Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Saint Abu Garda and the ICC

The surprise and voluntary appearance at the International Criminal Court in The Hague by Sudan's Darfur rebel leader Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, 46, is the best thing that has happened to the court in years.

The arrival and subsequent release of Abu Garda is a public relations coup for the court, which is still struggling to find its sea legs, and could serve to shame the three ranking Sudanese also indicted by the court to cooperate.

The ICC stepped into the international spotlight last year when ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked for genocide charges to be brought against Sudan President Omar al-Bashir for masterminding the Darfur conflict.

In early March, the ICC judges ordered the arrest of al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the first time the court has taken such action against a sitting head of state.

Also indicted by the ICC are two other Sudanese, Ahmad Haroun, a former cabinet minister who just recently was named the governor of Kordofan in Sudan's troubled southern regions, and Ali Kushayb, a commander of the janjaweed Arabic militia responsible for most of the death in Darfur.

Sudan has steadfastly refused to cooperate with the ICC, and like the United States, refuses to acknowledge its authority in Sudan or anywhere.

In the midst of all this, the ICC prosecutor filed charges against rebels who attacked and allegedly killed African Union peace keepers in the fall of 2007.

Abu Garda, member of the Zaghawa tribe of Sudan, has been charged with three war crimes committed in connection with the 29 September attack against the AU base at Haskanita in north Darfur.

During this attack twelve African Mission In Sudan (AMIS) soldiers were killed and eight others were severely wounded.

Reasons behind the attack are unclear. But speculation is that frustration an anger among the Darfur people and the rebels was such that the rebels attacked the inept and inert AU forces -- who some say were cooperating fully with the Sudan forces -- for not protecting them.

The ICC responded by filing charges against Abu Garda and two other rebel commanders, a move that some say was largely intended to diffuse criticism against the ICC for only indicting ranking Sudanese involved in the Darfur fighting.

After appearing in front of the court on Monday and oozing confidence, Abu Garda was allowed to leave the Netherlands, and come back voluntarily for his pre-trial hearing in October.

ICC Judge Cuno Tarfusser thanked him for coming. "The court appreciates very much your voluntary appearance," Tarfusser said. "In doing so, I think you have sent out a very good message."

This is a far cry from the way the ICC has handled cases in the past, when indictees are arrested and swiftly taken into custody, just as three Congolese militia leaders are currently, along with former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba.

If nothing else, the court's soft treatment of Abu Garda could be a signal to the other Sudanese, in particular President al-Bashir, that the court might be willing to make some accommodations if the Sudanese cooperate.

With Saint Abu Garda free to come and go as he pleases -- which includes being able to return to Darfur and presumably lead his splinter rebel group into battle -- one can only wonder how the Sudanese will react.

No comments: