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An Addendum: On the question of the ICC arrest warrant and humanitarian expulsions from Darfur

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An Addendum: On the question of the ICC arrest warrant and humanitarian
expulsions from Darfur

Eric Reeves
March 22, 2009

There has been considerable confusion over the import of my recent
op/ed on the expulsion of humanitarian organizations from Darfur.  This
is partly, I believe, because of the highly misleading title given to
the piece as it appeared in the Boston Globe: “Arrest warrant too
costly for Darfur” (March 21, 2009); the title of the piece as it
appeared in the International Herald Tribune was not much more helpful,
although it gestured toward the dilemma I was seeking to highlight
(“Justice at the expense of lives,“ March 22, 2009).  My own
title—“Darfur, an ICC Arrest Warrant, and the Humanitarian
Imperative”—was used only by The Sudan Tribune (March 22, 2009) and
though sufficiently agnostic in tone, was still far from ideal.

My goals in the piece were first and foremost to highlight the
consequences of recent humanitarian expulsions by the Khartoum regime,
as well as something of the moral failure of Western nations and the
international community that has brought us to the verge of catastrophic
loss of life in Darfur.  I also argued that there were good historical
reasons for seeing these expulsions as not so much caused by the
International Criminal Court (ICC) announcement but rather as an
expedient use of this announcement as pretext for realizing ambitions
that had long been contemplated.  This first part of my effort accounted
for 518 of the 685 words I was allotted, and seems not to have
occasioned controversy or confusion.  The remaining167 words, however,
are a different matter.

Here I think it’s important to recall my final sentence, which should
certainly have been a paragraph—mea culpa:

“Is anyone bothering to ask the people of Darfur?”

This question grows out of what I had presumed was a clear judgment on
my part that the world’s powerful nations, at the UN Security Council
and elsewhere, had, by virtue of their inaction on the occasion of the
expulsions, no moral standing in responding to the dilemma I worked to
pose.  In other words, I was chiefly interested in creating a moral
framework for understanding past and current responses by the
international community.  As a means, I posed the possibility that
perhaps the only way to resolve the present humanitarian crisis was a
trade-off between regained access for the expelled organizations and a
suspension of the ICC prosecution of President Omar al-Bashir on charges
of crimes against humanity (under Chapter 16 of the Rome Statute, the
originating document of the ICC).  I quite realize (and acknowledged in
the op/ed) that this verges on the hypothetical, given Khartoum’s
intransigence and its repeated declarations that the evictions are
“irrevocable.”  Permanent Security Council Members France, the
UK, and the US seem equally disinclined to consider a Chapter 16
deferral. And if they were to vote for deferral, it would be (as I
declared in my piece), “transparently succumbing to the ugliest form
of blackmail.”

But in this particular context, a hypothetical is just as useful as
more likely actions in highlighting the lack of moral standing on the
part those nations that, de facto, will nonetheless decide the future of
Darfur and humanitarian assistance.  The reason such a dilemma, even if
largely hypothetical, can exist at all is because of the lack of
preparation for what was universally expected to be a significant
response by Khartoum to the announcement of the arrest warrant by the
ICC Pre-Trial Chamber.  And yet there was
no marshalling of diplomatic resources to persuade China to act in
concert with other concerned nations in the event the Khartoum regime
went to extremes.  There was no real diplomatic engagement with either
the Arab League or the African Union, attempting to secure their efforts
in constraining Khartoum’s response.  (The Chinese and some Arab

countries are reliably reported as highly distressed by Khartoum’s
expulsions: why could that distress not have been anticipated and made
the basis for negotiations on how to moderate regime behavior?)

In the event, the world—including those nations that have been most
vociferous on Darfur—was caught flat-footed.  And the international
community appears to have made no progress in securing readmission for
expelled humanitarian organizations, or resuscitation of key Sudanese
NGOs shut down at the same time the expulsions were ordered.  Millions
of people are now at acute risk—not only in Darfur, but also in
Eastern Sudan, Southern Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, and Abyei.  For it
is too little remarked that the expulsion order applied to all of what
Khartoum considers “northern Sudan.”  A number of the thirteen
expelled organizations worked in these other highly distressed areas in
the north, and have been forced to abandon many hundreds of thousands of
civilians who are as threatened as those in Darfur.

It is inaction by those nations that might have brought sufficient
pressure to bear on the National Islamic Front regime that prompted my
angry, but in an important sense rhetorical questions:

“given the inaction by the West and other international actors, are
we in any position to invoke scruples about ‘deferring’
international justice? Does anyone dare say that justice for Darfur must
go forward, even at the expense of countless Darfuri lives threatened by
humanitarian expulsions?”

These questions were aimed squarely at those in the West who have
advocated for ICC prosecutions—as I certainly have—but at the
critical moment could not forestall or reverse Khartoum’s completely
unacceptable response to the ICC announcement (and let us not forget
that the atrocity crimes in Darfur were referred to the ICC by the UN
Security Council in March 2005).  I believe the world and the Darfuri
people are owed, by governments and various nongovernmental
organizations, an answer to these questions. How does one explain to a
Darfuri woman, her child Halima dying in her arms of untreated
meningitis, that not only have the doctors who might easily have treated
Halima been expelled, but we have no plan to secure re-entry for those

As I indicated in my op/ed, it’s been my strong impression that
“Darfuri sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of the al-Bashir
arrest warrant, no matter what the costs.”  I don’t know if this
will be true six months from now, as suffering, deprivation, and death
bite ever deeper into these fractured communities; I don’t believe
anyone can know.  I do believe, as I was told again today by a widely
respected Darfuri leader, that opinion inside Darfur still runs strongly
in favor of pursuing ICC justice, however great the suffering (this does
not, of course, necessarily represent the views of other marginalized
groups in the north that have been precipitously denied humanitarian

His and other voices from Darfuri civil society, at least in my view,
are the only ones that now have moral standing, the only ones not
compromised by weakness, cowardice, and the grossest hypocrisy, the only
ones that can now answer basic questions, hypothetical or otherwise,
about humanitarian needs, security, the peace process, and justice.
Hence again the force of my op/ed’s concluding question: “Is anyone
bothering to ask the people of Darfur?”

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA  01063



Written by torit1955

March 23, 2009 at 7:27 am

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