consider that the international pressure and the ghost of indictments weaken the central government and enable them to make new gains, so they adopt harder stances in the negotiations in a way that could lead to revival of armed conflicts.

Meanwhile, Bashir and his party, government, and organs and the popular and labour bodies affiliated to it, will push to turn the accusation from an issue of justice and righteousness to a political issue. There is talk in Khartoum already since Monday about a plot against Sudan and its people. Once the issue is recast within a perspective of national sovereignty and dignity, the regime can easily remobilize the people behind it in a way that it could not have done under normal circumstances. This means that the bid to isolate Bashir internally will turn, contrary to what the ICC expected, into a rallying around the regime and support for it in a way that strengthens its position and the position of the ruling party on the eve of general elections in which the ballots will be affected by the stance towards the ICC. This will be in Bashir's favour because of the popular rejection, even from the opposition parties, to intervention in Sudanese affairs.

In addition to this, it will not be easy for regional organizations to which Sudan belongs, especially the Arab League and the African Union, to join the demand for the trial of a sitting president, irrespective of the accusations directed at him. They cannot support indictments that might represent an international precedent for putting more than one of the heads of state of the member nations of these organizations in a similar situation, especially since respect for human rights and good governance is not among the most common attributes in these nations. Bashir will find himself surrounded not only by popular Sudanese mobilization but also by a solidarity movement from his Arab and African counterparts, at least for fear of setting a precedent.

The trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic are not to be counted here because neither would have reached court if it had not been for the collusion of the governments which succeeded them. In Sudan, however, Bashir's regime is still strong and has a tight grip on the country - a grip which will perhaps become stronger after Ocampo's accusations.

Originally published by Al-Hayat website, London, in Arabic 16 Jul 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Middle East. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.