'THE BUTCHER OF DARFUR'

Bashir: Change takes long but it does happen

Sudanese government considering handing him to the ICC.

In Summary
  • The said 'butcher' is now firmly behind bars and may yet be heading to the ICC.
  • This a possibility which back then seemed so remote that the mere gesture of attempting to arrest him seemed heroic.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The recent news that the Sudanese government is considering handing over their former president, Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court, in response to an indictment raised against him for the 2003-2006 Darfur genocide, gave me much cause for reflection.

Specifically, I thought about a friend of mine, a journalist from what I shall delicately refer to as “a sister nation”. For apart from in Kenya and Uganda, press freedom is not to be taken for granted in this region and identifying him and then quoting what he told me may easily get him into trouble.

In any case, what happened is that I met this journalist not very long after the promulgation of the new constitution of 2010.

 
 

And as those who witnessed that event which was televised live from start to finish may recall, arguably the highlight of that grand ceremony was not President Mwai Kibaki lifting the new constitution above his head triumphantly once the signing ceremony was over.

Rather it was the unexpected arrival of the Sudanese President of the time, the very same Omar al-Bashir. He arrived fashionably late after all the other VIPs were seated and strolled majestically towards the presidential dais in his magnificent robes, to loud acclaim by the Kenyan masses.

But the arrival of Bashir was not really the big headline of that day. That honour was reserved for the activists of the International Commission of Jurists, who rushed to court to apply for a warrant for Bashir’s arrest; and also, the judge who issued that warrant.

Bashir may have ended up leaving Kenya with greater haste than he had initially planned, but there was never any question that any effort would be made to arrest him.

To quote from the Kenya Law Review Commission blog, “A Warrant of arrest was issued against President Al Bashir, the President of Sudan, due to an obligation that Kenya has to arrest him should he set foot in its territory, the court has held. This followed an application by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)-Kenya which sought orders to the effect that a provisional warrant of arrest against President Bashir is issued and a subsequent order against the Minister of State for Provincial Administration to effect the said warrant of arrest.”

Now at the time this happened, I personally viewed it all as little more than a dramatic gesture by the ICJ, a civil society organisation dedicated to the defence of human rights. Bashir may have ended up leaving Kenya with greater haste than he had initially planned, but there was never any question that any effort would be made to arrest him.

However, this grand gesture by the ICJ apparently caught the eye of this journalist and remained with him until at the conference where we met in Germany, he had the opportunity to raise the question with a Kenyan.

In his eyes, what was important was not that – at the end of the day – it was all just a grand gesture. Rather he was impressed that it had been attempted at all. And that those who made the attempt did not end up in some dungeon within hours of the attempt, there to reflect at great length on their folly in causing such embarrassment to the government of Kenya.

 
 

He had considered it to be such an epic achievement; such a marvellous display of courage; such impressive solidarity with the victims of the Darfur genocide; something so completely beyond his own countrymen; that he was unending in his praise for all those who had played any part in this effort to drag “the butcher of Darfur” into a judicial process.

Well Bashir, the said “butcher”, is now firmly behind bars and may yet be heading to the ICC – a possibility which back then seemed so remote that the mere gesture of attempting to arrest him seemed heroic.

It is always a pleasure to hear your countrymen praised for something other than their prowess as long-distance runners (though that too is always very nice, of course). And the praise which this journalist had for the ICJ, and indeed for the Kenya judicial system, still rings in my ears.

It is a reminder that, as Martin Luther King, Jr said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”