The problem with the African Union
It’s not about Malawi not hosting or Ethiopia hosting al-Bashir. It is about thousand lives that continue to be lost and millions more displaced under al-Bashir’s leadership in Sudan. Where is AU’s voice on this continued assault to humanity?
In a fancy suit, yellow tie and wire-rimmed glasses, Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, looked deceptively respectable as he sat waiting for his sentencing two weeks ago.
Luckily, Richard Lussick, the presiding judge at the international court near The Hague, was not fooled.
He gave the former warlord 50 years in prison for his role in instigating murder, mutilation, rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers in Sierra Leone’s horrifying civil war during the 1990s.
“Leadership must be carried out by example, by the prosecution of crimes, not the commission of crimes.
“The lengthy prison term underscored Mr. Taylor’s position as a government’s leader during the time the crimes were committed,” underlined the judge in a statement read before the court.
But a 50-year sentence, however, does not replace millions of amputated limbs; it does not bring back the 50 000 that were murdered and it does not heal the wounds of thousands that were raped or forced to become sexual slaves.
Africa, through the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) then, could have salvaged these heinous and brutal crimes in the first place.
But the OAU stuck in the mud of its tragic belief of non-intervention, just watched as Taylor unleashed untold terror on civilians.
Even worse, after he was forced out of office in 2003 by the pressure from the international community, the African Union (AU), the later-day OAU, was too timid to commit the warlord to justice.
Is this how Africa should tolerate impunity?
Taylor’s story and the way the AU handled it, is part of Africa’s painful history, rich with wisdom for posterity to drink from.
Just like German’s Adolf Hitler, Uganda’s Idi Amin, Serbia’s Radko Mladic and Italy’s Benito Mussolini, among others, Taylor was a ‘madman’ with too much power to destroy. Such men are dangerous. The world needs to intervene on humanitarian grounds and stop these despots!
If it was not for western intervention in Libya, how many could have died, or been displaced, raped and tortured under tyrant Muammar Gaddafi’s offensive towards pro-democracy rebels? Would Gaddafi not have committed genocide by today?
These are the questions, today, at the heart of the ICC warrant of arrest on Sudan’s leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
On March 4, 2009 Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for al Bashir on seven charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, Extermination and rape.
Bashir came to power by in a bloodless military coup in 1989. Over the years, he has allegedly resorted to force to maintain his position.
The media, both local and international, have revealed how al Bashir developed a policy exploiting real or perceived differences between tribes in order to destroy those ethnic groups which represented a greater threat to his power – the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes.
Consequently, two main rebel groups – the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) emerged in opposition to the government and combated joint actions of the Armed Forces and the Janjaweed militias.
The clashes have caused extended armed conflict and serious atrocities. Since 2003, according to the UN, at least 300 000 have reportedly been killed in Darfur and 4 million displaced.
Furthermore, widespread rape and pillaging have been part of the attacks, which also took place in the refugee camps. Under the Rome Statute, these amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Of course, the scale and scope of these atrocities are subject to debate. But this does not make the story of murder, rape, pillage, hunger and child trafficking in Sudan a hoax. It is a true story and it has to be stopped!
But how can Africa stop this? This is a question for AU.
Article 4 (h) of its Constitutive Act, 2000, the AU is empowered to implement the principle of ‘human intervention’ in cases not different from what is happening in al Bashir’s Sudan. This is yet to be implemented.
In fact, since that warrant of arrest was issued in 2009, AU’s attention has completely shifted from the suffering of millions to the protection of one man who is committing them.
The AU has come out aggressively shielding al Bashir from prosecution. At a summit in Kampala, Uganda, two years ago, the AU adopted a final resolution that stresses non-cooperation with the Hague tribunal and also condemned the conduct of its prosecutor, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, the Argentina expert on human rights.
In fact, the then chairperson, late Bingu wa Mutharika even went offensive.
“Let us look at the position of the ICC. Do they really have a right to tell us what to do on this continent? It’s a question. Do they have a right to try Sudan, who’s not a member of ICC? I don’t know.
“As chairman, I would not sweep the issue of al-Bashir under the table,” he said underscoring that al-Bashir could not and would not be tried outside the African soil.
He added that AU neither condones impunity nor condones any crimes that may have been committed by anybody, whether he’s a head of State or not, against humanity.
“But these things need to be proved,” he continued, “so we are asking the United Nations General Assembly to postpone the execution of that arrest warrant for 12 months, during which we will look at the issue and see if the evidence they have corroborates with ours.”
But the problem at hand is neither about evidence, postponement of the arrest warrant nor about Malawi not hosting al-Bashir or Ethiopia hosting him. All these are secondary.
The primary problem is about the continued bloodshed, murder, looting, human displacement, rape and pillage in Sudan. Where is AU’s voice in it? Does AU want to tame another Taylor in al- Bashir?
“AU does not have a solution to the al-Bashir problem. Surprisingly, it is failing to subject itself to world solutions. This is hypocrisy,” says Joseph Chunga, lecturer in comparative politics at Chancellor College.
He adds: “I understand that imperialism is still rife with developed nations still wanting to dictate African politics. I also reckon that ICC is not a neutral body. But as long as Africa continues to fail to handle its internal problem with urgency, the continent will always fall prey to Western dictates.”
He proposed two solutions for AU.
“One, AU needs the vigilance of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The body, with outright, told off Laurent Ghabo when he tried to hold on to power something which led to death of many. Two, Africa needs a number of outspoken independent States like Botswana who can publicly reject impunity of fellow African leaders and have the determination to arrest them,” he advised.
Never mind the reason of aid which was tied to her decision, Joyce Banda took a bold step when she promised to arrest al-Bashir the moment he steps on Malawi’s soil.
Surely, if a number of African countries took such a bold step in the early 90s, Taylor could not have aided amputation of million limbs, and the 50 000 could not have been dead today. They could all have been around helping in the development of the continent.