By Yilma Bekele — It is an old saying. What it means is bad or illegal acts committed in the past are liable to cause problems today. In other words, there is no escaping the past. Sooner or later the day of reckoning will come. In Amharic we have the same saying ‘be seferut kuna yeseferu’.
What brought this is the news of the arrival of International Criminal Court (ICC) Deputy Prosecutor Mrs. Fatou Bensouda in Addis. Apparently there is report of imminent indictment against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir regarding his crimes in Darfur.
Sudan’s name comes from the Arabic “bilad al-sudan”, or land of the blacks. Sudan is a very big country in terms of size. It is slightly more than one-quarter the size of the US. Our dear friend al- Bashir is one of those tin pot dictators that litter our continent. It was in 1989 he took power as Chairman of Sudan’s Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and served as chief of state, chairman of RCC, prime minister and minister of defense. It is a situation of ‘le ras sekorsu ayasansu’. In the good old tradition of African despots he got legitimacy by organizing a national election and winning 86.5% of the popular vote. Al-Bashir is not very greedy it seems. Normally African despots like 99.9%.
Al-Bashir is the same individual that suspended all political parties upon assuming power as a military leader. He also introduced the Islamic Sharia legal code on a national level. This was an affront to the southern Christians and others. In 1998 he wrote and adapted a new constitution. In 1999 he passed a law allowing limited political association but made sure that it was a ‘castrated opposition’. It did not last long. In December of 1999 he drove his tank to the parliament and ousted his friend and mentor Hassan al-Turabi who was the speaker of parliament.
So much for tolerance and limited democracy. Sudan is internationally known for its civil war between the southern half and Islamic North. The conflict has been going on for the last twenty years. Our own Emperor has worked very hard to bring the warring factions together. The conflict has caused millions to be ‘displaced, starved, and deprived of education and health care’. Much progress was made throughout 2003, and in early 2004 al-Bashir agreed to grant autonomy to the south for six years, split the country’s oil revenues with the southern provinces, and allow the southerners to vote in a referendum of independence at the end of the six-year period. al-Bashir has managed to break the agreement on several occasions.
As the situation in the South was somewhat stabilizing, another conflict broke out in Northern Darfur on the western part of the country. Since 2004 a pro-government militia called Janjawweed has been a carrying out a policy of wholesale massacre and collective punishment against the local population. According to Amnesty International, Human Right Watch the government has facilitated the killing of between 200,000 and 300,000 civilians and the displacement of more than 1 million people.
This is the situation that has brought the International Criminal Court to get involved in this high stake poker game. The action by the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, will mark the first time that the tribunal in The Hague charges a sitting head of state with such crimes, and represents a major step by the court to implicate the highest levels of the Sudanese government for the atrocities in Darfur. The African Union is crying foul and invoking all kinds of obscure phrases such as sovereignty, internal affairs and the untouchability of a sitting head of state. Crocodile tears if you ask me. Each and every one of them is afraid the precedent set by such far-reaching action.
We in Ethiopia are very much exited about such a development. The crimes being committed in the Ogaden against our fellow citizens have been amply recorded by a host of International organizations and displaced persons languishing in Kenya and elsewhere. We call upon the ICC to look into the human catastrophe-taking place in Ogaden, Gambella, Gondar and Southern Ethiopia.
We are in agreement with the principle that no one is above the law. That no government is immune from prosecution. That massacre of civilians, deliberate acts of starvation and acts of collective punishment of peaceful UN armed civilians is cause for indictment and those who commit such crimes should answer to a court of law. We are hopeful that al-Basher and his associates will be made to answer for their hideous acts and the Sudanese people will find solace in knowing that ‘the chickens are coming home to roost’. I am sure Professor Al is paying close attention to this development. We feel empowered.