Eric Reeves – http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/09/01/opinion/edreeves.php – Also published in The Boston Globe, August 29, 2008) •
As news coverage of Darfur’s horrors again ebbs, as regional rains reach their heaviest in a deadly season known as the “hunger gap,” the regime in Khartoum appears to have outwaited the international community. The men who have orchestrated ethnic destruction in Darfur now believe that by threatening the massive UN humanitarian and peacekeeping presence in the region, they can have their way with the fate of international justice and determine fully the fate of Darfur’s millions of conflict-affected civilians.
This threat emerges in response to a July announcement by International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo seeking an arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir, charging him with genocide and crimes against humanity. Khartoum has so far responded mainly with declarations defying and denouncing the ICC, but recent language suggests an ominous shift.
At the same time, an extraordinary coalition of expediency and callousness has joined with Khartoum, coming primarily from African, Arab, and Islamic countries expressing greater concern for a possible arrest warrant for Bashir than for the overwhelming evidence of crimes committed by him and his regime. And these crimes continue: this past week more than 100 civilians, the majority women and children, were killed or wounded by the regime’s security forces in a brutal armed assault on Kalma displaced persons camp.
Increasingly confident that it will not be held accountable by its neighbors in the Arab and African worlds, Khartoum has now declared in effect, “don’t allow an ICC arrest warrant to be issued or we will undermine security for the UN in Darfur.”
So far there has been no rebuke of the regime’s threats. The longer international silence continues in the face of such outrageous threats against the UN, the more dangerous the moment in which the ICC three-judge panel announces its decision in the coming weeks. For if Khartoum does move to create additional insecurity for humanitarians, who already face intolerable risks and harassment, entire organizations will withdraw, even in this season of fierce malnutrition.
Humanitarian reach is already severely attenuated, both by violence and the current rains. UN/African Union peacekeepers – who have been repeatedly attacked by Khartoum and its Arab militia allies – will become dramatically more defensive, and civilian populations commensurately more vulnerable. Human destruction will rapidly escalate to some of the worst in the conflict.
The clarity of the imminent crisis has been unfortunately obscured. Some criticize the actions of Moreno Ocampo, suggesting that his language and charges of genocide are too inflammatory. The notion that more politic or carefully calibrated charges would be less threatening to Khartoum, given its crimes in Darfur, is unpersuasive.
What we really see here is an argument for accommodation or acquiescence in the name of a Darfur “peace process” that simply does not exist. Indeed, as Sudan’s history under the current regime reveals all too clearly, it is precisely the absence of accountability that has made these brutal men so destructive for so many years. It is the “climate of impunity” repeatedly declared by UN and human rights officials that has made of Darfur the longest ongoing episode of genocide in the past century, set to enter its seventh year in a matter of months.
Certainly Darfuris, with the most at stake, overwhelmingly support the ICC and its pursuit of justice, refusing to countenance a contrived choice between peace and justice. But without robust action soon to support the UN on the ground in Darfur, a grim choice between tenuous “security” and justice may become inevitable.
If the world backs down on the matter of justice and accountability, international efforts to end impunity in Darfur will have been crushed – and by the vicious demands of the very men who have so relentlessly orchestrated ethnically targeted human destruction throughout Darfur and eastern Chad. It will be the final emboldening of this regime, which will know that there is no line that can’t be crossed, no threat that can’t be wielded to preserve its tyrannical hold on power.
Absent timely, concerted, forceful international action at the Security Council – with clearly articulated consequences for any move against UN efforts in Darfur – Khartoum may well dare to take the actions that will cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
(Eric Reeves is author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.”)