Ocampo’s Hyperbole at the Security Council
The description of the entire Darfur region as a “crime scene” and comparing the Sudanese government with the “Nazi regime” acting with impunity attacking its own people and people in other countries, may be an acceptable hyperbole in an ordinary courtroom but it is unacceptable for ICC prosecutor Louis Moreno-Ocampo to use such language in his report to the UN Security Council on 5 June.
It is unacceptable because at this sensitive level where international politics and international justice converge and policy decisions are made that could either endanger, if not actually exacerbate, or assist international solutions to conflicts like Darfur with its internal Sudanese and regional ramifications like with Chad.
There is no reason to doubt that the sombre Moreno-Ocampo is a sincere man, but it has become clear from his presentation on 5 June that his vision and his assessment of the situation in Darfur has become clouded by the experiences of his own country Argentina. In fact he said so himself and it is good to know that also Mr Moreno-Ocampo is only human after all; but is he able to guard himself totally against his personal experiences impairing his decisions and conclusions which are supposed to based only purely judicial considerations?
There is no doubt that Argentina’s “˜dirty war’ during the military Junta of the 1970s and early 80s was a most bloody period in which its opponents perished and hundreds literally “˜disappeared’ with their small children being forcibly adopted by families of Junta supporters. It was a time that the whole of Latin America was convulsed by violent conflicts between the Right and the Left as proxies in the Cold War.
It is ironic that ideological motivated wars have led in history to attempts to exterminate people wholesale rather than non ideological wars. However, it was during the 17th century ideological wars of religion that the principle of national sovereignty became international accepted in the Peace of Westphalia. Later since the American, French revolutions and Russian revolutions, Nazi Germany’s Third Reich to the end of the Cold War in the last quarter of the last century ideological war were more motivated by secular politics; one may argue that the so-called “˜war on terror’ is a variant on ideological wars today.
So far the principle of national sovereignty has survived, but it is being modified since Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan developed further race as an ideological motivation for war following 19th century western imperialism. It has led to the principle of humanitarian intervention, applied to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and nearly immediately perverted in the second Iraq war.
Another complicating aspect that ideological motivated wars do also occur within states, civil wars and then questions of how to find a median, not necessarily “˜happy’ but at least useful, between justice, as different from revenge, and mutual acceptable accommodation through for instance a mutual amnesty can be achieved. Argentina for instance is currently struggling how to reach that median between justice and amnesty, but one could look to the Balkans for this struggle as well.
It is also becoming clear that what had been accepted post WWII what constitutes war crimes, crimes against humanity and in particular genocide have become blurred in the recent Balkan wars, not in the least because such allegations have been used to justify intervention under a humanitarian guise.
As Srebrenica July 1995 in eastern Bosnia got as good as iconic status as the first (attempted) genocide in Europe post WWII, Moreno-Ocampo referred deliberately to Srebrenica in his 5 June statement, but he may walk himself and his office into a hornet’s nest of controversy just as the survivors are taking a class action in Dutch court to lift UN’s immunity and hold it, in particular the Dutch Battalion, responsible for failing to prevent the alleged genocide of Bosnian Muslims.
Ironically the UNHCR accused on 18 June EUFOR’s Irish Battalion, and in particular the company of Dutch marines attached to it of failing its mandate to protect the UNHCR office in Goz Beida from rebels, during the recent spate of fighting in eastern Chad, but a discussion about ambiguous peacekeeping mandates and UN culpability should be left until another time.
However, while no doubt war crimes and mass murder of Bosnian Muslim males of arms bearing age were committed and the search for justice by the surviving, mostly female, relatives of the atrocity is completely understandable, the very fact that women and children were spared in itself shows how wrought the question of portioning blame and culpability for Srebrenica among all parties, including the UN, EU and NATO is, even before one starts to deal with questions of intent and conspiracy as defined by the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals as Moreno-Ocampo seems to imply in his statement referring to Karadzic’s Directive 7.
Furthermore Moreno-Ocampo and others like him have to explain whether and if a religion like Islam with followers among many of the world’s races is a suitable criterion to define genocide. In fact Bosnian Muslims share the same South Slavonic language and many cultural traits with (Catholic) Croats and (Orthodox) Serbs; a situation of a complex cultural and ethnic mix not unlike Darfur!
In particular his statement that the rape of women and girls is destroying “biologically” the communities from which they hail is very unfortunate because it is directly borrowed from Nazi style narrative of mixing race and culture, while rape as such is in itself a horrible enough crime.
Furthermore Moreno-Ocampo seems to be on the one hand very specific about the culpability of the Sudanese government while depicting the Darfur situation in very broad brush strokes, but on the other hand very circumspect in portioning blame for specific crimes for which Darfur rebel groups are held responsible like Haskanita and the recruitment of children.
Equally very questionable was Moreno-Ocampo’s reference to the recent fighting and displacement of people around Abyei as another proof for the Sudanese government’s culpability for murder and destruction in Darfur.
Pieter Tesch is a freelance journalist and historian and acting chief executive of the Sudan Cultural Society of Britain and Ireland (SCSBI).