Oil Politics: The ICC's Motives in Indicting the Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir, Have Little to Do with Human Rights Issues and More to Do with the Strategic Control of Oil Resources, Reports Khadija Sharife

By Sharife, Khadija | New African, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Oil Politics: The ICC's Motives in Indicting the Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir, Have Little to Do with Human Rights Issues and More to Do with the Strategic Control of Oil Resources, Reports Khadija Sharife


Sharife, Khadija, New African


SAVE DARFUR. YOU MAY HAVE SEEN THE ADVERT, bought the T-shirt, or slapped the sticker on your windscreen. George Clooney has done so, calling it the "first genocide of the 21st century". Thanks to the campaign, initiated by Prof Elie Wiesel, the "genocide in Darfur"-declared as such by the US Congress in 2004-is now at the top of the mass media's agenda. Wiesel described Darfur as, "the world capital of human suffering, humiliation and despair ... You know that the tragedy there seems endless as well as senseless."

The Save Darfur campaign, packaged as a humanitarian initiative, uses funds to selectively and urgently publicise the issue, softening the public to the concept of direct foreign-preferably US-military intervention as a means of protecting the Fur, Ma-salit and Zaghawa peoples of Darfur, a policy designed to decontexualise, depoliticise and militarise the root cause of the conflict: oil. Unlike Iraq-that bloody, brutal militarised invasion by the US for strategic control over, and access to, oil resources-Darfur occupies a neat, simplistic place in the Western imagination: it is the site of the genocide of innocent Africans by Arabs.

Yet all Sudanese are black and African and indigenous to the region. Most are Muslim, including the supposed targets of the "Arab Islamist" government in Khartoum-the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa-Several factors inform the connotations of Arab identity: the first is culture, depending on the geographic location of the province and its proximity to "Arabised" neighbours such as Egypt. The second is lifestyle, with "nomadic" herders pejoratively classified as "Arab Bedouins"-a marginalised people, perceived as backward in contrast to the more fortunate sedentary farmers. The third is linguistics, referring to those whose primary language is Arabic.

The deliberate misrepresentation of "ethnic" origins has been used to legitimise the discourse related to the alleged "genocide" that began in February 2003 when the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) attacked government troops. The roots of the conflict between the "Janjaweed" or horse-bound "Arab" militia, and the sedentary "Africans" are superficially traced to traditional "desert" conflicts over scarce resources--specifically water, a situation intensified by increased famine, desertification and drought, caused by climate change.

This brings the fourth factor into play, one that lies at the root of structural inequalities in Sudan: the privileged riverine elite of the Nile. Known as the "awlad al-bahar" or the descendents of Arabs who migrated to the area during the 16th century, the educated elite profited during British colonialism. This structural inequality is maintained by militarised rule.

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Ironically, Darfur, a multi-ethnic region, was historically the home of "Islamists" under the Mahdist movement, while young men from a variety of ethnic groups, including the Zaghawa, form part of the "Janjaweed" - young, armed men from socio-economically desperate regions. But rarely are conflicts over resources mentioned because they will destroy the only viable platform on which genocide charges can stick: the targeting of recognised ethnic groups. According to Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC chief prosecutor, unlike previous cases referred to the Court by African governments, the UN Security Council - minus China - referred the charges to indict the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir. He is only the second serving head of state ever to be so indicted, the goal of which is regime change.

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Though neither the US nor Sudan have ratified the Rome Statute - the founding treaty of the ICC - the Security Council's referral is binding as Sudan is a member of the UN, thereby ceding a portion of its national sovereignty as subject to international law. The ICC lacks the mandate to enforce arrest, though other nations and international actors are eligible to carry this out. …

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Oil Politics: The ICC's Motives in Indicting the Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir, Have Little to Do with Human Rights Issues and More to Do with the Strategic Control of Oil Resources, Reports Khadija Sharife
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