Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Deadly Futility of International Law

Last week the Economist had a long article on the International Criminal Court's decision to issue a warrant against the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, for his role in the genocide of Darfur. As the article itself conceded, the chances of the ICC's action making much difference were not good, for many political reasons. While reading the article, I searched for the slightest indication that the Furis, the people who ive in Darfur, stood to gain anything from the decision, but the Economist didn't mention such a possibility. They did, however, have this to say:
The omens are not good. Hours after the arrest warrant, several of the main Western aid agencies were told to leave the country, some within 24 hours. This was at the extreme end of the reaction people expected: a worrying sign that Darfur’s civilians may again bear the brunt of the regime’s wrath. [my italics]
Why was this at the extreme end of what anybody expected? We weren't told.

At least the Guardian is following the story, unlike most of the world's media. After all, hundreds of thousands of people have been murdered, and more than two and a half million are in camps, but it's in Africa, the Jews can't be blamed nor can George Bush, at least not directly, so it's not an interesting story. But the Economist is telling. This week, their report is even bleaker, and is well worth reading in its entirety. Here's some of it [again, my italics]:

GIVEN the history of the Sudanese government’s brutal treatment of the population of Darfur, some adverse reaction to last week’s indictment of President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) was expected—but nothing quite as bad as what happened. A dozen major international aid agencies and a couple of local ones were immediately expelled from Darfur, and many from the country altogether; staff were unceremoniously escorted to waiting planes while their computers, files and much else were confiscated by the authorities. The remaining aid agencies have been put on notice, and could be next.

The NGOs that were expelled from Sudan provided much of the food, water and medicine to the 2.75m refugees who live in temporary camps in Darfur. So this move is, above all, a huge blow to the fragile humanitarian lifeline that has been keeping the wretched victims of the Darfur conflict alive...

The Sudanese government has given no official explanation for the expulsions, but has made spurious allegations that all these aid agencies were involved in a conspiracy to supply the ICC with the evidence to prosecute Mr Bashir and his henchmen. More to the point, the Sudanese government evidently has no backup plan to replace the vital services the NGOs provided. Although it is clear that the expulsions were planned carefully in advance, it is equally clear that no thought was given to who would do the expelled workers’ jobs instead. This makes the action doubly callous. As usual, it is the ordinary Darfuris who will bear the burden of the government’s vindictiveness.

Since 2003 about 300,000 people have died as a result of the fighting in Darfur.

I apologize, but to me the story as told be the Economist, is, quite simply. weird. The Sudani government is waging a genocide against an ethnic group within its borders. This is so clear that the ICC has gone to the unprecedented step of issuing a warrant against the Sudani Head of State. In response or retaliation the Sudanis.... are stepping up the persecution! Who would ever have thought of such a possibility! They MUST be told to stop!

Do you begin to have the feeling someone is living in never-never land, and it's not the Sudanis?

Zvi Barel, an informed observer of the Arab world and beyond, tells in Haaretz this morning that the Arab World rejects the whole ICC move as Western Imperialism and intervention in the internal matter of an Arab state. These wold be the same Arabs who routinely use the terminology of International Law and its institutions to castigate israel, condemn it for its horrendous crimes, and generally couch their reservations about Israel in Western terminology knowing perfectly well that this will generate agreement.

If you wish, you may think the Arabs are a bunch of hypocrites, and of course you'l be right. But in a deeper way, there is a profound truth to Barel's story. Sometime in the middle of te 20th century, the European,s exhausetd by their own horrendous recent history, decided to radically change their modes of operation. The Americans, having been twice drawn into European wars, went along with them. The Soviets were also exhausted, and played along, probably insincerely.The creation of the very elaborate system of international law in institutions was the expression of this decision.

The rest of the world wasn't really asked. No-one tried to find out if the rest of humanity was willing to lay aside the murderous traits of 4,000 years of history, merely because the Europeans were exhausted. The imperialistic assumption was that if the West decided to call off human nature, the rest of the world would go along with it.

Apparently not.

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