By NORMAN (OTIS) RICHMOND
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region, the first time an arrest warrant has been issued for a sitting head of state.
The three-judge panel said it had insufficient grounds for charges of genocide. This has sparked an international debate in some circles. African, Arab and progressives nations say they fear the warrant issued against al-Bashir will bring even more conflict in Darfur – where up to 300,000 people have died since 2003 – and further destabilize Sudan.
This story has made front page news in the Toronto Globe & Mail, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
Since the warrant was issued, Sudan has revoked the licenses of some foreign aid organizations, including Oxfam International, CARE International, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children. The UN says Sudan’s expulsion order removes 40 per cent of the aid workers in Darfur.
The ICC has been branded “the White man’s court” by Sudan’s information ministry. Critics question why only Africans have been charged since the ICC began its work six years ago. The head of a socialist state has also been targeted by these same forces. A temporary court, the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, indicted Slobodan Milosevic in 1999 while he was still president of Yugoslavia.
Gerald Horne, author of The End of Empires: African-Americans and India, doesn’t like this picture. Says Horne: “The ICC seems only to indict (a) African leaders or (b) European leaders who headed once socialist countries like Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia, and this is ludicrous. This is frankly trying to put neo-colonialism in new dress.”
A Vancouver lawyer, Gail Davidson, co-founder of Lawyers Against the War, doesn’t like this picture either. Davidson says she plans to lay criminal charges against former president George W. Bush when he visits Calgary on March 17.
“I’m going to attempt to initiate a private prosecution against him for torture,” Davidson said recently.
Davidson wrote a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and four federal cabinet ministers on February 23 requesting that Bush be denied entry into Canada in accordance with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Along with individuals, the act bars senior members of a government that has committed offences listed in the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act from entering the country. Torture is listed in the appendix to the act as a crime against humanity.
“An article recently published by a legal scholar has itemized 267 war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Bush as president and commander-in-chief just in the invasion and occupation of Iraq alone,” Davidson said. “But the only offence that Lawyers Against the War would concentrate on is torture.”
Davidson laid seven torture-related charges against Bush in Vancouver provincial court in 2004 while he was in the country on an official visit. Provincial court judge William Kitchen declared the charges a “nullity” because Bush had immunity from prosecution as a sitting head of state. Davidson noted that the B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled that a private prosecution of this nature cannot proceed to a first hearing without the consent of the federal attorney general, who is Robert Nicholson.
“We can assume that he won’t,” she said. “So the next step would be to take an application to the Federal Court of Canada seeking an order of mandamus compelling the attorney general to give his consent.”
Reed Brody, a Brussels-based lawyer with Human Rights Watch, makes Horne’s point. In an article in the Globe & Mail he talked about going after the globe’s leading bad guys, from North Korea’s Kim Jong-il and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to Myanmar’s Than Shwe and Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam.
However, there is no discussion of going after Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice or any European leaders.
Says Horne: “I would hope that when Mr. Bush comes to Calgary that he’s given an old fashioned Canadian welcome. Quite frankly, it would not be surprising if those of you north of the border took it upon yourself to make a citizens arrest of Mr. Bush. He needs to be sent to the Hague.”
An even seven approach to international justice is needed in the 21st Century.
Norman Richmond can be contacted by email at: Norman.O.Richmond@gmail.com.