Omar al-Bashir Escapes Again: a shameful oversight by the ‘leaders’ of South Africa

So President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has escaped again. Indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) more than five years ago for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, he has managed to elude arrest ever since and remains a fugitive despite being the head of one of Africa’s largest states.

Omar al-Bashir returns to a hero's welcome in Khartoum
Omar al-Bashir returns to a hero’s welcome in Khartoum Photo: AP

Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that al-Bashir was allowed to depart South Africa after an African Union (AU) meeting, despite that state being a member of the ICC and therefore obliged to detain this most despotic of rulers. The ICC has long been accused of bias against African states and, indeed, most of those currently being prosecuted – whether in person or absentia – come from Africa. Situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, the Ivory Coast, Libya and the Central African Republic have been investigated and indictments made, whilst events in the Middle East (such as Palestine) and Europe (such as Ukraine) are yet to draw conclusions.

It may be then that African leaders have a point about the unfairness of the ICC’s critical gaze. Yet could it not be simply that Africa is the most unstable continent, where horrific crimes are committed by politicians and the military alike on a daily basis? Few regimes in Africa score well when subjected to close scrutiny. Even South Africa, a supposedly wealthy and democratic bastion of regional leadership, has proven itself in recent years to be corrupt, crime-infested and intolerant, its leader Jacob Zuma hardly the paragon of virtue.

South Africa’s reluctance to detain al-Bashir is troubling given the crimes he is accused of committing, namely waging a genocidal war against the restive province of Darfur which has rumbled on for over a decade. Indeed, such is the persistent misery and seeming unending nature of the Darfur conflict, that it is barely mentioned today in international affairs or in the global press.

DARFUR CONFLICT
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Darfur due to persistent, brutal conflict Photo: Michel de Groot

Darfur existed as an independent sultanate from the early seventeenth century until 1916 when, in the midst of WWI, it was annexed to Sudan by British colonial forces and their Egyptian allies. Since that moment, Darfur has not escaped the oversight of Khartoum which refuses to relinquish control over the province or make any concessions to regional autonomy.

The most troubling aspect of British colonialism was its tendency to forge and manipulate unnatural borders, merging disparate tribes into unitary states where ethnic and religious differences were completely overlooked. Unlike most of Sudan, the people of Darfur are generally not Arabs, coming instead from the Fur and Tunjur groups.

Omar al-Bashir has exploited the legacy of ethnic division by providing government support to the Janjaweed, a Darfur-based Arab militia responsible for numerous atrocities against the civilians of the province. Pure racism and a fury at the presumptuousness of the liberation movements in Darfur to seek independence have fuelled Khartoum’s aggression.

As a state that suffered the bitter legacy of colonialism more than most, South Africa would do well to recognise the historical and political conditions in Sudan, and Darfur in particular, which have led to such bloodshed, misery and displacement.

Bashir and Zuma - allies in opposition to the ICC Photo: SA Breaking News
Bashir and Zuma – allies in opposition to the ICC
Photo: SA Breaking News

It is one thing to stand by your continent and defend its interests; yet to blindly and hypocritically overlook the tyrannical rule of Omar al-Bashir – whose reign surely defies everything that South Africa claims to stand for (democracy, a ‘rainbow nation’, universal rights) – is unacceptable.

If the recent actions on a Pretoria runway do not result in sanctions, then the ICC can forget about bringing to justice those who deserve it most.

 

For a useful historical background to the Darfur conflict see: http://www.sarpn.org/documents/d0001277/PNADC475_Darfur_Febr2005_Chap2.pdf

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Yemen Crisis Deepens: is it time for decisive action?

The UN is warning of yet another potential humanitarian crisis in the Middle East as the citizens of Yemen become the innocent victims in the Saudi-led air campaign attempting to halt the advance of Shiite Houthi rebels, who now control large swathes of the strife-riven country. Complicating matters is the division within the Yemeni Army. Whilst some troops support the ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, others are in favour of the Houthi insurgency, whilst further factions still are fighting for the return of former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down during the Arab Spring in 2011.

The current state of Yemen Source: Wikipedia
The current state of Yemen
Source: Wikipedia

Added to this is the Iranian support for their fellow Shiites, whilst the US and other Gulf states have taken the side of Saudi Arabia and Hadi. The US, whilst not directly involved in the military intervention, is providing logistical and diplomatic support to its participants. Taking advantage of the conflict and confusion is Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), at this time the most formidable branch of the terrorist organisation.

But where is the UK in all of this? Its embassy in the capital Sana’a was withdrawn in February and, unsurprisingly, travel to the country is expressly discouraged. But should the UK being playing a greater role given its history in the region?

The southern port city of Aden is currently the battleground between Houthi/Saleh Shia forces and the Sunnis loyal to Hadi. Between 1839 and 1963, Aden was a British possession, first as part of the Raj and then as a Crown colony. Surrounding it was the Aden Protectorate, effectively the southern and eastern parts of Yemen now controlled by either Hadi loyalists or AQAP.

Aden Protectorate Source: Robinson Library
Aden Protectorate
Source: Robinson Library

In 1963, the crown colony and the protectorate merged to form the the Federation of South Arabia, part of the Commonwealth. On independence in 1967, the Federation became the People’s Republic of South Yemen, subsequently the communist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.

Meanwhile, the northern part of the country, centred on Sana’a, experienced an altogether different history. Formerly an Ottoman enclave, it gained independence as the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen after the First World War. Its religion was strictly Shia Islam and it was ruled with an iron fist by the monarchs Imam Yahya Hamid ed-Din (1918-1948) and Ahmad bin Yahya (1948-1962). On the latter’s demise, the state became known as the Yemen Arab Republic.

North Yemen, as it was commonly called, fell under the dictatorship of Saleh in 1978 and in 1990 he helped orchestrate a merger with the south to form modern Yemen. An attempted secession by southern militants in 1994 resulted in the Yemen Civil War, which the North quickly won, despite Saudi support for the secessionists.

As with many of its former colonies, Britain has remained detached from subsequent events in this country that it helped forge.

At the moment, there does not seem any logical reason why the British Government would get militarily involved in Yemen, particularly during election season. Whereas the US has made the mistake of tentatively supporting the Saudi-led campaign – despite the participation of detestable governments such as Sudan and the dreadful humanitarian crisis the bombing seems to be creating – the UK has steered clear.

However, the justification for intervention in Libya was predicated on the protection of civilians. Were there a viable way to safeguard innocent citizens from the overspill of conflict, an unprecedented opportunity may now be available to prevent the worst excesses of the Iranian-backed Houthis, destroy AQAP and tip the balance of power on the Arabian Peninsula towards pro-Western states.

Fighters on all sides remain defiant despite the air strikes Source: BBC
Fighters on all sides remain defiant despite the air strikes
Source: BBC

The UK has a long history in Yemen that few in the country are aware of. The country now become a critical staging point for the proxy-battle of the Middle East between the Saudi/Sunni and Iranian/Shia axes. Sooner or later, the West will have to get more directly involved if this conflict is not to spread globally. If not in Yemen, it will be somewhere else.

Now might be the time to show some fortitude and strike for a peace that, quite frankly, few people can envisage.