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Sudan

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Ratko Mladic and the End of Impunity

31 May 2011

Ratko Mladic and the End of Impunity

by Gwynne Dyer

Last week’s arrest of the former Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko Mladic, for the murder of 7,500 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995, helped Serbia’s campaign for membership in the European Union. But more importantly, it is a big step in the international effort to enforce the law against those who used to be free to murder and torture with impunity.

They were free to do so because the old rule was: kill your wife or your neighbour, and you will be punished for murder. Kill thousands of innocent people while in the service of the state, and you will get a medal. The state was above the law, and so were its servants.

That ancient tradition was first challenged after the Second World War, when political and military leaders of the defeated Axis powers were tried for war crimes and for the newly defined crimes of aggression and genocide. But it was an innovation with no follow-up – until the genocides in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the early 1990s forced the international community to act again.

In 1993 the United Nations Security Council set up the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. The following year a similar tribunal was created to investigate the genocide in Rwanda. But these were ad hoc courts to address specific crimes.

What was really needed was a permanent international court to enforce the law against politicians and officials in countries where the government could not or would not bring them to justice in the local courts. The Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court (ICC) was signed by over 150 countries in 1998, and the treaty came into effect in 2002.

Since its creation, the ICC has opened three investigations at the request of the local government (Uganda, the Central African Republic, and Congo-Kinshasa), two at the request of the UN Security Council (Libya and Sudan), and one at the initiative of chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Kenya). Most of the killers will escape its net, of course, but two dozen people have already gone to trial.

The ICC has no jurisdiction over crimes committed before it created, so Ratko Mladic will go before the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, but it’s really all part of the same institution. The major complaint against this new international legal system is that it moves too slowly – but that could even be an advantage.

It took sixteen years to track down and arrest Mladic, and his trial will probably take several more. That is a long time, but it also suggests a certain inexorability: they will never stop looking for you, and eventually they will probably get you. That has a powerful deterrent effect.

It is almost universally assumed by ordinary Kenyans, for example, that the inter-tribal carnage in Kenya in 2008 after the ruling party stole the last election was launched and orchestrated by senior political and military figures. Supporters of the leading opposition party, which was cheated of its electoral victory, began killing people of the Kikuyu tribe (most of whom backed the government), as soon as the results were announced.

The ruling party responded by using not only its own tribal supporters but also the army and police to kill opposition supporters, especially Luos and Kalenjins. Over a thousand people were killed and more than half a million became “Internally Displaced Persons.”

Another national election is due next year, and Kenyans fear that it might happen again. However, three powerful men from each side, including the deputy prime minister, the secretary to the cabinet, and the former commissioner of police, have been summoned before the ICC to answer charges of “crimes against humanity.”

There will inevitably be a long delay before these men are tried, but that is actually a good thing, said Ken Wafula, a human rights campaigner in Eldoret, the city in the Rift Valley that was the epicentre of the slaughter. “Those who are supposed to incite will see what ICC has done, and they will not be ready to (stir up violence) for fear of maybe a warrant coming out.”

Many suspect that the Sudanese regime’s acceptance of the overwhelming “yes” vote in the recent independence referendum in southern Sudan was similarly driven by fear among top officials in Khartoum that using force would expose them to the same kind of ICC arrest warrant that has already been issued for President Omar al-Bashir over the Darfur genocide.

So long as they stayed in power, of course, they would be safe. But what if the wave of democratic revolutions sweeping the Arab world comes south to Sudan? They would become hunted men, and probably be handed over to the ICC for trial. So they seem to have opted for the peaceful path instead.

Even after sixteen years, the ICC got Ratko Mladic. It got most of the surviving organisers of the genocide in Rwanda. The likelihood of being pursued by the ICC represents a real risk for senior political and military leaders who contemplate using force against their own people. They may do it anyway – consider Libya, Syria and Yemen at the moment – but it is nevertheless a genuine deterrent, and sometimes it saves lives.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 14. (“Since…trial”; and “So…instead”)

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

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.

Ivory Coast: A Tale of Two Countries

12 December 2010

Ivory Coast: A Tale of Two Countries

By Gwynne Dyer

All the foreigners and about half the Ivorians agree that Alassane Ouattara won last month’s presidential election in Ivory Coast – but not the southerners, who say that it was their man, Laurent Gbagbo. So the Election Commission declared Ouattara the winner, and the Constitutional Council declared Gbagbo the winner.

It’s been eight years now since Ivory Coast, once the richest country in West Africa, was divided. This election was supposed to end the division, but it has just perpetuated it. Maybe it’s time to accept that Ivory Coast is two countries, not one.

Once the notion of dividing an African country in two was unthinkable. The basic rule of the old Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was that the former colonial borders must remain inviolable, since if they could be changed there might be a generation of civil wars.

But there was a generation of civil wars anyway – in Nigeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Liberia, Congo and Sudan, to mention a few. There are far more ethnic groups in Africa than there are countries: some vie for dominance within the existing borders, while others simply want to secede and form their own countries.

There is also a religious split between mainly Muslim and predominantly Christian regions that extends right across the continent, but the dividing line runs THROUGH a number of countries, not between them. From Ivory Coast in West Africa to Sudan on the Red Sea, the north of every country is Muslim, and the south is Christian.

The ban on division was breaking down even before the OAU was replaced by the African Union in 2002. Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia in 1993 was accepted by the OAU, although the subsequent secession of Somaliland and Puntland from Somalia has not received official blessing. And next month southern Sudan will almost certainly secede from the rest of the country in a referendum overseen by the African Union.

It’s becoming almost commonplace – and maybe Ivory Coast is a suitable case for treatment. It enjoyed three decades of peace and prosperity under the rule of its first post-independence president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, but since his death in 1993 there has been almost continuous political upheaval. Finally, in 2002, rebel “New Forces” in the army seized control of the Muslim north and split the country.

It has remained split ever since, and there are some 8,000 United Nations peacekeepers in the country. But neither negotiations nor outside pressure have ended the division – and neither have elections.

Reunification was supposed to be achieved by the recent election, which was closely scrutinised by all manner of foreign observers from Africa and beyond. Almost everybody voted on the basis of ethnic and religious loyalties, and the winner was a Muslim northerner, Alassanne Ouattara. He got 54.1 percent of the votes, to 45.9 percent for the incumbent, President Laurent Gbagbo.

Gbagbo is a Christian southerner, and he lost because there are a few hundred thousand more people in the Muslim north of the country. But he did control the Constitutional Court, which promptly declared that hundreds of thousands of northern votes were invalid, either because the voters in question were actually foreigners, or because they simply didn’t exist.

So Ouattara was inaugurated as president at a luxury hotel in Abidjan guarded by United Nations troops, with the blessing of the UN, the African Union, the European Union and the United States. But at the presidential palace, guarded by the Ivorian army, Gbagbo was also sworn in for a new term as president. “We didn’t ask anyone to come and run our country,” said Gbagbo defiantly. “Our sovereignty is something I am going to defend.”

The African Union is trying very hard these days to ensure that electoral results are respected in Africa, so it has suspended Ivory Coast’s membership until Ouattara is actually in power. Since Gbagbo still has the support of the army and controls the state television channel, however, it will be very hard to get him out. Besides, the rights and wrongs of the situation are not as clear-cut as they seem.

Because Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest exporter of cocoa, was the richest country in West Africa, for decades it received a large flow of immigrants from the poorer countries to the north, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso. The immigrants were all Muslims, and their languages were closely related to Dioula, the dominant language of northern Ivory Coast. They were all illegal, of course, but some of them voted anyway.

Ivorian elections have therefore long been troubled by accusations that many voters in the north are not citizens. Even Ouattara himself was banned from running in the 2002 election because his parents, it was alleged, were from Burkina Faso. And it doesn’t matter who is right: southerners will always think they have been cheated if their candidate loses, while northerners will always insist that the vote was legitimate.

The problem has crippled Ivory Coast for almost twenty years, and it will not go away. Mercifully, the killing so far has only been in the thousands, not the tens or hundreds of thousands. But if Ivorians can’t resolve the current dispute quickly, it may be time to consider a divorce.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 11. (“Reunification…Gbagbo”; and “So Ouattara…defend”)

The Nile: Water War?

24 May 2010

The Nile: Water War?

By Gwynne Dyer

After he signed the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat said: “The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.” Well, the world kept turning, and now a potential war over water is creeping onto Egypt’s agenda.

Egypt is the economic and cultural superpower of the Arab world: its 78 million people account for almost a third of the world’s Arabic-speaking population. But 99 percent of it is open desert, and if it were not for the Nile river running through that desert, Egypt’s population would not be any bigger than Libya’s (5 million). So Cairo takes a dim view of anything that might diminish the flow of that river.

Back in 1929, when the British empire controlled Egypt, Sudan, and most of the countries further upstream in East Africa, it sponsored an agreement giving Cairo the right to veto any developments upstream that would decrease the amount of water in Nile. The rationale at the time was that the upstream countries had ample rainfall, whereas Egypt and Sudan (at the time ruled as one country) depended totally on the Nile’s waters.

Thirty years later, in 1959, when Egypt and Sudan were already independent but all of the upstream states except Ethiopia were still colonies, Egypt and Sudan signed another agreement that left only 10 percent of the Nile’s water to the seven upstream countries, while giving Egypt almost 80 percent and Sudan the rest. The argument was still the same: the countries further upstream had rainfall, while it hardly ever rains in Egypt or Sudan.

Now the upstream countries that got almost no water in that deal are rejecting it. Thirteen years ago, they persuaded Egypt and Sudan to start talks on the river, but they have now concluded that the two Arab countries really only joined the talks to prevent any new deal. So they are now going ahead without them.

Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia signed an agreement on 14 May to seek more water from the Nile. Kenya signed last week, and the Congo and Burundi are expected to do so soon. Kenya’s minister of water resources, Charity Ngilu, described the 1929 treaty as “obsolete and timeworn”, and said that Egypt and Sudan had “no choice” but to negotiate a reallocation of the Nile’s waters.

The Egyptian government replied that the new agreement “is in no way binding on Egypt from a legal perspective,” and that “Egypt will not join or sign any agreement that affects its share.” It’s an understandable perspective, since Cairo must figure out how to feed not 78 but 95 million Egyptians in only fifteen years’ time.

But it is a perspective that gets little sympathy in Addis Ababa, which must feed 91 million Ethiopians now but will have to find food for 140 million fifteen years from now. All the countries in East Africa and the Horn of Africa have far higher population growth rates than Egypt, and they are getting worried about how to feed their people. So they want to use some of the Nile’s water for irrigation projects for their own.
Ethiopia, whose rivers provides 85 percent of the water that eventually reaches Egypt, is especially militant. As Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi said earlier this year: “The current regime cannot be sustained. It’s being sustained because of the diplomatic clout of Egypt. There will come a time when the people of East Africa and Ethiopia will become too desperate to care about these diplomatic niceties. Then, they are going to act.”

Predictions of “water wars” are commonplace, and yet they hardly ever happen: it’s almost always cheaper to cut a deal and share the water. But the Nile basin contains 400 million people today, and Egypt and Sudan, with only 120 million people, are using almost all of its water.

In fifteen years’ time there will be almost 800 million people in the Nile basin, and only 150 million of them will be Egyptians and Sudanese. It is very hard to believe that the latter two countries will still be able to keep 90 percent of the river’s water for their own use. On the other hand, how do they survive without it?

In the past, Egypt has safeguarded its share by threats of military action. Since it was in an entirely different military league from the countries to the south, those threats had some substance. But now the military disparities are less impressive, and Egypt’s options have narrowed dramatically.

As Meles Zenawi said recently: “I think it is an open secret that the Egyptians have troops that are specialised in jungle warfare. Egypt is not known for its jungles. So if these troops are trained in jungle warfare, they are probably trained to fight in the jungles of the East African countries.”

“From time to time Egyptian presidents have threatened countries with military action if they move. While I cannot completely discount the sabre-rattling, I do not think it is a feasible option. If Egypt were to plan to stop Ethiopia from utilising the Nile waters it would have to occupy Ethiopia, and no country on earth has done that in the past.”
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 10. (“Egypt…river”; and “Predictions…water”)