This morning, I attended a little panel discussion at the Church Center in New York City on the situation in Sudan and the consequences of the decision by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to seek an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The venue was small and two of the speakers were Darfuris, making it a good arena to hear some important points of view.
While most of the discussion went back and forth between the usual blend of tentative optimism and fear of disaster, there were a couple very informative points that I’d like to pick up on.
First and foremost, all of the panelists agreed that what’s missing in the international community is any form of CONSISTENCY. With the possibility of an ICC indictment against key government leaders, there is a real chance for the international community to get its act together and come up with a strategy. The United Nations Security Council has the option of suspending any possible indictment under Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which could be turned into leverage against the government to make them engage in the peace process and follow through on their commitments under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. While many human rights groups are against politicizing the ICC like this, there is a very real tension between justice and peace (and humanitarians not being kicked out of the country) which could be resolved to some extent by a well-thought out application of Article 16. Of course, this sort of consistency and coherency on the part of the international community has yet to be seen and probably won’t be in the near future due to the chaos surrounding elections in the US and Canada. Additionally, the panelists seemed to think that Bashir probably wouldn’t shape up even if Article 16 were invoked.
A second point that was brought up that really interests me is the fact that the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South created a little bit of space in Sudan for civil society and opposition groups in the country. I believe it was Fabienne Hara from the International Crisis Group who made the point that, for all the international community hates the government of Sudan, they do very little to engage Sudanese human rights groups, good governance groups, civil society, and opposition groups. An organization like Stand actually may have a chance to lead the way on this by getting to know respectable groups operating in Sudan (of which I don’t know any yet) and figuring out how to support them. This point was further driven home by Salih Mahmoud Osman, a prominent Darfuri lawyer, recent speaker at McGill, and friend of Irwin Cotler, who said that Western attention and support can actually protect civil society groups from government repression. It seems to me that the idea of engaging with Sudanese human rights groups is a no-brainer and should be something that even the Canadian government could do in the future. The only possible danger, brought up by a colleague at work later, was the possibility that many of these groups have a strong presence of the Sudanese security apparatus. I have no idea to what extent this is true but it certainly seems plausible. At the same time, however, it doesn’t kill my interest in pursuing the idea anyway. I have a few business cards and could possibly follow up on this so please leave comments to express your opinions on this issue.
Other than those two points, there were many interesting insights into the state of domestic politics in Khartoum and the future of elections, but I’m tired right now so you don’t get to hear about it. Feel free to send me a comment or email if you would like more info.