Protecting Darfurian Civilians, the ICC and the NCP
Human rights violations against civilians in Darfur have continued to be the focus of many reports, including the UN Human Rights Special Repporteur, the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and most recently the report of the Darfur Consortium. These reports come almost four years after the main two reports into the crimes committed in Darfur since 2003, which were the International Commission of Inquiry set up by the UN Security Council, and the Sudanese Government’s Commission of Inquiry led by Mawlana Dafa Allah Al Haj Yousif. All those reports come to much the same conclusion. They document cases of mass killing of civilians, forced displacement and rape. We now have reports of abduction and forced labour, which is not surprising as these abuses occurred in every other theatre of war in Sudan over the last twenty years. Now, almost five years since the eruption of the conflict in Darfur, the same violations still continue. Over these years the UN Security Council has issued many Resolutions including the referral of Darfur to the ICC and the authorisation of the deployment of UN African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) but these steps have not ended the violations.
The most common and serious type of ongoing violation is the rape of women, especially when they go out searching for firewood. Recently, according to reports from some humanitarian organisations, there has been an increase in rape cases, mainly because women have to leave the IDP camps for longer times not only looking for firewood but trying to top up the food ration which been cut due to the shortage of rations provided by the World Food Program due to shortage of funds and the interruption in supplies because of attacks on convoys.
Five year after the international community declared its intention to stop the atrocities in Darfur there is no end in sight to the abuses. The trend of those attacks has changed. Most of the perpetrators are the same Arab Militias (Janjaweed) but now they have been given official status and turned into so-called Border Guards and other paramilitaries and central reserve police. They are in military uniform and enjoy total impunity, even some of the cases which were reported to the local police were not pursued because the police have no authority over the violators because they are military forces.
The Sudan Government policy is to continue denying any such allegations. They have not taken any serious step to halt the abuses, and have not acted on the demand made by the UN Security Council more than four years ago that they should disarm the Janjaweed militia, or on the solemn promise in the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement that they should control the militia. Today, some of the militia are now acting for their own interest and not even listening to any orders from Khartoum. They are heavily armed and the government army cannot challenge them.
Since July this year the Government and specially the National Congress Party priority has sharply changed. The issue of the ICC Chief Prosecutor’s endeavour to indict President Omer al Bashir has become the only agenda in their calendar. It is preoccupying their thoughts and driving their actions. It is the most serious issue which has faced the ruling circle in their nineteen years in power. Although the ruling circle has a very strong survival instinct, the ICC issue is testing this to the limit. It has changed their instinct for common survival into individual concern for self-preservation. Every single one of them is looking back to see whether he has any link with the violations committed in the Darfur conflict and what responsibility he may have which could take him to The Hague. Some of the NCP leaders are even contemplating handing over President Bashir to save the Islamic movement. This movement recently elected Mr Ali Osman Taha to become its Secretary General, the post which used to be occupied by Dr Hassan al Turabi before the 1999 split.
The fear that is animating the ruling circle is that if they don’t act now they do not know where the ICC process will stop. They do not know who is next on Ocampo’s list, and they think at least to hand over President Bashir will buy them some time to rethink their strategy.
However, Bashir is strengthened compared to the past. The Interim National Constitution of July 2005 gives him more power as President than he ever enjoyed before. He has rallied his brothers and some of his extended family around him. Recently one of his brothers made it clear that Bashir will never be handed over to the ICC and they will consider him as a martyr in the same way that they lost one of their brothers in the war, and are still ready to sacrifice another one for the cause. Bashir himself made it clear last week when he was addressing some farmers in Sennar State that he wants to die an honourable death, and he will not hand over anyone to the ICC, not even a cat. In that rally Bashir predicted that the ICC will issue the arrest warrant against him. If that happens the NCP will be left with very few options. They cannot repudiate their international relations. They will not be able to change their agreements with the UN and will not able to ask the UN and humanitarian organisations to leave Sudan, as the Government will not be able to feed millions of IDPs and cannot afford to let them starve of death.
One of the options the Government will consider is to crack down on the press and the civil society activists. They have already started doing this, when they arrested and mistreated three activists accusing them of collaborating with the ICC. However, I do not believe that the Government can afford to go back to the dark days of the early nineties, when they had many ghost houses and imprisoned all those who dared to criticize them. The Jihadist agenda of those days has faded. Things have changed and there are not many Jihadists out there ready to die for the cause and the promise of marrying virgins in Paradise. There is no return to the revolutionary fervour of those days, but the opportunity of regressing into nasty authoritarianism is always there. The main victim of the crackdown will be the democratisation process.
The NCP is not ready to compromise in its grip on power at any cost. This is one hundred percent clear. The NCP recently refused to accept an SPLM proposal to change the National Security and Intelligence Act, as the current Act contradicts the Interim Constitution, and needs to be reformed before there can be any genuine democracy and free elections. The census results have been delayed and will now be released next month, but most probably the SPLM will refuse to recognise it and that will delay the National Election which is supposed to be held before July 2009, according to the CPA,
This week the NCP has decided to turn the Sudanese People’s Initiative into a permanent body, the Sudanese People’s Forum. This is a mis-step. Unfortunately the SPI/F does not represent all Sudanese people. Many of its critics believe it is dominated by the NCP. It has not got representation for many major Darfurian activists and it is not recognised by the armed movements.
The current deployment of the Sudan Armed Forces in South Kordofan contradicts the CPA , and as one senior member of SPLM has said, South Kordofan could well be the cause of a new war between the north and the south. The NCP argument that JEM is planning to move its war to South Kordofan is not supported by any evidence on the ground. Tribal leaders in Tagali area of eastern South Kordofan region have recently written to the UN Mission in Sudan to complain about the Sudanese army moves.
There are many ticking bombs threatening peace in Sudan. Only God knows where the current growing crisis will end.