Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sudan leader charged with war crimes over Darfur

Striking a blow for human rights around the world, the International Criminal Court handed down an indictment against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region of his country. Since 2003 the Arab-led government of Sudan has allowed a civil war to rage in the western region of Darfur, which is populated largely by non-Arab, non-Muslim Africans. Brutal militias known as the jinjaweed have killed 300,000, mostly civilians in Darfur and driven roughly 3 million others from their homes. Rape, torture and mutilations are commonplace. In their decision, the Court found that Bashir was responsible for the terror campaign in Darfur.

The ICC’s indictment of Bashir is the first ever handed down by the court against a sitting head of state – previously there was a general principle that heads of state enjoyed legal immunity so long as they were in power. And while the decision is being hailed by human rights groups around the world, it isn’t going over so well in Africa, where other government heads fear that the arrest of Bashir could destabilize the entire region and bring an end to a fragile peace between Sudan’s government and rebels in South Sudan, where another civil war recently ended.

The Chinese also condemned the ICC ruling. While China is quick to tout the fact that they have 350 peacekeepers currently serving in Darfur, they have also blocked all serious attempts at economic sanctions against Sudan for the past several years. Why? Because Sudan exports oil, and about two-thirds of it wind up in China. Resource-hungry China doesn’t want to cut off a supplier, so they have squashed attempts by the United Nations and others at economic sanctions. Of course you could argue that this led to the indictment of Bashir, since if real sanctions had gone into place, Sudan likely would have had to change their behavior in Darfur, which would have taken away the reason the ICC indicted Bashir in the first place (though I don’t think China will agree with me on that one).

One more note – the atrocities in Darfur have been well-publicized, with many Hollywood stars and other celebrities speaking out against the rape, torture and genocide going on there, and that’s great that they would do that. But at the same time ten times as many people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in situations just as brutal, yet that civil war has raged with little notice from the Western world. Its basically the same thing in Tibet, where many have spoken out about China’s attempts to crush the local culture and religion, yet nothing is said about Xinjiang where China is pursuing the same policies against the Uighur ethnic minority.

So I’m all for raising public awareness about these atrocities and I tip my hat to the people who speak up for those who are suffering. I wish though that rather than focusing on a couple of high-profile locations (Darfur, Tibet), the focus was on stopping the behavior no matter where it’s occurring.
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