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Taylor and Bashir: A tale of two warlords

By Farai Sevenzo Filmmaker and broadcaster
Posted on Friday, 7 August 2015 11:48

After all, both of them earned their political stripes running militias that killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians and both have faced charges of crimes against humanity. There, the similarity ends.

This is not the headquarters of the ICC!

Where was the solidarity of African leaders when Nigerian police arrested Taylor and his erstwhile brother Olusegun Obasanjo then handed him over to the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone?

Sudan’s Bashir has skilfully linked the charges against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to African leaders’ concerns about national sovereignty.

There is also the sense that the court is targeting Africa, although most of the cases before it were referred by African regimes keen to prosecute their armed opponents.

The Bashir conundrum has been bothering Hollywood stars, African legal experts and academics who ply their trade in the world’s war zones.

It has divided opinion within the African Union (AU), and now it seems most African leaders want to turn their backs on the ICC.

When Bashir finally writes his memoirs on the long walk from the barracks to the presidency, he may well include a chapter called ‘The Turbaned Pimpernel: How I Escaped the Imperialist Clutches of the ICC.’

There is a growing view among African leaders that the ICC is a tool of former colonial powers and rich Western governments.

The current AU chairman is Robert Mugabe, who was present at the AU summit in Johannesburg when Bashir made his excuses and left in June.

“This is not the headquarters of the ICC – we don’t want it in this region at all,” Mugabe told the meeting.

That does not mean Bashir is much liked by other African leaders. Some privately rail against the mass killings by his regime in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains.

That is why AU leaders and the United Nations Security Council insisted in late June that their joint peacekeeping mission in Darfur be extended for another year – despite Bashir’s lobbying to have it disbanded.

We Africans have a complicated relationship with our leaders, dictators and life presidents. The question of impunity for those who commit recurring crimes, such as those in Darfur, needs tackling.

For the past decade we have heard about peace negotiations in Darfur, but the killing goes on.

More than 300,000 are dead and millions are without shelter, medicine and food.

There are still-trickier questions of guilt and accountability for mass slaughter in Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. How do we best serve the victims of these crimes?

As you read this, the trial of Chadian former dictator Hissène Habré – accused of war crimes and torture – is under way in a special court in Senegal.

The court is a joint initiative between the AU and Senegal to prosecute those responsible for mass killings during Chad’s civil war. It took years of lobbying to get this far.

Could the creation of this special AU court be a template for the future? How would it be funded? What about the political will to see it through? Which country would house such a court?

The AU is a brotherhood of leaders, so it seems highly unlikely for sitting presidents to break ranks and end impunity.

But we must find answers to those questions of African justice. Posturing on all sides helps no one, least of all the victims of war crimes. ●

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