Justice for Darfur? What about Iraq?

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai

Few issues have exercised me as much as the conflict in Darfur has. One hates to blow one’s trumpet but 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 criticising 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 and drove millions from their homes. (By the way, few people even in the Muslim world seem to realise that those at the receiving end in Darfur also happen to be Muslim. Not that it makes any difference in the cutthroat, survival-of-the-fittest world of the Dark Continent!)

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 us who have regularly written about the conflict would be delighted by the development. And all those human rights groups and aid agencies, the courageous soldiers of humanity who have relentlessly toiled and endangered their own lives to save a defenceless people, would be relieved.

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 of Darfur, just as Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic did against the Muslims of Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo in 1990’s.

The Sudan regime may be guilty of not doing enough to stop the mass murder, rape and persecution of the ethnic minority. The regime could certainly have done more to deal with the murderous thugs of Janjaveed militia whose reign of terror is far from over despite the presence of UN peacekeepers and African Union troops.

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.

God knows I am no fan of the Sudan leader. And I do not doubt the intentions of monsieur Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the high profile chief prosecutor of the world court. I know he means well. The honesty of his intentions is demonstrated by the number of war criminals he has brought before the ICC since its inception. 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 monsieur Ocampo on the equally firm-footing in this case? We are not so sure.

It is feared that the prosecution of Bashir will achieve too little too late at an incalculable cost to the people of Darfur. 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 world court.

The African country, just like Bush’s America, the leader of the free world and champion of human rights, is not a member of the ICC. In fact, instead of making a difference to the unfortunate lot of Darfurians, the prosecution of President Bashir could actually end up aggravating the humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

The African Union has warned of a ‘dangerous leadership vacuum and chaos’ in Sudan if attempts are made to prosecute Bashir. Even the United Nations fears grave consequences of such an action. It has already put its peacekeepers and personnel on high alert fearing reprisal attacks by the militias and Sudanese forces. Not to mention the increased threat to the people of Darfur themselves, as a consequence of such an action.

This is no defence 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 I would respect him even more when and if he brings 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. And don’t forget the mass killings in Iraq started almost around the same time as they did in Darfur.

Information Clearing House, a funny sounding but diehard anti-war online publication based in the US, (www.informationclearinghouse.info), in its daily newsletter keeps telling me how many more innocents have died the day before in Iraq. Yesterday, ICH reminded me that the number of Iraqis killed since the US invasion stood 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. The only crime they had committed was being born in a wrong country and being found at a wrong place at a wrong time. Can they hope for justice too, monsieur Ocampo, just as the people of Darfur do?

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 the count how many loved ones they have buried over the past seven decades.

Can they hope for justice too, monsieur Ocampo? And those who did this to them are around too. Would you deal with them too? Or are there two different standards of justice?

– Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: aijazsyed@khaleejtimes.com.

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