I've been ruminating on a dilemma ever since the International Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir a few weeks ago. Is the official warrant a good thing or a bad thing?
Bashir's been on the top ten "World's Worst Dictators" list for years. Now he's on a "World's Most Wanted" list.
The decision to issue this arrest warrant comes years after the start of the Darfur conflict. And for decades, al-Bashir waged a ruthless war against the Christian and animist South of Sudan with little outcry from world leaders.
The people of Darfur have undergone horrible atrocities, but if there is a silver lining to the situation it's the amazing amount of publicity the conflict has received. If it wasn't for actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle's work to drawing attention to the conflict, I honestly don't think people would know or care about the people of Darfur.
For example, can you name all the current brutal wars and humanitarian crises going on right now in Africa? Can you name five?
Chances are most Americans can't name more than two. In reality, there are some conflicts that have been going on longer and are even more horrific on the continent. than what is happening in Darfur
The difference is the amazing campaign by Save Darfur, GoogleDarfur, Eyes on Darfur (Amnesty International) and other groups like them who have worked tirelessly to keep the conflict before the eyes of the world.
And it is a fight...believe me.
Even in news rooms with strong commitments to cover foreign news around the world, it is a struggle to get inches and minutes devoted to stories like Darfur.
But the handing down of the arrest warrant of al-Bashir is not the end of the issues surrounding Darfur. Probably not even the beginning of the end.
The Devil We Know
If Bashir is removed from power, who will take his place? Who's more dangerous...the devil you know or the devil you don't know?
For example, was getting rid of Saddam Hussein worth the power vacuum that was created in his absence? Hussein was a despot and a vicious leader, but he did run a more secular government under which Christians were allowed to worship more freely. In the years since Hussein's ouster, Shia and Sunni Muslims have been locked in a power struggle in Iraq and most Christians have been driven from the country.
So, is it worth getting rid of Bashir?
Rev. Franklin Graham discussed conundrum in an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times earlier this month. Read more here.
In the editorial, it almost sounds as though Graham is defending Bashir; not wanting the dictator to be removed from power. However, Graham says there are greater reasons to leave Bashir in office. He writes in the Times,
"I want to see justice served, but my desire for peace in Sudan is stronger."
Bashir is a known entity. While no one agrees with what he has done, at least the world knows what to expect from him. Bashir has, on rare occasion, cooperated with nongovernmental organizations.
Graham also told CBN News recently that...
"There are radical elements in Bashir's government that are far more radical than he is. You could remove Bashir tomorrow and who's to say that someone worse won't come to power? That's what all of us are afraid of."
Still the Devil
On the other side of the argument for and against Bashir remaining in power...Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town, SA.
Tutu argues that Africa cannot afford to let Bashir off the hook.
"African leaders argue that the court's action will impede efforts to promote peace in Darfur. However, there can be no real peace and security until justice is enjoyed by the inhabitants of the land. There is no peace precisely because there has been no justice. As painful and inconvenient as justice may be, we have seen that the alternative - allowing accountability to fall by the wayside - is worse." (Click here to read Mr. Tutu's entire op-ed.)
To allow Bashir to remain in power encourages other would-be dictators that they, too, can run roughshod over justice and get away with it. The world will turn a blind eye and issues slaps on the wrist occasionally, but in general you CAN get away with murder.
However, if the United Nations follows through and actually arrests Bashir, it may at least give other dictators pause when thinking about unleashing hell against a civilian population.
Beyond this, look at what the man has done in the weeks following the arrest warrant. Bashir has kicked out most-if not all-aid organizations out of Darfur. It shows he has no regard for the Darfuris-never has, never will. They are technically under his authority, but he couldn't care less about them. Worse-his government backed militia still raids camps.
And, if there is one thing history has taught us it is that when the press and the aid groups are kicked out, violence runs rampant because there is no one keeping it in check.
Is this really a man to be left unpunished?
I believe there would be a power vacuum in Sudan if Bashir was removed right now. The reason for the lack of both strong AND viable opposition in Bashir's government is because the world ignored Bashir's treachery for decades. The world has allowed a culture of war to be bred into the people living in Sudan.
Had the United Nations-and the individual countries it represents-acted 20 years ago when the war between the Muslim North and the mainly Christian and animist South heated up, perhaps Bashir would have been deposed a long time ago. Perhaps the brutality in Darfur would not have happened?
I think there is a middle ground between both Tutu and Graham. Yes. Bashir needs to go. It's just a matter of the right timing and finding the right person to replace him. Removing Bashir now, before the Sudanese have their chance at electing his replacement this summer may undermine the progress of the past four years under the peace accord of the North and South.
I am not an advocate of "being the world's policemen," but we are also our "brother's keeper." We are mandated to look out for those who cannot take care of themselves.
Care to add your thoughts to the discussion? E-mail me.