Darfur atrocities

2009-03-13 00:00

THABO Mbeki’s somewhat tarnished legacy includes the African Renaissance, a noble cause of which little is now heard. Among its basic principles are democracy, civil rights and good governance. Their inclusion was a sign that Africa might be prepared to enforce some of the rights that have become an international benchmark in recent decades.

However, the limited response of the African Union (AU) faced by the behaviour of several tyrants suggests that acceptance of such a responsibility is remote. In Darfur, for example, atrocities of genocidal dimensions have caused the deaths of 300 000 people and displacement of well over two million. The Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir, with a record of duplicity second to none and heavy backing from China, is directly implicated.

Al-Bashir and two other officials have now been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague with war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is a drastic step, brought on by a desperate situation with regional implications. The chances of al-Bashir ever appearing before the ICC are remote. The hope is that such pressure will persuade the ruling party to accept accountability, depose its leader and change its policy towards Darfur. Celebrating refugees agree.

The Sudanese president has reacted predictably, waving his stick in front of suitably angry crowds, shouting about Western colonialists wanting regime change to seize the country’s oil, and denouncing the arrest warrant as not worth the ink in which it is written. The AU has been disappointing, calling for its lifting, effectively endorsing tyranny and failing to support the people of Darfur who see the ICC’s move as a beacon of hope.

Action taken by the ICC has absolutely nothing to do with imperial ambitions. It is a last resort in the defence of human rights to prevent further death and displacement. The behaviour of al-Bashir has immediately justified its stance. He has responded like a classic dictator, slandering as spies and then expelling 13 aid agencies, thus condemning one million of his country’s citizens to further suffering. It is another nail in the coffin of Mbeki’s legacy.

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