By Aijaz Zaka Syed
18/07/08 "Arab News" --- - Few issues have exercised me as much as the conflict in Darfur has. In fact, I have the dubious distinction of being the first journalist from the Middle East to break the silence on the genocide in Sudan.
When I first wrote about Darfur way back in 2006 criticizing the deafening silence of the Arab and Muslim world on the genocide, it was as though I had hit the proverbial hornets’ nest, with lots of brickbats — and some bouquets — coming my way. Not surprisingly, most of those brickbats originated in Sudan.
It was a blistering critique of the government of Sudan and its incredibly inept handling of the Darfur conflict. That article, and subsequent ones, censured the Sudanese leadership for its failure to rein in the bloodthirsty militias and warlords prowling in the region who have killed hundreds of thousands of people from a besieged minority, also Muslim, and drove millions from their homes.
Today, as the International Criminal Court at The Hague deliberates on the fate of Sudan President Omar Bashir for “genocide and crimes against humanity,” you would think people like me would be delighted. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It’s too simplistic and dangerously na´ve to assume that President Omar Bashir planned and perpetrated the atrocities against the people of Darfur.
The Sudan regime may be guilty of not doing enough to stop the mass murder, rape and persecution of the ethnic minority. Sudan’s leaders could and should have done more to alleviate the suffering in the region by working with the UN agencies and aid groups. By refusing to allow in the UN peacekeepers and relief agencies in initial years of the conflict, the authorities exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and multiplied the woes of the local population. But it would be unfair and unreasonable to accuse President Bashir of being the architect of the Darfur catastrophe.
This is not to doubt the intentions of Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the high-profile chief prosecutor of the World Court. I know he means well. The World Court has issued warrants at least in 10 cases presented before it by Ocampo, including those for the mass murderers of the Balkan wars in the last decade of the last century. But is Ocampo on an equally firm footing in this case?
More to the point, notwithstanding Ocampo’s good intentions, the World Court cannot put Bashir in the dock because Sudan as yet does not come under the jurisdiction of the court. The African country, just like Bush’s America, is not a member of the ICC. What is more, there is a feeling that the prosecution of Bashir could actually end up aggravating the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
This is no defense of the Sudan leader. But if we are really talking accountability, fair play, justice and equality before law, what about dealing with other perpetrators of crimes against humanity? I respect ICC chief prosecutor Ocampo for his courage to bring justice to the people of Darfur. But would he or can he bring justice to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan too?
In case the ICC official has failed to notice, more people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan than those claimed by the conflict in Sudan over the past five years. According to the latest figures released by the Information Clearing House, an anti-war online publication based in the US, the number of Iraqis killed since the US invasion now stands at 1,236,604. That is more than a million lives!
Trust me, Monsieur Ocampo, most of those killed in Iraq had been innocent too. And while you are administering justice, could you please also remember the people who have been waiting for justice in the holy land for nearly 70 years? They call themselves Palestinians. Someone stole their country many years ago, driving them from their ancient land and homes. And they have been waiting for justice and deliverance ever since. They die every day but refuse to let their free spirits die. They have lost generations and generations of the young and old, men and women to this daily war that is their existence. They have simply lost count of how many loved ones they have buried over the past seven decades.
Can they hope for justice too, Monsieur Ocampo?