Islamic Bloc Backs War Crimes Trials, But Not for Muslim Leader
August 6, 2008 - 4:45 AMIslamic nations trying to prevent the handover of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court has been pressing for the ICC to try Israeli leaders.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) executive committee held an emergency meeting in Saudi Arabia on Monday and urged the U.N. Security Council to block indefinitely any ICC move against Bashir.
By contrast, the OIC last month described the arrest of Karadzic as a major step towards ending impunity and delivering justice for the victims of atrocities during the Bosnian war in the mid-1990s.
Karadzic is now before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, where he faces charges relating to the siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica.
Prosecutors at the ICC – also based in The Hague – in a recent report accused Bashir of involvement in genocide, crimes against humanity and murder relating to the Darfur conflict. The U.N. puts the death toll there at up to 300,000 since the fighting erupted in early 2003.
ICC pre-trial judges are expected to make a decision within days on whether to grant the prosecutors’ request for an arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader.
In both the Karadzic and Bashir cases, the victims were and are Muslims. But while the Bosnian Serb is a European non-Muslim who hid from justice for more than a decade, the Sudanese is an Arab Muslim and sitting head of state.
This week’s OIC meeting in Jeddah heard a statement by the body’s secretary-general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, declaring that the ICC’s action against Bashir amounted to “the politicization of a purely legal issue” and set a “dangerous precedent.”
The 57-member OIC expressed no such concerns in the case of Karadzic.
While Karadzic’s trial -- as Ihsanoglu said on July 22 -- would lead to “a new era of enduring reconciliation, peaceful coexistence and security for the peoples of the Balkans,” Bashir’s trial – the IOC said this week – would seriously threaten stability in Darfur and the region.
One case that the OIC would like to see taken up by the ICC is the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Last March, Ihsanoglu told a summit of OIC leaders in Senegal that Israeli leaders responsible for “aggressions and heinous crimes” against Palestinians should “be brought before international justice designed for these kind of acts ... such as the International Criminal Court.”
Ihsanoglu, a Turkish academic who became secretary-general of the Jeddah-based OIC in 2005, also has complained of what he calls “double standards” on the part of the ICC, saying it focused on Sudan while ignoring atrocities in the Middle East and elsewhere.
‘Crime of impunity’
Other international organizations that count Sudan among their members – the African Union (A.U.), the Arab League and the Non-Aligned Movement – also have expressed opposition to Bashir’s indictment at Khartoum’s request.
The A.U. says it is concerned that an arrest warrant could negatively impact a joint A.U.-U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur, known as UNAMID. Khartoum has threatened to expel the peacekeepers if the indictment goes ahead.
In the U.N. Security Council, non-permanent members South Africa and Libya backed by veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China have led calls to delay any action against Bashir for at least 12 months, a measure permitted under the 1998 statute that set up the ICC.
The U.S. last week opposed attempts to insert any language noting African calls to suspend ICC action against Bashir into a resolution rolling over the UNAMID mandate. At the end of a five-hour debate, a reference to the African position was included, and the U.S. abstained rather than support a paragraph which U.S. envoy Alejandro Wolff said sent the wrong message about impunity.
“There is no compromise on the issue of justice,” Wolff said after the late-night vote. “The crime of impunity has gone on too long and the United States felt that it was time to stand up on this point of moral clarity and make clear that this permanent member of the Security Council will not compromise on the issue of justice.”
In their opposition to the indictment of Bashir, some African and Arab critics have suggested the ICC is being used as a tool against Sudan by Western countries.
Members of the Arab League’s parliamentary body said the charges against Bashir were part of a “package” of policies adopted by the U.S. after 9/11, while the Arab Lawyers’ Union said the U.S. was using the court to punish Bashir.
Writing in the Saudi daily Arab News Wednesday, veteran Amman-based journalist Osama al-Sharif said international courts were being “used to serve the narrow political interests of influential parties.”
He questioned why the ICC did not tackle the plight of Palestinians, or that of the “tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghanis [who] have lost their lives as a result of a deliberate act of war against them by the United States.”
Among those in the Arab world to welcome the ICC prosecutor’s report was the non-governmental Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), which called it “a significant step towards limiting the impunity exercised by government regimes in the Arab world.”
The rights group said it was noteworthy “that many within the Arab region seeking or advocating for the immunity of Sudanese officials” had earlier been supportive of the ICTY’s prosecution of the former Serbian president, the late Slobodan Milosevic, who was accused of the same types of crimes as those committed in Darfur.