Africa Views – Four years later – was the ICC right to indict Sudan’s Bashir?

By Olivia Warham,  Waging Peace

Four years ago today, President Bashir of Sudan gained the dubious distinction of being the first head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court.

When the indictment was announced it was greeted with spontaneous celebrations in Darfuri refugee camps, and by the Darfuri diaspora worldwide. Finally, the survivors of Bashir’s systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing hoped justice was at hand.  Until that moment, no manner of peace agreement could be sufficient without the delivery of justice.

Yet, four years on, Bashir continues to ethnically cleanse Sudan’s non-Arab population with impunity. He has also extinguished any hope of an Arab Spring, brutally crushing internal dissent, and harassing brave civil society leaders within the Arab population. Despite being charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, he travels the world, enjoying the perks of a statesman.

Since coming to power in a 1989 coup Bashir and his National Islamic Front cronies have centralised power and wealth, marginalising all those who object to their racist vision of a pure Arab-Islamic nation, and ignoring the high degree of intermarriage that makes a mockery of such an intolerant vision.

When the non-Arab ethnic groups in the south rebelled, two million were killed by the civil war involving Sudanese Armed Forces and their local proxies. When the equally marginalised non-Arab rebels in Darfur rose up ten years ago, Khartoum used the same lethal technique, blaming ancient ethnic hatreds when the international community expressed concern. The UN stopped counting the numbers of dead after the estimate reached 300,000 in 2006.


Waging Peace, which campaigns against genocide and systematic human rights violations, collected hundreds of drawings by Darfuri children in Chad’s refugee camps. Their pictures illustrate the systematic ethnic cleansing by the Sudanese Armed Forces and the local Arab proxies, the Janjaweed, working in concert.

The looting, rape and murder continue, like a Rwanda in slow motion. Most recently the same deadly techniques have been unleashed on the non-Arab people of Blue Nile state and Nuba Mountains.

By now the people of Darfur have realised there is insufficient political will to deliver Bashir to the ICC. However his indictment has symbolic importance to a people who feel forgotten and abused. Waging Peace is in daily contact with Darfuris, and it is clear they believe it is vital that the world recognises that a terrible wrong has been done them. Indictment also sends a clear message to other dictators and tyrants: their actions are being noted and may one day be used against them.

The failure to bring Bashir to justice lies not with the ICC, but with the international community, including other African and Muslim countries turning a blind eye to mass atrocities against their fellow Africans and Muslims. In addition, we have done nothing to take the guns away from those who destroyed Darfur, or to stop the flow of money into Sudan that buys the weapons.

Since the indictment Bashir has travelled many times, knowing few governments would risk offending Sudan by detaining him. Even nations that signed the Rome Statute founding the ICC argue it cannot apply to sitting heads of state.

Because the ICC lacks the power to override national sovereignty to arrest those it indicts, it depends on the cooperation of governments who have signed on to its provisions. Just last month Chad failed to arrest Bashir as he attended the summit of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States. Later this month he plans to visit again, this time for the African Green Belt Conference. No arrest is likely.


As Darfur marks ten years of violence, the international community should reflect on the credibility gap between its words of concern and condemnation, and its failure to hold Sudan to its multiple promises. Why would other mass murdering tyrants cease the persecution of their own citizens while Khartoum faces no consequences for its actions?

We might get their attention if we suspended aid and favour to nations hosting Bashir? We should also press for existing UN Security Council resolutions on Sudan to be enforced. Until then our commitment to the human rights conventions we sign cannot be taken seriously.


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