Great news! Word comes from Khartoum that President Omar al-Bashir has agreed to a unilateral ceasefire in Darfur. Surely this will mean an end to the years of pain and suffering the people of Darfur have endured since 2003.
Hang on, haven’t we been here before…?
January 2007: Sudan’s Leader Agrees to 60-Day Cease-Fire in Darfur
April 2004: Signing of the Darfur Humanitarian Cease-fire
November 2003: SUDAN: Gov’t, Darfur rebels extend ceasefire for one month
Of course this new ceasefire has nothing whatsoever to do with the war crimes and genocide charges Bashir is currently threatened with. Oh no. Three pre-trial judges at the International Criminal Court are currently considering the evidence and a decision on whether to issue an arrest warrant is expected before the end of the year.
Since the ICC prosecutor’s charges were announced in July Bashir has rallied the support of other African and Arab leaders, some of whom are no doubt worried about the precedent this might set. The head of the African Union, Jean Ping, has wondered aloud about why it is that only Africans have so far been charged by the ICC (this is a bogus argument, but one we’ll tear apart another time).
Bashir has also tried to appeal to the US, Britain and France. Indicting me will destroy the peace process, he says. Except the peace process doesn’t really exist. Following the farce in Libya last year there have been no meetings between the government and the numerous rebel groups – and none are expected anytime soon.
So Bashir has tried to create the appearance of a peace process. There have been visits to Darfur, promises of aid, talk of government positions for rebels, and now this.
Regardless of whether the pre-trial judges indict Bashir or not (and they have agreed to every single one of the prosecutor’s requests so far) the investigation can be halted by the UN Security Council. There are rumours that Britain and France could be open to such a move, depending on how willing Bashir appears to be to strike a peace deal.
There is one more card Bashir has to play. There are around a thousand international aid workers in Darfur, several thousand westerners in Khartoum, and a few hundred in south Sudan. Unamid, the joint UN/AU force in Darfur, and Unmis, the UN force in south Sudan, have more than 20,000 international personnel between them. Bashir has been careful to refer to them as “guests and partners” but his aides have been less coy. Shortly after the charges were announced, one of Bashir’s senior advisers, Bona Malual, said:
No one knows what will happen if the ICC judges decide to issue an arrest warrant. Aid agencies, UN officials and western diplomats are all worried about how Bashir will react. But no one is likely to be as worried as Bashir himself. Few world leaders have been charged with war crimes. But as Charles Taylor, Slobodan Milosevic and Hissene Habre will attest those that are charged tend to face justice eventually. Bashir knows his best chance of escaping a cell in the Hague is to prevent the arrest warrant being issued in the first place.