From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Mar 11 2009 - 08:44:24 EST
The war crimes indictment against Sudanese President Bashir
by Tom Eley
March 11, 2009
On March 4, the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down an arrest
warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charging him with
crimes against humanity and other war crimes. The ostensible basis for the
charges is the ongoing conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur, which,
according to the United Nations, has killed as many as 300,000 people and
displaced 2.5 million more.
Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be charged by the ICC since it
commenced operations in 2002.
While Bashir no doubt shares responsibility for the catastrophe in Darfur,
the charges by the ICC cannot be taken as a legitimate exercise in the
enforcement of international law. Rather, the indictment is the latest in a
series of war crimes procedures against leaders of former colonial nations
and lesser capitalist countries who have run afoul of the major Western
powers. It exemplifies the use of war crimes prosecutions as an instrument
of imperialist policy in regions of strategic importance to the United
States and other imperialist powers.
Not since the Nuremburg trials of the defeated German Nazi leaders have
figures from a major imperialist power been tried for war crimes. Since the
ICC's founding, all of its war crimes cases have been brought against
African military or political figures.
The most notorious of the recent war crimes trials was the prosecution of
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by the International Criminal Tribunal
for the Former Yugoslavia. That indictment was handed down in May of 1999,
in the midst of the US-led NATO air war that devastated Serbia and
ultimately led to a US-backed "revolution" and Milosevic's ouster and
The humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur is a product of longstanding
geopolitical tensions in Sudan and the Horn of Africa, an area of great
strategic importance for the major powers. Sudan holds important oil
reserves in its South, where the Khartoum regime fought a two-decade civil
war against separatist rebels that ended with a truce in 2005. Sudan is
Africa's largest nation by area, sharing borders with ten other states. It
sits astride the Red Sea across from Saudi Arabia, a critical sea transport
lane from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.
The context of the war crimes charges is an intensified push by the US and
other imperialist and rising powers for domination of parts of the African
continent, particularly those with substantial energy resources. In recent
years Sudan has become the focus of growing competition for influence
between the US and China.
China is the leading recipient of Sudanese oil. In return, it has provided
significant investment and military supplies to Khartoum, and has defended
the regime in the United Nations. The US has responded to China's growing
influence in Africa and intensified activity by other powers, such as
France, by developing its military capabilities on the continent with the
formation of the United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM, in 2008.
Washington has welcomed the charges against Bashir. The US ambassador to the
United Nations, Susan Rice, declared, "Those who committed atrocities in
Sudan, including genocide, should be brought to justice." US Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton said, "Governments and individuals who either conduct
or condone atrocities of any kind, as we have seen year after year in Sudan,
have to be held accountable."
In the first place, the US has refused to even recognize the jurisdiction of
the ICC over American military and political personnel, in line with its
assertion of a unilateral and unlimited right to intervene militarily
wherever and whenever it chooses. In the 1998 UN vote that authorized the
creation of the ICC, the US, under the Clinton administration, joined only
Libya, China, Iraq, Israel, Qatar and Yemen in voting "no."
The US has committed war crimes far greater than those of Sudan's Bashir
regime. Since the unprovoked US invasion of Iraq in 2003-launched on the
basis of lies and without UN sanction-over 1.3 million Iraqis have been
killed and approximately 5 million made refugees. In its "global war on
terror," the US has openly committed war crimes such as kidnapping,
detention without trial and torture. It routinely carries out missile
strikes on civilian targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, openly violating
the territorial sovereignty of the latter with impunity.
There exists more than enough prima facie evidence to try President George
Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes related to
the destruction wrought in Iraq. When the Nazi leadership was tried in the
aftermath of WWII, the charges for which they were convicted were "crimes
against peace" and the launching of wars of aggression-the same essential
crime that the US and British governments carried out against Iraq.
In fact, the US has declared the doctrine of preemptive war-a direct
violation of international law and a justification for launching wars of
aggression-to be a cornerstone of its foreign policy.
The US raises no objections to the innumerable human rights violations and
killings carried out by regimes that have been, and continue to be, aligned
with it. For example, American administrations, both Democratic and
Republican, have systematically blocked every UN resolution criticizing
Israel for its ongoing crimes against the Palestinians.
Charges of war crimes and human rights violations have become part of the
arsenal of imperialist war propaganda. They were used to justify US and
European interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s, aimed at breaking up
Yugoslavia and weakening Serbia, culminating in the 11-week NATO air war.
In similar fashion, the tragedy in Darfur is being used today to condition
public opinion for new imperialist military aggression. The call for
intervention in Sudan has been picked up and promoted by various protest
groups, celebrities and newspapers, whose role, whatever the intentions of
some of those involved, is to provide a "humanitarian" cover for the
reactionary designs of US imperialism.
There are many indications that the Obama administration is taking a more
aggressive stance toward Sudan than that which prevailed under the Bush
administration. Writing in the Washington Post on March 5, the former Air
Force chief of staff and co-chair of the presidential campaign of Barack
Obama, General Merrill McPeak, called for the establishment of a no-fly zone
over Sudan and hinted that it could be the first step toward a bombing
campaign. Referring to Yugoslavia in the 1990s, he wrote, "[W]e ultimately
saw that more vigorous action was needed to end that conflict. The same
conclusion holds now for Darfur."
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