Monday, July 6, 2009

A Cloud on Obama’s Horizon

Less than a week before U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to make Ghana his first visit to a sub-Saharan African nation, the African Union, meeting in Sirte, Libya, has made a decision certain to become a bone of contention when the American president meets Ghana’s president.

The government of Ghana President John Atta Mills is a signatory to the agreement establishing the International Criminal Court and apparently argued in the Sirte meeting for the court’s authority to indict national leaders such as Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, yet Ghana has agreed to comply with the AU decision to refuse to cooperate with the ICC indictment of Bashir. Consequently, Ghana will join its fellow AU members in declining to honor the ICC standing order for its members to arrest Bashir if he visits their country.

In an interview with last week, President Obama said that perhaps the main reason he selected Ghana as his first stop in sub-Saharan Africa is that “the new president, President Mills, has shown himself committed to the rule of law.” Although the AU decision apparently was not the will of Ghana going into the meeting, the question will be whether Ghana honors its commitment to the AU or the ICC. Not inviting or welcoming Bashir to Ghana would make this matter a moot point insofar as Ghana’s compliance is concerned. Nevertheless, the message the decision sends about Africa’s general commitment to the rule of law and its opposition to genocide is placed in question.

Ghana agreed with the position that postponing the indictment of Bashir would have been wiser since it would have made peace talks more likely to succeed and would not lead to a power vacuum in the event that Bashir was actually arrested. However, there are continued reports that the Government of Sudan is still standing in the way of a resolution to the killings and rapes that have plagued the people of Darfur. The government’s actions in refusing to protect Darfuris and place obstacles in the way of those who would, its cavalier attitude toward facilitating the delivery of humanitarian supplies and its refusal to bring to justice those involved in what the U.S. government has labeled genocide demonstrate their complicity in the tragedy that is Darfur.

To what extent the government and its officials have played an active role in genocide is for a court to determine after evidence has been presented and the matter has been fully adjudicated. But the AU decision makes that eventuality less likely now. In the aftermath of the AU decision, Sudanese officials are again dismissing the ICC indictment as merely political. Is this really the message AU member states wanted to send to the still-suffering people of Darfur?

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