Wednesday 12 January 2011

Not on our helicopter

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) received some severe bashing lately for allowing Ahmed Haroun, the governor of Southern Kordofan, to board one of its helicopters last Friday. Haroun, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), is officially a fugitive of the international justice system since the issue of an arrest warrant against him in 2007.
The man accused of mass killings in Darfur as minister of humanitarian affairs has since gained a solid reputation as peace-maker in the North-South border zone. In the Nuba Mountains his reign as governor has been described to me by observers from the area as ‘firm’ but reasonably ‘fair’.
Haroun boarded the UN helicopter last Friday to mediate between the Misseriya and the Dinka Ngok in Abyei following the recent clashes between the two sides.
Criticizing the readiness of the UNMIS to provide good offices even to Haroun the director of the international justice programme at Human Rights Watch, Richard Dicker, had this to ask “the question I have really is was there no other means for Ahmed Haroun to make it to the meeting”: He further added “I think the UN’s posture should be of keeping a distance from him. I think the UN should be held to a high standard with regard to their flying Haroun to a meeting. There needs to be a high threshold of necessity”.
I found Dicker’s argument a bit problematic I must admit. The UN cannot clear itself of association with Sudan’s officials as long it engages the Sudan government. The contradiction that seems to disgust Dicker somehow is essentially one between the priority of justice and the requirements of peace if you like. Haroun’s utter folly, and Bashir’s for that matter, cannot be accounted for in the realm of criminal justice, since it is by all means political. In demanding the UN to observe the meaningless gesture of keeping a distance from Haroun the criminal Human Rights Watch is caricaturing the ‘high standards’ of international justice rather than highlighting Haroun’s crimes.
However, a point of qualification must be made. In voicing its concerns Human Rights Watch is addressing more than anything else the sensibilities and reflexes of its own constituency. The bigger story in which Haroun is one agent among many, and where the categorisation of victims and perpetrators is hard to justify if not dangerous to make, does not interest the benevolent human rights organisation, and does not animate the pious hearts of its admirers.

1 comment:

  1. UNMIS' involvement with Ahmed Haroun is that of engaging with the Governor of Southern Kordofan State. If the story is simply that the Wali of SKS traveled on a UN helicopter, no one bats an eyelid. And no, there is no other way for the Governor of SKS to have reached Abyei, especially not to accompany a delegation.
    The bigger problem here is that Haroun was made Governor of SKS and as such the UN _has to_ engage him. It's not pretty, but as you point out, as long as there is a UN peacekeeping mission in the Sudan, the UN's role is to work with Government officials few of whom (N and S) have clean hands.


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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.