The International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes yesterday, but not on the more dramatic charge of genocide. The indictment did not meet with universal approval among Africa's leaders, nor, strangely enough, with the son of the Rev. Billy Graham.
According to a quick survey conducted by the French newspaper Le Monde, there were serious misgivings about the indictment coming from all corners of the continent.
According to the article, Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union Commission, called the indictment a "threat to peace in Sudan." He went on to say that he felt that the rules of conflict were not being applied fairly, using Iraq, Gaza, Colombia and the Caucasus as examples. His position was shared by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who said the ICC seemed to be "only after Africans." The Ugandan foreign minister said that the warrant should be suspended "in order to find a compromise between assigning punishment and finding peace." The government of Ethiopia, Sudan's neighbor, simply stated that the indictment "doesn't help the peace process in Darfur."
Franklin Graham, speaking from the heart about his personal encounters with the Sudanese president, thinks al Bashir is a reasonable man who is willing to compromise. (Funny enough, that's what the Rev. Pat Robertson of 700 Club fame said back in the day about another African despot and ICC indictee, Liberia's Charles Taylor.)
For the other African leaders, I think they care less about the guilt or innocence of al-Bashir and more about the Court's proclivity to focus its lens on the sub-Sahara. They might have a point. In the end, the ICC will only go where the Security Council allows it to go. The U.S. would likely block any attempts to indict Israelis over Gaza, and the Russians would block attempts to indict over Chechnya. Once again, Africans feel they are being humiliated by the former colonial powers.
The rest of the world might feel good that one more bad guy might ultimately face judgment, but will justice be truly served if war criminals from powerful nations are free to walk, while Africans are left hanging in the breeze? Yes, I remember Milosevic. But there are hundreds more non-Africans worthy of the honor of being "served" by the ICC.
(First published March 5, World Politics Review)