Al-Bashir Defies ICC at Home and Abroad

Indicted Sudanese president takes trip overseas and reportedly steps up attacks against Darfuris.

Al-Bashir Defies ICC at Home and Abroad

Indicted Sudanese president takes trip overseas and reportedly steps up attacks against Darfuris.

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has continued to travel widely and allegedly ramped up violence in Darfur, despite being indicted by the International Criminal Court, ICC.

“After the [ICC] arrest warrant, we were very optimistic that [Al-Bashir] was going to be arrested soon and that he would not dare to travel around, but that was not the case,” said Ahmed Sidig, a spokesman for the Kalma refugee camp in south Darfur.

“Yes, the court’s decision to [call for his] arrest is a big victory for us, but if he continues to travel and move freely as he is doing today, I am afraid the decision will remain just ink on paper.”

Al-Bashir is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with Sudan's ongoing conflict in the Darfur region, which has claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 people and driven more than 2.7 million from their homes.

Since the ICC indicted the president on March 4, he has visited six African countries, in defiance of the court.

In early April, he traveled to Saudi Arabia reportedly for a brief pilgrimage, and subsequently visited Sudan’s neighbour Ethiopia.

Apparently mindful of the risks, Al-Bashir has limited his travel to countries that are not members of the ICC – and are therefore not obliged to hand him over to the court – but that may soon change.

Observers say he may attempt to attend the inauguration of Jacob Zuma as the next South African president on May 9 in Pretoria.

Unlike the other countries Al-Bashir has visited, South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute which created the ICC, and would therefore be required to arrest him and hand him over for trial.

However, like most other African countries, South Africa opposed the indictment of Al-Bashir, raising doubts about its commitment to arrest him.

Darfuris, meanwhile, say they’re worried the apparent absence of any attempt to capture the Khartoum leader has damaged the court’s credibility and fueled his defiance.

“He said publicly that the court is under his shoes (beneath him) and now he is showing that he doesn’t care about the arrest warrant,” Sidig told IWPR.

“Why [doesn’t] the international community work together to isolate and arrest him?

“For us, there is no way to deal with him [other] than arresting him and putting him on trial.”

Jamal Zakaria, a resident of Zalingi town in West Darfur, said, “He just wants to be seen in the eyes of the Sudanese people [as someone who] can defy and ignore the court.

“Of course, this is not good for the people of Darfur who want him to stand trial sooner than later, but he will be captured one day and I hope the United Nations and other countries in the world will help the court in this.”

Meanwhile, Darfuris say the situation in the region has deteriorated following the expulsion of sixteen international aid groups in the wake of Al-Bashir’s indictment. They say attacks by the government-backed Arab janjaweed militia have increased in intensity.

“He expelled the international NGOs from the camps and endangered our lives,” continued Sidig.

“Instead of curbing his militias and stopping their crimes, he gave them more power and freedom to terrorise us. So, for the sake of our lives and our safety, he has to be arrested as soon as possible.”

In early April, Al-Bashir addressed people in Zalingi, and according to Zakaria, said that “Satan is the one to be blamed” for the fighting and death in Darfur.

“I didn’t know [whether] to laugh or cry then,” said Zakaria, “but I thought it was really ridiculous because everybody in Darfur knows that it was not Satan who armed and deployed the janjaweed to cause havoc in the region, but it was Al-Bashir who did that.”

An aid worker, who spoke under conditions of anonymity, confirmed that Darfur had recently become more dangerous, “The situation is simply deteriorating.

“Attacks on [refugee] camps and aid workers are becoming a daily reality. The government is pursuing an ‘I-have-nothing-to-lose’ policy after the [Al-Bashir] arrest warrant.”

The aid worker said that pro-government militias are running amok, “They are seizing our properties, including vehicles, dismantling our posts and deliberately impeding operations. Something urgent must be done.”

Fatima Abaker, a mother of three from the Abuzar refugee camp in the West Darfur regional capital of El Geneina, said, “The government is ordering the Janjaweed to attack us.

“Since they set the camp on fire, I [was] left with no shelter. Even if I manage to build one, they will come back again and burn the camp.”

While Abaker would like to leave Darfur for neighbouring Chad, she says she can’t make the trek.

“I want to go to Chad, but [am] afraid of being attacked or raped by janjaweed,” she said. “ And my kids are too young to walk all the way to the border.”

Yet despite the risks involved, many still attempt the trip.

Issak Mahamat Tabier, a humanitarian coordinator from the eastern Chadian town of Abeche, across the border from Darfur, says refugees were streaming over the frontier.

To reach Chad from Darfur, he says the refugees must walk two or three days by foot or donkey.

“I decided to cross the border to Chad with my family because camps in Darfur are no longer safe for us,” said Abdu Ishak, from the Alriaad refugee camp in El Geneina.

After more than 500 homes were destroyed in the area in late March, “I decided to run away for my life”, he said.

“The government became very aggressive now. It wants to punish us. It considers us its enemy for it sees us [as] the reason behind the [ICC] decision [to indict Al-Bashir]. It does not want to recognise that we are its victims.”

Tajeldin Abdoul Adam is an IWPR contributor and Peter Eichstaedt in IWPR’s Africa Editor.

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