Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Bashir shows his defiance in the face of the International Criminal Court’s warrant for his arrest (Photo from De Welt).

Some recent news coming out of Darfur is that a Sudanese aid worker with Canadian agency Fellowship for African Relief (based in Ontario) has been shot to death. It has been suggested that there is a link with the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment of Sudanese President Bashir, though at this stage it’s only speculation (UNAMID is investigating the crime). A clearer link can be made between the indictment and the kidnapping about two weeks ago in Darfur of three aid workers, including Laura Archer, a Canadian nurse. Happily, the kidnapped workers were released three days later, but Médecins sans frontières (MSF) had to withdraw almost all of its expatriate employees from the region. This will only compound the already drastic effects of President Bashir’s expulsion of a number of humanitarian NGOs from Darfur in the wake of the ICC indictment.

A dangerous trend is apparent here. There is no justification for transferring anger about the application of international criminal justice to aid agencies. Yet President Bashir has managed to take this position to the extreme with his expulsion of aid agencies from the country. But is it the government or other actors who are behind the latest attacks? World leaders, including the Canadian government, need to make sure that a high-quality investigation is carried out into these latest attacks, to prevent the impunity that already surrounds the expulsion of humanitarian agencies from going any further.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has issued a plea for the international community to pressure Bashir to reverse his decision to expel aid agencies from Sudan. This is certainly a welcome move, but I fear that without a targeted approach, international condemnation will only harden Bashir’s resolve. It’s time to get creative! Can some of the Arab states that Bashir considers his allies – who have already said they will not arrest Bashir on their soil – be harnessed to put some (friendly) pressure on Bashir to allow humanitarian agencies pursue their work in the country?

In this increasingly desperate situation, what will work best with Bashir – international condemnation, or a more conciliatory approach? Bashir is, after only, only a human being. Humans can be persuaded, but they can also be stubborn and inflexible. It’s an indication of how bad things have gotten that in this particular scenario, what’s at stake are thousands upon thousands of lives.

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