Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bashir Bashing

The age of impunity is over

The ICC's indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir should remind world leaders that they aren't above the law
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o Tuesday July 15, 2008

There have been pre-emptive complaints that the indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and his governmental accomplices for crimes against humanity would make diplomacy more difficult. People said the same thing about Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia's amputator-in-chief Charles Taylor. In all three cases, the argument does not hold water. Diplomacy, without the big stick, without the hint of handcuffs, is having little or no success at all in stopping Bashir's murderous recidivism. In fact, the years of envoys queuing up for audiences with Milosevic simply persuaded him that he was so indispensable that he could carry on killing with no personal consequences.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) had already indicted Bashir's surrogates in Darfur. It would certainly be a travesty of justice not to follow up the chain of command and indict the man without whom none of these massacres would have been possible.

We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions which, being taught, return
To plague th'inventor.

Macbeth mused these words while contemplating ordering the death of Duncan. At least, in the end, he and the missus had the courage to do the deed themselves and paid for it.

But no one ever saw any of our latter-day genocidaires walking the balconies of their presidential homes wrestling with their consciences. At least in part, that was because they thought they had impunity. Killing a king may have consequences, but what are a few million peasants, trade unionists or scribblers to a sovereign statesman?

Ban Ki-moon's statement recognised the independence of the ICC prosecutor – a concept that may be a shock to many of the regimes he has had to deal with. And the secretary-general will persist in trying to talk to Bashir in an attempt to get him do the right thing, but the talking will be done by phone. Bashir's travels to many parts of the world will be circumscribed until a one way ticket to the Hague can be arranged by the next coup in Khartoum. Sadly, however, if he can get a non-stop flight to New York he will be fine, since, for increasingly obvious reasons, the Bush administration does not accept the ICC's jurisdiction.

While the White House's handpicked attorneys have provided legal opinions to authorise torture, rendition and similarly Cheneyesque deeds, most lawyers in the Pentagon and the US state department are well aware that those idiosyncratic opinions have little or no currency in the rest of the democratic world. US top brass have been warned to be careful where they travel.

Over indiscreet drinks at an international conference a few years ago, a US official explained Washington's resistance to the ICC by recounting that French police detained Henry Kissinger at the airport in Paris on a warrant issued over his responsibility for the Chilean coup and subsequent killings. It took top-level calls from Washington to get him out, he complained. One of the few positive auguries as the 20th century came to its sanguinary end was the ending of impunity, so that the Pinochets, Sharons, Kissingers and their ilk had to consult their lawyers as well as their travel agents before they set off on journeys.

In fact, Kissinger should have been arraigned for much more, from East Timor to Central America. The time has passed that so-called statesmen could wash their hands of the crimes they ordered. As that Scottish coup practitioner, Macbeth, recognised:

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

It may make sovereign torturers, kidnappers and murderers see red, but they deserve no more immunity or impunity than any other criminal conspirators.

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