Global Policy Forum

ICC Warrant a Pain in the Neck for Bashir




By Chege Mbitru

March 28, 2010

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir seems to have enjoyed his year as fugitive head of state. Recent boasts and threats would indicate that. A little humility might help.

An interview German magazine, Der Spiegle, published a week today; President Bashir commended the International Criminal Court, ICC. The court last year issued a warrant for his arrest over the Darfur conflict. "My popularity in my home country has unexpectedly multiplied through this warrant." That's "a favour which I would never have dreamt of."

President Bashir remains popular in the North. It's a different matter in the South. Come next January, the region will hold a referendum on secession or unity with Sudan. Results would provide a better measure of the president's popularity. Meanwhile, elections for presidencies, national and the south, regional governors, and assemblies, take place next month. International observers irk Mr Bashir.

Miscreants include the US-funded Carter Centre. It suggested a postponement. If the observers intervene in Sudan's affairs, the president said, "We will cut off their fingers and crush them under our shoes," figurative language, but a real possibility in El Obeid. The Carter Centre cited logistical strains, delays and changes in polling procedures, and "abuse of state powers."

A week Sunday, human rights organisations accused the government of suppressing opponents of the ruling National Congress Party and tight control of the media as obstacles to credible election. Although the law guarantees opposition politicians access to state radio, the government bans 20 items as "inciting prejudices and hatred against the state." The items include referring to Bashir as a "head of state wanted internationally.

As a fugitive, Mr Bashir has quite a bit going for him. The African Union, the League of Arab States, and members of the Islamic Conference aren't cooperating with the ICC. Last Sunday, the Islamic Conference pledged $850m for Darfur reconstruction, way below the $2 billion goal, but a laurel on Mr Bashir's good guy image. There's also an invitation to Venezuela and a promised visit by South African President Jacob Zuma.

Then there's a peace deal with Darfur's largest rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement. Wellthe two parties have been on that road, and parted, before. All said and done though, the ICC warrant remains the Bashir albatross. In a year, he has missed seven events and will miss another in May. Two required the president's presence. Discussed were the Darfur conflict and the referendum.

A chance to present his case at the United Nations General Assembly flew with the wind. In the event Bashir wins the presidency, the world can only expect a president who would play god, sending emissaries. As religious organisations have shown, emissaries haven't always delivered similar message from gods.

Short of a judicial miracle, the ICC warrant will hound Bashir for the rest of his life whether he's guilty or not. The best he can do is deviate from boasts of dubious popularity and cutting fingers and crushing people. He might earn a dint of "He wasn't all that bad" laurel someday.



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