That G-word again

This week, the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Court came out with a curious ruling. Which may or may not turn out to be significant. Depending.

To read the headlines in most of the papers on Thursday, one would have thought it was most certainly significant. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is about to be hung, drawn and quartered.

This isn’t actually what the appeals chamber said. What the judges actually ruled is far more mundane. Basically, they said that the ICC judges, which said Omar al-Bashir could not be charged with genocide, erred when they made such a decision. The original decision not to charge Bashir with genocide was based on the fact that it could not be categorically proved that he acted with genocidal intent. But the appeals chamber said that such a burden of proof was set too high, and that it would be enough just to have a suspicion of that proof.

And all this means… what exactly?

Well, that the judges now have to re-evaluate their decision, based on the latest “burden of proof” ruling delivered by the appeals court judges.

It does not mean Bashir will be charged with genocide – as some British publications embarrasingly had it after the verdict – but it does mean that he now could be.

But the question remains: who the hell cares?

One might, at this point, like to refer to two of my previous posts: why Darfur is not genocide and why Darfur might just be genocide.

In these postings, I argue that, whilst legally-speaking genocide has been taking place in Darfur, politically genocide is a very dangerous label to apply to the conflict.

The United States stubbonly refused to call the Rwanda “genocide” a genocide – so why do they insist on applying this label to Darfur? And why does the EU still refuse to use the G-word. It’s all down to politics.

And this is why the ruling this week is, to my mind, even more inconsequential than it appears. Some really terrible stuff has been happening in Darfur – and continues to be happening. Bashir has been indicted for terrible crimes against humanity – crimes that relate to horrible goings-on in Darfur, such as mass torture and gang rapes. Does it matter that we are now going to call this genocide?

For some people in the Hague who actually care about such court cases, it does. These legal beagles – legal beagles who arguably should know better – are now jumping up and down in excitement, and saying that finally the genocide label could be placed on Bashir.

Forget all the terrible things that have going on in Darfur for many years. Now people are prepared to take notice.

Okay, fair enough, there is the argument that calling the Darfur conflict a genocide at least gets it noticed. This is an argument likely to appeal to Save Darfur or other NGOs that pull in a lot of money because Darfur is always in the news.

But I still feel that calling using the G-word clouds people’s mind, and makes people think of Nazi Germany or the killing fields of Vietnam. To equate Darfur with these horrendous conflicts displays a fundamental misunderstanding of what has been happening in the region.

Personally, I do not think that Bashir should have been indicted – and I would love to see how the prosecution intends to prove the chain-of-command that links him with genocide.

But since he has been indicted, accusing him of heinous crimes against humanity or genocide changes very little. Only in people’s minds. And that is not necessarily a good thing.


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