To Arrest or Not to Arrest: Rebecca Hamilton

Many Sudanese, especially Darfuris living in displaced persons camps, do not feel safe speaking openly to the media. Therefore, it is difficult to gain access to Darfuris’ views about the ICC. Rebecca Hamilton, a lawyer and an international justice activist, has spent significant time in Sudan.* Her account gives us access to how Sudanese, especially Darfuris, have reacted to news that the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir:

Rebecca Hamilton's Journal*, August 2009: Do Sudanese

Think Their President Should Be Arrested?

A portrait of a white woman, around 30 years old.

I traveled to the refugee camps on the Chad-Darfur border shortly after July 14, 2008 when Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC Prosecutor and my boss at  the time, filed his application for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar  al-Bashir. For the security of both myself and the people I spoke with, I did not reveal that I was working for the ICC. And despite my curiosity about what refugees thought about the ICC, I decided not to ask them questions about it. As it turned out, I did not have to. There was not one single camp I went to where the ICC was not the first, and in some cases only, topic the  refugees wanted to discuss.   Darfuri refugees living in the IDP camp I visited expressed happiness when thinking that President al-Bashir might be brought to justice. Amira told me about the night she found out the ICC Prosecutor was applying to have Bashir arrested: We heard the news in the middle of the night. When I heard it I ran to my neighbors’ and we started shouting and laughing . . . . The first thought that came to me was, “Now there is peace.” But later I found out that there is going to be a delay. To those people who are saying that there should be a delay to give peace a chance I say no—a delay will give him [Bashir] a chance to kill more people.   Seven months later, the ICC judges did issue an arrest warrant for Bashir. I left the ICC just before the announcement was made and so was free to travel to Sudan and listen to what the people there, including those displaced inside Darfur, had to say. In the aftermath of the warrant being issued, President al-Bashir expelled 13 of the international aid organizations, and disbanded the three best domestic organizations that had been working in Darfur. The impact on the displaced population was significant, and I went to Darfur expecting those displaced by the violence to blame the ICC for threatening their already perilous existence. Amazingly, this seemed not to be the case.   One group of Omdas (leaders) told me that before the arrest warrant was issued, they believed the ICC was “the” solution to their problems. They thought that as soon as there was a warrant, al-Bashir would be taken to The Hague. Now, they say, it is clear that this is not the case. But they still hope he will be arrested in time. One woman in Kalma camp put it this way: We would love to see Bashir arrested because he is the cause of our suffering. All this camp, we are fully supportive of the ICC decision. It is my only hope—to wake up one day and find he has been arrested. our frustration is that we see he is still in power. There is no one arresting him.   However, many of the Sudanese citizens I have spoken with in the capital, Khartoum, do not look at this in the same ways as the refugees or displaced. Rather, they see the application to arrest Bashir as an affront to Sudanese sovereignty (and there are billboards plastered all across the city that reinforce this message).

Continue to the next Reading: To Arrest or Not to Arrest: African Civil Leaders where you will also find the Connections questions related to all of the To Arrest or Not to Arrest Readings.    

*Rebecca (Bec) Hamilton’s blog “The Promise of Engagement” focuses on civic advocacy and government policies related to stopping the genocide in Darfur and alleviating suffering in the region.

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