We stand firm with a monster
Imagine a country run by a despotic dictator who brutalises his citizens, sets the security forces upon opponents and sponsors armed militias to carry out massacres against innocent civilians – particularly those of a different hue. No need to imagine it. It existed. It was called apartheid South Africa. That country’s government was treated like a skunk by the world, especially by other African countries.
That country also exists today. It is called Sudan. The difference though is that its leader, Omar al-Bashir, is embraced by fellow African leaders. He attends summits where he poses for pictures with fellow heads of state and is fêted as an anti-imperialist crusader by his African Union (AU) colleagues. So infatuated is the African elite with this despot that the government of the most democratic country on the continent was prepared to lie, cheat and urinate all over its laws to protect al-Bashir.
This past week saw a despicable outpouring of solidarity with this monster. We saw African leaders – and African intellectuals – showing that they cared more about anti-West posturing than about the plight of Africans who suffer and die at the hands of dictators. The shielding of alBashir from prosecution – on the spurious pretext that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an instrument of Western powers and only targets African leaders – is to deny justice to the 400 000 people who were killed and the 2.2 million who were displaced by al-Bashir’s security forces and militias.
Let us begin by dismissing the complaint that the ICC “targets” African leaders to foster an imperialist agenda on the continent.
Al-Bashir’s government has had a Pan-Arabic focus and been more aligned to Middle Eastern issues than African ones. The US’s antagonism towards him is because this leaning saw him harbour groups such as al-Qaeda, which it classified as terrorist, and not because of progressive leanings on his behalf.
The regime’s discrimination against blacks in Sudan is well documented, hence the ease with which it slaughtered people in the Darfur region.
The regime has also brutalised citizens who practised African religions, along with Christians and Muslims who did not subscribe to al-Bashir’s desire to turn Sudan into a theocracy. Why he is a poster boy for African pride defies logic.
Others indicted by the ICC also hardly posed a threat to the West. They included the leaders of Uganda’s crazed Lord’s Resistance Army and Congolese rebels who killed, raped and pillaged in the hinterland. They include Kenya’s ultracapitalist president, Uhuru Kenyatta, whose net worth is estimated at $500 million (R6 billion) and the kleptomaniac and murderous Charles Taylor.
Aside from the late lunatic Muammar Gaddafi and Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo, the indicted leaders are all reactionaries. Collectively, they have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Africans and turned millions into refugees.
Now the call among ICC haters is that alleged African perpetrators should not face “Western” justice, but rather African justice and be tried according to African norms. That is well and fine. But attempts to develop the African Court of Justice and Human Rights into a strong institution that does precisely that have been stymied by a lack of interest by AU member states, the main critics of the ICC.
Despite a protocol giving birth to the court being signed in 2008, only a handful of countries have ratified it.
But during the period in which they failed to push for their parliaments to ratify the protocol, AU leaders have found the energy to pass a resolution giving sitting heads of state immunity.
There is clearly little appetite among our continent’s leaders to have a system that will hold them accountable. So much for African justice for African people.
This is not to say that all the criticisms levelled at the ICC are wrong. The system is definitely flawed. The voluntary nature of accession to the ICC has enabled powerful countries to remain outside the system. As a result, the leaders of Russia, the US and China – countries who are often aggressors or have dodgy human rights records – will never be held accountable for acts that they authorise.
And Israel, which has one of the world’s most evil regimes, will never have its leaders hauled before the ICC because it has the protection of a few powerful UN Security Council members.
But this flaw does not mean that the people of the planet should be left naked and vulnerable to the cruel deeds of dictators. It does not mean that Africans, who for historical reasons have some of the worst human rights violators in the world, should be left at the mercy of bad men like al-Bashir while the system is fixed.
So before we protest loudly against the ICC and pledge solidarity with al-Bashir and Charles Taylor, let us first think of the African people who are the victims of their atrocities.