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African Union

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Omar al-Bashir and International Law

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, facing an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide and war crimes, fled from an African Union summit meeting on Monday before the conference ended. The South African High Court was going to order him arrested and handed over to the ICC, but the South African government let him fly out of a military airport near Pretoria.

There is outrage in South Africa at this breach of the law, but there is also a belief in the rest of the continent (especially among national leaders) that the ICC is prejudiced against African countries. Is the ICC out of control, or is it just trying to do its job?

President Jacob Zuma’s government had a serious public relations problem. In the past month South Africa has seen a great deal of xenophobic violence against illegal immigrants and their property. It’s embarrassing for Zuma, and clearly contrary to the spirit of African solidarity, so he felt that he couldn’t let an African head of state be arrested while attending an AU summit in his country.

The resentment of poor South Africans at the presence of so many illegal immigrants from other African countries (probably between 5 and 10 percent of the population) is understandable but inexcusable. The right solution is for South Africa to take control of its borders, but meanwhile Zuma has to placate his African Union partners.

Zuma had to sneak Bashir out of the country because South Africa’s High Court is still independent, and it was about to rule that Bashir must be handed over to the ICC for trial. Indeed, Judge Dunstan Mlambo did rule exactly that – “The government’s failure to arrest Bashir is inconsistent with the Constitution” – only hours after Bashir fled.

Well, obviously. Since South Africa is one of the 123 countries that signed up to the ICC, it is legally obliged to enforce its arrest warrants. Some other African countries also take the ICC seriously. In 2012 an AU summit was moved from Malawi after the government refused to let Bashir attend, and in 2013 the Sudanese president had to leave Nigeria earlier than planned after a rights group went to court to compel the authorities to arrest him.

But most African governments now ignore ICC rulings because, they claim, the court only targets African criminals – and it’s true that all the arrest warrants now in force are for Africans. This understandably causes deep suspicions in the African continent.

Under the same international laws, shouldn’t former US president George W. Bush be indicted as a war criminal for illegally invading a sovereign country, Iraq? No, actually, because the ICC can only arrest the citizens of countries that have signed up to the ICC, and the United States hasn’t. (Neither has Sudan, but there is an exception for war criminals who are specifically designated by the United Nations Security Council, as Bashir was.)

The wounds of colonialism are still raw, and it just feels wrong. But which of these people would you want to drop from the list?

Joseph Kony, the self-proclaimed prophet whose Lord’s Resistance Army murdered tens of thousands of innocent people in northern Uganda and adjacent countries?

Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former Congolese rebel leader who is on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes over alleged cases of murder, rape and pillage in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003?

Or Ivory Coast’s former President Laurent Gbagbo, who faces four charges of crimes against humanity – murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and “other inhuman acts” – in the violence that followed disputed elections in 2010?

None of these men are being lynched. They have just been summoned to face a trial, with all the legal rights they are accused of denying to others. And in most cases, the prosecution have been undertaken with the support of the relevant African country.

African countries dominate the list for two reasons. One is that more than half the world’s wars are in Africa. The other is that African countries, so vulnerable to violence, have a strong interest in establishing the rule of law, and most African lawyers and senior civil servants understand that.

They are often thwarted by their presidents and prime ministers, who belong to a very exclusive club. African leaders are as prone as any other interest group to try to exempt themselves from rules that hold them legally responsible for their actions. The ICC has also made mistakes, like bringing cases against senior politicians when there was no realistic chance of getting the evidence needed for a conviction (like President Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya).

But even if it fails much of the time, the ICC is a worthwhile enterprise. It is part of a long-term effort to build a world that is ruled by law, not by force, even if that goal is still a century in the future – and in the meantime, it occasionally gives the victims justice right here in the present.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“The resentment…go”; and “Under…was”)

Somalia Come-Back

11 April 2013

Somalia Come-Back

By Gwynne Dyer

There have been no elections in Somalia since 1967 and there won’t be any this year either. But the country has a new parliament (appointed on the advice of clan elders) who have elected a new president, and the new government actually now controls a significant part of the country. The world’s only fully “failed state” may finally be starting to return to normality.

A failed state is a horrendous thing: no government, no army, no police, no courts, no law, just bands of armed men taking what they want. Somalia has been like that for more than twenty years, but now there is hope. So much hope that last month the United Nations Security Council partially lifted its embargo on arms sales to Somalia in order to let the new Somali government buy arms, and last week the US government followed suit.

The new government replaces the “Transitional Federal Government”, another unelected body that had enjoyed the support of the UN and the African Union for eight pointless years. Then last year a World Bank report demonstrated the sheer scale of its corruption: seven out of every ten dollars of foreign aid vanished into the pockets of TFG officials before reaching the state’s coffers.

Fully a quarter of the “national budget” was being absorbed by the offices of the president, the vice-president and the speaker of parliament. The fact that after all that the TFG still only controlled about one square kilometre (less than one square mile) of Mogadishu, the capital, while the rest of the shattered city was run by the Islamist al-Shabaab militia, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, also contributed to the international disillusionment.

That tiny patch of ground, moreover, was being defended not by Somali troops but by thousands of Ugandan and Burundian soldiers of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Unisom). More than 500 of them had lost their lives defending the useless TFG, and the foreign donors were losing faith in the mission. But the Unisom soldiers did achieve one major thing: they fought al-Shabaab to a standstill in Mogadishu.

In August 2011 the Islamist militia pulled its troops out of the capital. That created an opening, and the international community seized it. It ruthlessly initiated a process designed to push the TFG aside: Somali clan elders were asked to nominate members for a new 250-seat parliament, which was then asked to vote for a new president and government.

It was obviously impossible to hold a free election in a country much of which was still under al-Shabaab’s control, but this process also had the advantage that it allowed the foreigners to shape the result. The corrupt officials who had run the old TFG all re-applied for their old jobs, but none of them succeeded.

The new president who emerged from this process, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is a former academic and human rights worker who only entered politics in 2011. No whiff of corruption clings to him, and he has worked tirelessly to bring about national reconciliation. And he has the wind at his back: just after he was chosen last September, a Kenyan force evicted al-Shebaab from Somalia’s second city, Kismayo.

That still leaves about 95 percent of the country’s territory and three-quarters of its population beyond the government’s direct control. Al-Shabaab still rules in most rural parts of the country, and Ethiopian troops and their militia allies control much of the western border areas. Pirates with a lot of guns and money effectively dominate much of the north.

One whole chunk of the country, calling itself Somaliland, has declared its independence (and runs its affairs much more peacefully and efficiently than any other part of Somalia). No other country recognises its independence at the moment, but it used to be a British colony, quite separate from Italian-ruled Somalia, and in principle it can make exactly the same case for independence as Eritrea did when it broke away from Ethiopia.

The worst problem facing President Mohamud is the venal and cunning politicians who have exploited the clan loyalties that pervade every aspect of Somali life to carve out their own little empires. Some are frankly and unashamedly warlords; others, including all the senior officials in the defunct TFG, masquerade as national politicians but work for their own interests.

They have not gone away, nor have the clan rivalries that kept the fighting going for 21 years. Drawing up the rules and sharing out the power for a new federal Somalia (none of which has yet been decided) will give them plenty of opportunities to make trouble for the new president and regain their former power. Mohamud definitely has his work cut out for him.

Nevertheless, he has strong UN and African Union support, and he now has a chance to create a spreading zone of peace in the country and start rebuilding national institutions. So last week the United States declared that it was now willing to provide military aid, including arms exports, to Somalia. Weirdly, that actually means that thing are looking up in the world’s only failed state.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 10. (“That still…Ethiopia”)

 

 

Victory in Mali?

30 January 2013

Victory in Mali?

By Gwynne Dyer

As usual, a well-trained Western army has gone through a fierce-looking but virtually untrained force of African rebels like a hot knife through butter. Two weeks ago, the northern half of Mali was entirely under the control of Islamist militants, whose forces were starting to advance into southern Mali as well. So France decided on very short notice to send troops and combat aircraft to its former colony in West Africa.

Today, every town in the north of Mali is under French control, and the surviving rebels have fled into the desert. But most of them did survive: after losing a couple of major clashes in the first days of the French drive northwards, the Islamist forces simply abandoned Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, the main towns of the north, as soon as the French forces came near. The easy part of the intervention is now over.

It’s not surprising that the French military intervention was an instant success. The Islamist rebels, like most African paramilitaries (and quite a few African armies, too), did not even know the basic combat drills that every infantryman in a Western army has practised until they are second nature. But now come three tasks that are considerably more difficult.

The first is to deploy an African Union-backed military force, made up of units from armies elsewhere in West Africa, to take over from the French. You can’t just hand the recaptured towns back to Mali’s own army, which is so incompetent and rotted by politics that it would promptly lose them back to the militants.

This force, dubbed the International Support Mission to Mali, has the unanimous blessing of the United Nations Security Council. International donors met in Ethiopia on Tuesday and pledged $455.53 million to pay for this force. Mali’s many neighbours – it has open desert borders with seven other West African countries – have already identified the units they are going to send.

But it’s going to be weeks or months before those African units actually arrive, because many of them aren’t very well trained either. (French and British troops are being sent to train some of them before they even set foot in Mali.) In the meantime, the north of Mali will really be entirely under French military rule.

This means that there will be none of the looting, rape and murder that tends to follow the Malian army’s arrival in town, but the French troops are very foreign indeed. They are not even Muslims, in a country that is nine-tenths Muslim. They were welcomed as liberators when they rolled into the northern towns in the last few days, but if they stay for too long they will become first unpopular, and then hated. That’s just the way things work.

Once African troops replace the French, the next task is to rebuild the democratic government of Mali, which was destroyed by a military coup last March. The interim president, Dioncounda Traore, says that he wants to hold elections next July, but behind the scenes the greedy young officers who made the coup still hold the real power. They will have to be sent back to their barracks before elections take place, and that will not be easy.

And the third task is to win the very different kind of war that starts in Mali now. Retaking occupied towns was easy. Now that the militants have scattered across the vast deserts of northern Mali, they will launch a different kind of war – a “war of the shadows”, conducted by raids, bomb attacks and assassinations.

Countries can survive for decades with that kind of low-intensity war going on in the background, but the only way to shrink it to a manageable level is to make a political deal. This is not impossible in Mali, because the Islamist fanatics actually hijacked the revolution from their former allies, the Tuareg separatists.

Most of the people in the north are Tuaregs, desert-dwelling people of Berber stock and nomadic heritage who are ethnically, culturally and linguistically distinct from the black African majority in southern Mali. Many of them support the separatist movement that wanted to create an independent Tuareg state in northern Mali, but few actually share the extreme religious views of the Islamist militants.

The two groups made an alliance to drive the Malian army out of the north, but the Islamists then turned on their allies and seized absolute power for themselves. Their harsh rule was resented by most people, however, and so it should be possible to isolate the Islamists if the Malian government is willing to make a deal that gets the Tuareg separatists on its side.

They won’t get independence, but they would probably settle for a large degree of autonomy for the north. It will be hard to get a new Malian government that is elected almost entirely by the votes of southerners (90 percent of the population lives in the south) to make that concession, but the alternative is a long, draining guerilla war in the north.

Was the French military intervention in Mali necessary? Yes, in the view of the United Nations, the African Union, and most Malians. Was it a success? That remains to be seen.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 7. (“But it’s…work”)

 

 

 

Sudan: Peace Through Changing Borders

11 February 2011

Sudan: Peace Through Changing Borders

by Gwynne Dyer

“The people of South Sudan, for the first time since 1898, are going to determine their own future,” declared Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin, southern Sudan’s information minister, before last month’s referendum on the region’s independence. “In fact, it will be the last-born state on this continent of Africa.” If he meant that no more African countries will split up, however, he was probably wrong.

The referendum was a resounding success from the southern point of view. It’s natural to be suspicious of referendums that produce “yes” votes of almost 99 percent, but in this case it was a genuine expression of southern opinion. The new state will become independent on 9 July, and so far it looks like the erstwhile government of undivided Sudan, based in Khartoum, will accept the outcome peacefully.

Early last month, speaking in the southern capital Juba, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir said: “I personally will be sad if Sudan splits. But at the same time I will be happy if we have peace in Sudan between the two sides.” After decades of war between the Muslim, Arabic-speaking north and the very different south, where most people speak local languages and are Christian, division makes sense. But it also creates a precedent.

That font of wisdom on geopolitical affairs, Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafy, warned a meeting of African and Arab leaders last October that southern Sudan’s independence would spread like a “disease…to all of Africa…With this precedent, investors will be frightened to invest in Africa.” But the African Union has blessed the split, while emphasising that this is a special situation and very much an exception.

It is a very special situation. About two million people have been killed in Sudan’s 43 years of civil war, the great majority of them southerners. As a result of the endless fighting, southern Sudan is one of the least developed regions in the world: the same size as France, it only has 60 km. (40 miles) of paved road. The southerners deserve their independence – but the implications are vast.

The old Organisation of African Unity, the African Union’s predecessor, had a rule that no border inherited from the colonial era could be changed. To allow frontiers to change in order to regroup people according to their ethnic, linguistic or religious identities would just open the door to endless war. For a long time, it didn’t happen.

The first partial break from the policy was the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, after many years of civil war, but that exception was explained on the grounds that Eritrea had been ruled as a separate country by the Italians. This time, however, is different.

The African Union cannot justify the division of Sudan on the grounds that the south was separate under British colonial rule; it wasn’t. This is just a pragmatic decision to divide a country because the cost in blood and treasure of keeping it united has grown too high.

If it’s okay to split up Sudan, what’s to stop other secessionist groups from launching wars of independence, knowing that if enough people are killed they will probably get their way in the end? How about Nigeria? The oil-rich southeastern region (Biafra) has tried that once already. The Congo? There was once a vicious war, backed by Western mining interests, for the independence of the province of Katanga.

The rot has already spread beyond Africa. The decision in 2008 by the NATO countries and some others to recognise the independence of Kosovo, which was still legally a province of Serbia, created a similar precedent in Europe. In fact, it is an even more sweeping precedent, because the Serbian government, unlike the Sudanese, did not assent to the separation.

If Kosovo’s independence can be recognised without Serbia’s agreement, why can’t Turkish-majority northern Cyprus become legally independent without the permission of the Greek Cypriot-dominated government in Nicosia? Why can’t the breakaway bits of Georgia be recognised as independent states? Why can’t there be an independent Kurdish state?

Why not hold the long-promised, long-denied plebiscite in divided Kashmir, and let the local people decide, district by district, whether they want to be part of Pakistan, or part of India, or independent? Why can’t the western half of New Guinea separate peacefully from Indonesia? For that matter, why can’t Tibet and Xinjiang (Sinkiang) hold referendums on independence from China?

Good questions. Most of these situations have involved bloodshed in the past, and much of it continues in the present. The sum of human happiness would probably be increased if these ethnically distinct areas got to choose their own futures, and it is not necessarily true that changing the borders would be a bloodier business than keeping them frozen in place.

Conflict is still possible between Sudan and South Sudan, especially over the sharing of the oil revenue. Most of the oil is in the south, but the pipelines take it out through the north. So far, however, both sides are behaving in a very grown-up way, and together they are an advertisement for the virtues of letting borders change.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6, 7 and 8. (“The old…high”)

Gwynne Dyer’s latest book, “Climate Wars”, is distributed in most of the world by Oneworld.