Today, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed genocide charges against Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s president. “Prosecution evidence shows that Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups on account of their ethnicity,” said Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor, in a news conference. The charges are the first in that court against a sitting head of state.
Diplomats, especially China’s Wang Guangya, have said that the move will jeopardize peace talks, and that is undoubtedly true, but negotiations were going nowhere. In the meantime, the Janjaweed militia has, one way or another, killed an estimated 300,000 people in Darfur and displaced another 2.2 million since February 2003 when conflict erupted. Ocampo has done the right thing because, despite the political consequences, the world’s worst criminals must be brought to justice. “Charging President al-Bashir for the hideous crimes in Darfur shows that no one is above the law,” says Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch.
Well, not quite. As Dicker also noted, “It is the prosecutor’s job to follow the evidence wherever it leads.” And at this moment there are still other malefactors who have yet to be named. Bashir was able to mastermind and implement these past years because he had friends. And he had no more important backer than Beijing, Khartoum’s largest arms supplier and principal commercial partner.
Last week revealed just how close the two governments are. A couple days ago the BBC charged that China “is fueling war in Darfur.” Apparently the Chinese have been supplying military trucks and providing pilot training in violation of a United Nations arms embargo. And a few days before that the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese oil companies are preparing to go exploring for oil in Darfur.
So going after Bashir is only a first step. Ocampo should finish his job by bringing charges against Khartoum’s collaborators. It would be especially sweet if he could do that before August 8, the date of the opening ceremonies of the world’s premier sporting event. After all, they don’t call this extravaganza the “Genocide Olympics” for nothing.