After the New York Times reported that the ICC had decided to issue an arrest warrant for President Bashir, and before the announcement – less than 24 hours later – that the warrant is still pending (at least for the moment), Sabina Carlson, STAND’s former National Education Coordinator, discussed the news with her friends and colleagues at the Crops Training Center in Yei, South Sudan.
The generators switched on, the internet slowly booted up, and in my inbox was suddenly a flood of letters about the ICC deciding to issue an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, at long last. Instantly there were friends g-chatting me, asking excitedly, “what is the reaction over there?”
To be honest, no one here had even heard the news yet. Things move slowly in South Sudan – including the news. Internet is a rare blessing that I have access to for a couple hours a day, and it’s the local radio that gives us the quickest news.
So, interestingly, I was the one to break the news to my Sudanese friends that their President was the subject of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court.
The reactions were incredibly calm – perhaps from a combination of being unconvinced that this was actually happening (and not just something the little American girl was making up), and being numb to yet another empty promise by the international community (a great deal of folks said that Bashir would just buy his way out of the indictment with oil deals).
But more likely, I believe the calmness came from a sense of confidence and validation.
Simply, the Southern Sudanese do not need a drawn-out judicial process to tell them that Omar al-Bashir is guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and multiple, multiple counts of genocide. Against the loud hum of a fan, a director of the center I am at and I both rattled off the names of places where Omar al-Bashir has waged spouts of ethnic cleansing against outspoken tribes: the Nuba Mountains, Abyei, Beja, Southern Kordofan, even some northern Arab tribes, and of course, the 4 decade-long civil war with the South. Bashir’s guilty sentence has been given in many Sudanese languages by all the people he has marginalized and targeted: Nuer, Kakuwa, simple Arabic, Bari, Dinka…
And so when I asked people’s thoughts on the indictment, everyone simply turned to me and said, “This is a good thing,” and then continued with life.
Even when I asked about military reprisals, people here said, “Of course Bashir will respond with the military” without batting an eye, with some even laughing.
However, no one I have spoken to here shares the worries of the international community that the indictment would upset the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the decades long Civil War. Several friends of mine and I discussed the upcoming elections scheduled for July and the referendum on Southern independence in 2011 – if the CPA was disrupted, my friend said, “Independence will just come earlier for us – we won’t have to wait until 2011 to secede from the North.”
In fact, the issue of concern in regards to the indictment was about who would succeed Omar al-Bashir once he was out of power, and what that would mean for the CPA. The two front-runners jockeying for Bashir’s place are his Vice President, Ali Osman Taha, and his top advisor, Nafie ali Nafie. Without exception, the Southern Sudanese I spoke to admitted that both of them were undesirable, but that Nafie is the worst of the worst. Nafie is directly responsible for mass atrocities in both the South and Darfur, whereas Taha has been involved in and thus more likely to be committed to the CPA.
If anything, again, the Southern Sudanese I spoke to seemed calm and validated – they are intent on putting one foot in front of the other towards a self-sufficient South Sudan, and this is simply the world starting to walk the path to justice that the Southerners had begun long ago…
**It would later turn out that this was just a leak by diplomats close to the Court and the arrest warrant had not yet been issued – more information to come when the warrant is officially issued.