In a story that has been largely ignored by the Western press, the African Union (AU) is flexing every international legal muscle it can find in order to protect Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir from his indictment on charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Bashir has recently travelled to ICC signatories Chad, Kenya, Djibouti and Malawi without being arrested, despite being wanted for genocide.
As Dapo Akande has written for the European Journal of International Law, at its recent biennial summit, the AU reaffirmed its commitment to protecting Bashir and is also exploring the possibility of applying for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as to whether its states are obligated to arrest foreign leaders with diplomatic immunity — a ploy that is not-so-subtly aimed at protecting Bashir.
As has been the pattern over the past three or four years, the AU Assembly has, at its biannual meetings, adopted a number of decisions regarding cases at the International Criminal Court. In the latest meeting, the AU Assembly reiterated its request that the UN Security Council defer the proceedings against Sudanese President Bashir in accordance with Article 16 of the Rome Statute. It also ” urge[d] all [AU] Member States to comply with [AU] Assembly Decisions on the warrants of arrest issued by the ICC against President Bashir of the Sudan pursuant to Article 23(2) of the [AU] Constitutive Act and Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the ICC.” Those prior decisions had called on African States not to comply with the request by the ICC for the arrest and surrender of Bashir.
Other action is being taken by AU member states. For instance, Kenyan newspaperThe Star has reported that the government in Kenya is attempting to overturn a ruling by Justice Nicholas Ombija, directing the Kenyan attorney-general to arrest Bashir on the ICC charges should he enter Kenya.
Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof gave a harrowing reminder on Sunday of why it is so important that the charges against Bashir are enforced. Kristof is now reporting from the border of Sudan and South Sudan on the continuing crimes against humanity being perpetrated by Bashir’s regime. There is little wonder that these crimes continue, given that the international community continues to signal that they are not serious about ostensible efforts to hold purpetrators accountable for the untold suffering and loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
Bombings, ground attacks and sexual violence – part of Sudan’s scorched-earth counterinsurgency strategy – have driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in South Kordofan, the Sudanese state where the Nuba Mountains are located. In some ways, the brutality here feels like an echo of what Sudan did in Darfur, only now it is Nubans who are targets.
“They said that they want to finish off the black people; they said they want to kill them all,” recalled Elizabeth Kafi, a 22-year-old Nuban who said she was kidnapped in December by Sudanese uniformed soldiers. She and others say that the mostly Arab Sudanese soldiers scorn Nubans partly for their darker skin, partly because some are Christian, but mostly because many Nubans back an armed uprising against decades of Sudanese misrule. In 23 days of captivity, she said she saw the soldiers use guns to execute several Nuban men, including her grandfather and brother-in-law. She described watching soldiers gang rape and then cut the throat of a young Nuban woman, and also stab to death the woman’s 3-year-old son.
The refugees who flee Sudan face similar inhumane treatment as they are hunted in Egypt until many arrive to a safe haven in Israel, where they have little but at least are not being gunned-down by the local forces. There they are forced to sleep on the streets of Tel Aviv and work illegally, not receiving a cent from the international community and barred from the Palestinian-only refugee camps that lie a 30 minute drive to the South. Former Sudanese slave Simon Deng has been very vocal on the international community’s continued failure to acknowledge the crimes being committed by Bashir on his people as they only ever seemed concerned with condemnation of Israel. Sadly, his message seems to have been lost to worldwide indifference. Surely it is about time that people of goodwill everywhere start paying attention.