In the halls around the office I heard the head of another organization speaking into her cell phone; “I am just calling you as a test for the NGO (non-governmental organization) security network.” The aid community in Sudan is noticeably jumpy this week as the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, the International Criminal Court (ICC), is asking for the arrest of the Sudanese President, Omar Al-Beshir (picture). Prosecutors at the ICC heard arguments that the Sudanese president was actively involved in genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity “by masterminding a campaign of murder, torture and rape by government troops and Arab militias in the Darfur region.” UN estimates are that 300,000 persons have been killed in Darfur and 2.7 million persons are displaced. (Mail and Guardian 3 March 2009) While the UN and African Union has a 13,000 strong peace keeping contingent in Sudan it is vulnerable to both government and public reaction to the ICC edict.
Accusing an acting head of state of war crimes and issuing a warrant for his arrest is unprecedented. For northern Sudanese this is seen as outside Western interference in internal matters. The West sees the genocide in Darfur as something that transcends national sovereignty and must be called to justice. Khartoum says they will ignore the warrant. The UN has no mandate to carry out Beshir's arrest.
So as all this drama unfolds today, the 4th of March, we will keep our heads low in southern Sudan where there isn’t expected to be much backlash from the court’s ruling.