Friday 18 July 2008 (14 Rajab 1429)
Justice only for Darfur victims?
Aijaz Zaka Syed | [EMAIL PROTECTED]
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 naïve to assume that
President Omar Bashir planned and perpetrated the atrocities against the people
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
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
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?