by Austin Bay
July 16, 2008For stirring drama from the moral high ground, it's tough tobeat Emile Zola's letter of 1898 to France's President Felix Faure.
"J'Accuse," Zola wrote -- "I accuse." Zola accused the Frenchgovernment of wrongly convicting Alfred Dreyfus of espionage and treason,and pressing the trumped-up charges because Dreyfus was Jewish.
Moreover, Zola concluded the entire French defense ministry hadhidden the truth and committed a heinous cover-up. Dreyfus' conviction waslater annulled -- but after he served time in the wretched French prison onDevil's Island. The French judicial system was corrupted; the correctiveprocess was slow. Still, democratic France existed within the precioussphere of "the rule of law." Poor Dreyfus received belated but deservedjustice.
This week, a senior International Criminal Court (ICC)prosecutor decided to seek an arrest warrant for Sudan's noxious leader,Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The prosecutor accuses Bashir of committing genocideand other crimes against humanity in Sudan's Darfur region. No one who hasbeen following the savage conflict can doubt the validity of the chargesagainst Bashir or the other senior leaders in his despicable regime.
The prosecutor's press release lacks Zola's art, but as officialstatements go it packs power:
"Evidence shows that Al Bashir masterminded and implemented aplan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, onaccount of their ethnicity. ... Al Bashir failed to defeat the armedmovements, so he went after the people. ... His intent was genocide."
The Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa, Darfur's predominant ethnicgroups, rebelled against what they called "favoritism towards Arabs" byBashir's government. Bashir claims neighboring Chad supports the rebellion,and to a degree it does.
The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have died, and mostof the dead are Darfuri civilians. The fighting has created 2 millionrefugees.
The prosecutor believes that on Bashir's orders, "janjaweed"militias have committed atrocity after atrocity -- despite the presence ofan African Union peacekeeping force. The new United Nations-African Unionpeacekeeping force hasn't been effective, either.
Should the warrant be granted, the prosecutor faces a majorprocedural problem: enforcing the writ.
Politically sovereign Sudan lies outside the reach of theprosecutor's "rule of law." Send a willing policeman into Khartoum withorders to cuff Bashir, and should the cop get off the plane, his next stopwill be a jail cell -- a cell controlled by Bashir's secret police.
Arresting an armed and well-protected thug like Bashir requireseither a coup d'etat by his opponents within Sudan or regime change byforeign military action. Bashir's opposition, however, is fragmented.
Credible combat power -- well-armed, well-led, well-supportedsoldiers with full authority to use decisive, deadly force -- can bedeployed in Darfur. That will save more lives than an arrest warrant the ICCcannot enforce. The United Nations, however, has failed to get theinternational support.
The threat of prosecution does have a symbolic purpose. LikeZola's letter, it has media impact. It is an embarrassment for Bashir.
An actual warrant is an intimately personal form of harassment,putting a crimp in Bashir's travel plans should he visit countries otherthan rogues like North Korea or Eritrea. However, issuing the warrant maymake reaching a peace settlement more difficult. The ICC's decision toindict Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony ought to give peacemakers pause.Kony faced trial on murder and rape charges. Why make a peace when peacemeans jail?
Embarrassment? The threat of arrest achieves that purpose.Harassment? An issued warrant achieve this. Imprisonment? Improbable.Promoting a peace agreement? Uncertain.
But as a call for justice? "As they have dared, so shall Idare," Zola wrote in "J'Accuse." "Dare to tell the truth ..."