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Darfur: The Dead are not gone forever
by Rene Wadlow
2008-08-12 09:14:21
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    The dead are not gone forever.
    They are in the paling shadows
    And in the darkening shadows.
    The dead are not beneath the ground.
    They are in the restling tree,
    In the murmuring wood,
    In the still water,
    In the flowing water,
    In the lonely place, in the crowd;
    The dead are not dead.
                Birago Diop

Birago Diop, the Senegalese poet and collector of folktales, expressed a widely-held African belief that the dead are ever-present though not visible in the form that they had.  Thus, it is surprising to read the August 4 statement of Jean Ping, Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, former Gabonese Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaking after his meeting with the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bachir.  Ping had gone to see al-Bachir concerning the request for an arrest warrant against al-Bachir made by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Ping, as if speaking to the ICC, said “You are concerned with the dead while we (the African Union) are concerned with the living.”  Ping was also making a plea to the UN Security Council to suspend for one year the probable arrest warrant against al-Bashir.  The rules of procedure of the ICC have a clause which allows the Security Council to suspend an arrest warrant for one year under exceptional circumstances.  Such circumstances are not set out, but in drafting the ICC mandate, such circumstances were thought to be rare.

The Darfur-al-Bashir case is in no way rare, except that this is the first time a president-in-office has been charged with genocide.  While everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the evidence of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are clear.  Since the Darfur violence began in 2003 and especially since the UN concern began in early 2004, first-hand evidence of destruction of villages, homes and livestock, uprooting of people, systematic rape and wide-spread killing of unarmed civilians has been collected.  The prosecutor’s evidence has been collected on the basis of a resolution of the Security Council.

What is not clear until a trial is held is to what extent Omar al-Bashir is, in fact, in command of the government and the military which has carried out these acts.  Al-Bashir came to power in 1989 as part of a long climb to the summit of power by Hassan al-Turabi, the ideologue of the regime — an intellectual and scholar of Islamic thought.  Al-Turabi was satisfied to be Speaker of the Parliament and head of the political party in power.  Al-Turabi needed a “straw man” with military experience to maintain the loyalty of the army and for a popular “security image” in the north-south Sudan civil war which had started again in 1983.

Al-Bashir fitted the straw man role well and the straw man – brain division of power worked relatively well until 1999.  Then, due in part to a parliamentary bill crafted by Hassan al-Turabi, designed to reduce presidential powers, there was a break between the two men.  Al-Turabi was put under house arrest, and many of his close associates were put into prison.

Today, it is uncertain to what extent al-Bashir has been able to build an independent power base. Currently he is playing a “Gather around the flag, boys” song and saying ‘If I am arrested all hell will break loose.”  Al-Bashir has been incompetent as a tyrant and incompetent as a peacemaker.  He is strongly supported by a small group of security officials, but they may be willing to have al-Bashir arrested if that satisfies the ICC, and they can continue to manipulate the government.

However, the danger that ‘all hell will break loose’ is real.  Sudan is a huge and deeply divided country.  The Comprehensive Peace Accord which ended the north-south civil war in 2005 is fragile.  It was based on a power and oil-revenue sharing deal and not on a deep reconciliation of spirits.  Darfur is not the only area with armed bands and vague political agendas.  It is sure that the spirits of the many dead are not happy, and they continue to be present.  Postponing the arrest warrant of Al-Bashir for a year will not bring peace, but his arrest and removal from the scene will not bring peace either.  Only serious talks among all the parties can bring compromises that will honor the dead.

Rene Wadlow, Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens and editor of the online journal of world politics www.transnational-perspectives.org

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