It wasn’t that long ago that mass demonstrations and civil society lobbying provoked strong U.S. action on Sudan because of what we defined as genocide in that country’s Darfur region. However, frustration with the continuing stalemate over the punishment of those involved in the genocide and the inability of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take action against those charged with crimes against humanity in Sudan means not much is on the table to move past the current deadlock.
United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice reportedly blew up in a principals-level meeting at the White House a few weeks ago because the Administration’s Special Envoy to Sudan, retired Major General Scott Gration, was making headway in gaining support for his gentler, more diplomatic approach to the regime in Khartoum. Rice, who previously held the posts of Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, has had long experience in dealing with the Sudan government. Her position is that absent strong sanctions against the government of President Omar Bashir, no progress will be made in safeguarding Sudanese in Darfur or elsewhere, and the referendum on the status of South Darfur could be marred, leading to renewed violence.
General Gration has from the beginning of his tenure called for a more cooperative relationship with the Khartoum government in order to positively influence its behavior. He also supports a de-emphasis on public criticism of the regime despite its continuing violations of international law and human decency. According to Save Darfur, one of the leading civil society groups appealing for strong action to safeguard Sudanese, since April alone the Khartoum regime has:
• Restricted humanitarian aid to the internally displaced persons in Darfur,
• Expelled humanitarian aid workers and threatened to expel peacekeepers,
• Jailed members of the political opposition and human rights activists,
• Censored the Sudanese media and harassed journalists,
• Rigged national elections and
• Failed to cooperate with the United Nations Security Council and the
International Criminal Court regarding the outstanding arrest warrants against President Bashir and other accused of international criminal acts.
On that last point, Bashir and his government evidently don’t see any reason to honor the indictments. After all, the ICC has no police or military and must rely on member nations to carry out arrests. Bashir is reluctant to travel to any country that might honor those warrants, but Arab and African countries don’t seem to be among those willing to do so. The Sudanese leader has travelled to Chad, and most recently, to Kenya and has been accorded the welcome expected of any Head of State.
Despite pleas from human rights groups for the Kenyan government to bar Bashir from the celebration for its new constitution, Bashir was welcomed to the ceremony and even escorted to his seat by Kenya Minister of Tourism Najib Balala. When asked why an indicted violator of international law would be welcomed to the ceremony of Kenya’s advancing its own democracy, Kenya Minister of Foreign Affairs Moses Wetang’ula gave a telling response:
“He is here in response to our invitation to all our neighbours and the sub-region to attend this historic moment. He is a state guest. You do not harm or embarrass your guest. That is not African,” the foreign minister said.
Actually, it is becoming clear that it is not African to respect the authority of the ICC. The African Union has criticized the warrants and urged that they be suspended. While many of the AU’s members are signatories to the ICC, there is growing sentiment on the continent that only Africans are being targeted.
In fact, the record shows that the ICC is only actively investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya and Sudan. This has occurred despite the fact that as of three years ago, there were nearly 3,000 complaints of alleged crimes in at least 139 countries. African governments wonder why their past cooperation has resulted only in Africans being indicted, and an increasing number of them are likely to welcome Bashir to future meetings.
With the United States seemingly paralyzed by frustration and, it must be admitted, not much room to levy further sanctions except on gum Arabic, which is vital to our economy, at least some U.S. officials seem willing to try another approach. But as Ambassador Rice so correctly points out, we already know what the Bashir government will do. To do nothing or to take a softer approach to Sudan will only embolden an already shameless government to facilitate the killing of more Sudanese and America’s reputation in Africa as well.