“If I go on holiday they’ll think I’m a spy”

Sometime in the next few weeks – maybe tomorrow, maybe at the end of February – the three pre-trial judges at the International Criminal Court will decide whether or not to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir.

The court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has charged Bashir on 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. No one knows what the judges will decide or when they will decide it.

(My money, for what it’s worth, is on the judges dropping the genocide charges and concentrating on mere war crimes and crimes against humanity).

For the 80 or so aid agencies and UN organisations working in Khartoum and Darfur the most immediate question is how safe it will be for them to continue their work if the arrest warrant is issued. John Holmes, the UN’s humanitarian chief, recently told me he feared everyone could get thrown out:

“We’ve told them ‘we expect you to leave our operation alone’ but I honestly don’t know what they will do. They will feel obliged to lash out in some way. Some of them are saying ‘give the bastards a good kicking’.”

Various influential figures within the Sudanese regime have made vague-ish threats about security. They’re usually somewhere along the lines of ‘well, we’d hate it if something really bad happened to you, but y’know, some people might be pretty angry’.

The latest came last week from intelligence chief Salah Gosh:

“The reactions of unruly persons cannot be predicted who may target some foreigners”

Aid groups and UN agencies have long been accused of acting as spies for the ICC and the US. Emails have been hacked into, computers confiscated, offices ransacked. So the last thing you want to do if you’re a foreigner in Sudan is start acting all suspicious around the time of the arrest warrant. In Khartoum even something as innocuous as going on holiday at the wrong time can seem suspicious.

Which is why some aid workers are considering cancelling much-needed holidays until the warrant is (or isn’t) issued. As one aid worker I spoke to over the weekend put it:

“If I go on holiday they’ll think I’m a spy.”



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