The World from Berlin Al-Bashir Arrest Warrant a 'Symbolic Gesture'?

Europe and North America stand behind the decision of the International Criminal Court to indict Sudanese President al-Bashir for war crimes. But many governments -- and many German commentators -- fear the situation in Darfur may now get worse.

The idea, of course, was to begin the process of punishing those responsible for the horrific abuses perpetrated in the Sudanese region of Darfur. But the arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, issued on Wednesday by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, may end up having exactly the opposite effect.

A Sudanese man kisses a poster of President Omar al-Bashir during a protest against the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court on Wednesday.

A Sudanese man kisses a poster of President Omar al-Bashir during a protest against the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court on Wednesday.

Al-Bashir on Thursday announced that he was expelling 10 foreign aid groups now working inside Sudan. He accused the groups of having broken "all laws and regulations" and said that "we will deal responsibly and decisively with anybody who tries to target the stability and security of the country."

The Sudanese leader also addressed a crowd of supporters gathered on the streets of Khartoum. "We have refused to kneel to colonialism," he said. "That is why Sudan has been targeted … because we only kneel to God." He accused the ICC of acting as a tool of Western colonialists who are after Sudan's oil reserves.

The ICC on Wednesday indicted al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture, though the court stopped short of charging him with genocide. All the charges stem from years of violence in Darfur, where some 200,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians. Sudanese government troops and government-backed militias have been responsible for much of the violence. Sudan says only 10,000 people have died in the fighting.

Numerous aid agencies have joined the UN in turning the Darfur effort into largest humanitarian aid effort in the world. But with al-Bashir now revoking the licenses of several international groups, many think the situation in Darfur could worsen. Reuters cites anonymous UN officials who say the expulsions are bad news for Darfuris.

China, which buys a majority of Sudan's oil, came out against the arrest warrant on Thursday. Its leaders said the ICC decision could further destabilize Sudan. China also urged the UN Security Council on Thursday to suspend the case against al-Bashir. Sudan, for its part, demanded that the "criminal plot against our country" be halted. Most Western countries threw their support behind the decision, but on Thursday morning the commentators in German papers sound less confident.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Even before the arrest warrant was issued, Sudan started to spread around a threat: Should al-Bashir be indicted, 37 nations, mostly African, would withdraw from the International Criminal Court. Anyone who thinks this way has failed to grasp the idea behind international criminal law and the concept of an independent judiciary. The authority of the courts has to rest on the fact that they don't act according to political convenience. The United Nations Security Council long ago discredited itself by making decisions based on the interests of its individual members and on tactical calculations. The ICC in The Hague cannot fall into this trap."

"There are understandable concerns about the arrest warrant, including those voiced by foreign aid groups operating in Darfur. There may also be examples of peace coming more quickly to crisis regions if the despots involved don't have to fear the courts .... But after the massive crimes committed in Sudan in recent years, it would be naïve to think everything will turn out well if only al-Bashir is spared a trial. If the ICC followed that logic, it would have to ignore its own mandate."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"There may be no one in Western democracies without a heartfelt wish to see al-Bashir convicted. Still, one has to ask whether this desire for justice might stand in the way of peace in Darfur, or the protection of civilians."

"The Arab League, the African Union, Russia and China all support al-Bashir… It isn't the international community which opposes al-Bashir, but rather Europe and North America. So far, they haven't intervened decisively. The international protection force is insufficiently outfitted and support is pathetic. As long as there is no political (and military) will, an arrest warrant will remain a symbolic gesture which will ease our own consciences more than anything. The real victims have always been the people in Darfur."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"One thing has become official: Sudan's president bears personal responsibility for the crimes perpetrated in the name of the state in Sudan, and he must answer for them. That is important for the political debate within Sudan which will now result. The ball is back in Khartoum's court. The political classes there will have to decide if, out of misplaced national solidarity, they want to continue to stand by a head of state who is sought internationally as a war criminal. Or whether they want to risk a new beginning ...."

"Elections will be held soon in Sudan, as will a referendum over the possible secession of the southern half of the country. Ongoing violence in Darfur has the potential to destabilize additional regions in the country. All serious politicians in Sudan have an interest in thinking about a democratic rebirth for their country before it collapses from within and is further sidelined in the global community. Should such a rebirth occur, the extradition of al-Bashir to The Hague would be little more than a formality."

-- Charles Hawley; 12:45 p.m. CET


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