On Saturday, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir visited Darfur, the “scene of the crime” of the legal case between himself and the International Criminal Court [ICC] in a visit that was described by some as a surprise. However taking into account the recent activities and statements made by the Sudanese government, especially with regards to the defiant language it adopted even before the issuance of the international indictment [such a visit] was anticipated. In the context of this escalatory language, Al-Bashir said in front of the people of Darfur that Ocampo’s memorandum [of indictment] was “under my shoe.”
Al-Bashir also hinted at the possibility of expelling diplomatic missions and foreign forces in the context of this current confrontation, calling for the revoking of his indictment and warrant for arrest, and not just its suspension, “otherwise it is up to them to cancel it and drink its water” [an Arab insult]. Al-Bashir added a new dimension to the escalation when he warned the West saying “we slaughtered the Colonial Hicks Pasha [in 1883] and we slaughtered the British Governor Gordon Pasha .” However these references are not imprinted upon the memory of the West today in the same way that images of slaughter carried out by members of Al Qaeda are, and so is therefore a connection to terrorism in their minds.
There is something akin to a consensus between the different sides that are concerned with Sudan away from the auctions, slogans and statements, which is that escalation does not work, and will not help to find a solution. Escalation similarly did not help in the past when all indications pointed to the issuance of an international indictment against Al Bashir. Khartoum’s rejection of Cairo’s proposal to convene an international conference for the Darfur crisis as an entry point to address the issue as a whole was also not encouraging. This refusal – if it was as a result of the [policy] of escalation- was ill-advised, while if it was on the basis of what some have reported, which was a refusal to internationalize the Darfur crisis, then the crisis has amplified and become internationalized [in any case]; otherwise what is the meaning of the presence of internationally financed and officially acknowledged African troops stationed in Darfur?
The reality is that there is a real dilemma, and it is in Khartoum’s interests to contain it, for while many do not want to see the President of a state brought to court and tried for war crimes or indicted by international warrants while still in power, many Arab states believe that it would be difficult for the Arabs to reject the ICC, especially at the same time that an International Tribunal is being held in the case of the Rafik Al Hariri assassination. The Arab League also indicated that they are looking to take actions to demand the prosecution of Israeli officials over what occurred in the Gaza Strip during the previous war; therefore it would shatter its own credibility were it to stand against the convening of international trials.
There is no question that human rights violations occurred in Darfur on a large-scale and for a long-period of time, and that various armed groups were involved in this, whether they are affiliated to the government or [internal] movements from within Darfur. The problem is that instead of looking for a political solution, the Sudanese government exacerbated the situation, armed militias and worked on the building of [internal] movements within Darfur, until they proliferated to the extent that they ended efforts for negotiation and proposed solutions.
Khartoum did not improve its reading of the new international reality which allowed the Darfur issue to gain international momentum, which did not even occur with regards to the [civil war] in Southern Sudan, even though the war there was longer and more violent. Today Khartoum continues to follow the same wrong approach and have pursued the language of escalation rather than pursuing negotiation and searching for solutions to a war whose victims first and foremost are the people of Sudan. This battle will not be won by making noise against Ocampo, or with the threat of slaughter, but by cooperating with Arab and non-Arab countries who want to work with Khartoum to halt the war in Darfur, as an entry point to addressing the international indictment [against Al-Bashir].