Sudan and the ICC: please change my mind

I spent yesterday morning collaborating with the tireless John Liebhardt, the multitalented Elia Varela Serra and a handful of other Global Voices authors on a global round-up of bloggers' reactions to the International Criminal Court's recommendation that Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir be indicted on multiple counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Now that I've read through other bloggers' reactions, I'm ready to add my own thoughts.

Warning: this is the worst kind of blog post, born of a late-night argument that no one won, the self-serving kind that blames and complains without offering any solutions. It's been one of those days.

I have a love-hate relationship with the ICC that's mostly hate (caveat: it's so easy to criticize, sitting here on my couch with my coffee). It sounds great in (surface-level) theory: an international tribunal established to prosecute criminals of the worst sort. It's noble. It appears to fulfill the world's moral responsibility to victims of large-scale evil. It's an attempt to atone for the Holocaust, Rwanda, the Balkans and all those other times we said "Never Again." The ICC does all it can under its mandate, and it works hard to identify the worst human rights abuses in the world and find enough evidence to support a case against them. In practice, though...eeesh.

When the ICC issued arrest warrants for Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and four of his top commanders in July 2005...nothing happened. Well, two of them died, but I don't think that's related. Kony demanded immunity, President Museveni backpedaled like crazy and human rights activists in northern Uganda labeled the warrants an obstacle to peace. Three years later, negotiations are still stalled, Kony and his two remaining commanders are still in the bush, and despite the headlines every once in a while claiming peace is imminent, the LRA and the government aren't any closer to signing an agreement than they were five (or ten) years ago.

Is what's happening in Darfur despicable? Absolutely. Is al-Bashir responsible? Without question. But what purpose are the ICC's charges going to serve? As I said in the Global Voices round-up, Sudan has signed but not ratified the Rome Statue, the treaty that created the ICC. This means they're not legally bound to follow any ICC directives, so who, exactly, is going to waltz into Khartoum and slap handcuffs on al-Bashir? And if someone does, who's going to govern Sudan while he's sitting in The Hague? The likelihood is that any move the ICC makes is going to make al-Bashir even more angry, and that anger will probably be taken out in Darfur.

So what can we do? At the risk of sounding like a Kaplanite, I don't know if there's anything we can do. If anyone feels up to writing a rebuttal, à la this guest post in response to my earlier, misinformed rant about the Juba peace talks, please do. I'd love to be corrected by someone who has a much better knowledge of the workings of the ICC and the situation in Sudan.

Update: For an elegant, researched critique of the International Criminal Court in Africa, check out "Africa's unjust deserts" by Stephanie Nolen, writing for The Globe and Mail.

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In defense of the blogren

Glenna at Uganda's Scarlett Lion posted yesterday, wondering why the majority of Ugandan bloggers write about things other than politics:

But where have all the political blogs gone? There's this one, but that's also a newspaper column, or this one, not updated frequently, or this one that's not by a Ugandan, and some others that are more general to Africa and not specific to Uganda.

Or were polticial blogs never there in the first place? There's plenty of thoughts on boda bodas, Big Brother Africa, the bad weather Kampala's been having lately, being broke, and other aspects of life in Uganda that certainly aren't apolitical, but they aren't exactly government budgets and school fires either.

My experience in Uganda has been that expat bloggers are the ones writing about politics, while Ugandan bloggers write more about their daily lives. As Glenna pointed out, this isn't always true — in addition to the bloggers she mentioned, Tumwijuke at Ugandan Insomniac often writes about current events. But for the most part, for every political post you find, there will be fifty more about romantic escapades or beautiful Sunday mornings in Kampala. Commenting on Glenna's post, Antipop explains:
To be honest with you most of us come to blogger to escape from it all. The fires, the term limits, the land wrangles, GAVI funds, presidential jet, potholes, fuel prices, press freedom, FDC, NRM, is everywhere you turn. the papers, the radio, tv, in the bar, even the woman that sells cassava roots in the market will have something to say about how the soaring prices have everything to do with a MUNYANKOLE president. the last thing you wnat to do is come to blogger and find it. I guess we are just tired. There is only so much whinning we can do.

As an author for Global Voices, a site that aims to "aggregate, curate, and amplify the global conversation online," I admit to getting frustrated when something (like the ICC charges against Sudanese president al-Bashir) happens and Ugandans — who, as Glenna points out, are among the most affected, given that what happens in Sudan could have major repercussions for the case against Joseph Kony and his commanders — say nothing.

At the same time, the mission of GV isn't to aggregate, curate and amplify just the political conversation online. As I understand it, GV is a bridge between the part of the world that's constantly connected to BBC and CNN and the part of the world that's not. If that bridge only includes politics, which often means stories of violence, corruption and election fraud, GV and its readers are missing out on a huge part of life in the countries we claim to represent.

One of the most important things to come of out last month's
Global Voices Summit is that the political voices aren't the only ones that need to be amplified. Cultural and social voices are equally important to an understanding of other places, and several recent posts attempt to present readers with a more nuanced view of countries that are only discussed internationally when a crisis brings them to our attention. I still get frustrated when something of political importance goes unnoticed by the blogren, but I think the bloggers who are using their blogs to write novellas or talk about public transportation play an valuable role in transmitting information about Uganda to the rest of the world.

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GVO: African bloggers react to ICC charges against Sudanese President al-Bashir

My next piece, co-written with John Liebhardt, is up at Global Voices Online:

Bloggers from around the world are reacting to the International Criminal Court's recent decision to charge Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with multiple counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Many of those bloggers are criticizing the indictments, claiming they are difficult to enforce and that they will bring more unrest to an already unstable nation.

Read more»

Featured in this round-up are Too Huge World, Sudanese Thinker, Sudan Watch, Emmanuel Abalo, Codrin Arsene, Nairobi Notebook, The Angry African, Victor Ngeny, Chris Blattman, Ugandabeat, Gay Uganda, Making Sense of Darfur, Daniel Sturgis and Ali Alarabi.

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GVO Uganda: (No longer) lost in translation

My next post is up at Global Voices Online:

A little over a year ago, Ugandan blogger Country Boyi wondered why Ugandans weren't blogging in local languages. He wrote:
The power of indigenous languages to infiltrate the thinking of the local people cannot be underestimated.

[…]Do bloggers, like other writers, have a major stake in the development of writing and reading materials in the local languages, and what is in it for them considering the Ugandan society pays little attention to the written word?
The majority of Ugandan bloggers have yet to write in languages other than English, perhaps because four distinct language families, each with multiple languages, are represented in the country. Over the last year, however, several of Uganda's blogren have forayed into the world of local-language blogging via Luglish, a blend of English and Luganda. Luganda is the local language most commonly spoken in central Uganda, including the capital city Kampala.

Read more»

Featured in this post are Dennis of Country Boyi, Tumwi of Ugandan Insomniac, Seamless, Fresh Apples, Buttercookie, Paige and Phil of AndersonBowen and Chris Mason of Caked in Red Clay.

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Sarajevo and Sudan

Everyone told me Dubrovnik would be the highlight of my trip to the Balkans last week. The Adriatic is what seas should be, they said. The city walls are beautiful. Croatians are so nice. You'll fall in love.

In some ways, they were right. The Adriatic is what seas should be, and the walls are beautiful, but Dubrovnik wasn't perfect. The city was overrun with cruise ship crowds and tour buses, and everything was pretty in a postcard way, complete with designated photo opportunities. And I didn't fall in love until I got to Sarajevo.

Sarajevo is not pretty, at least not conventionally so. Buildings still bear the scars of the four-year-long siege during the Yugoslav wars, and the pavement is pockmarked with Sarajevo roses, places where mortar shells wiped out concrete and, sometimes, people.

I don't know why this meant more to me than coastlines and carefully preserved ruins, why I felt more at ease in Bosnia than in Croatia. A professor once accused me of being a conflict junkie; I'm not sure if that's true, but there is something about Sarajevo — something about an old man in a café, consuming an endless stream of coffee and cigarettes, telling me stories of four years without electricity or running water, urging me to drink from the fountain with magic waters so that I will always come back. Something about his girlfriend, who sits down at our table and orders a saucer of whipped cream for Snoopy, a tiny dog who keeps her company while her daughter studies in the States. Something about the one-room war museum, its stained glass still shattered from the war. "Beautiful" is perhaps both the least and most appropriate word: the city is sadly, richly captivating.

Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica, where over 8000 Bosnian Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serbs in a UN-protected "safe area." Some survivors of the massacre have brought a lawsuit against the United Nations, particularly the Dutch troops in Srebrenica, for failing to stop the killings, a move that is understandable but probably useless.

Ian Williams has a post on the Guardian's Comment is Free comparing Unprofor, the UN protection force in Bosnia, to UNAMID in Sudan. His main point is that both forces are (were) maddeningly weak: under-supported, under-funded and consequently facing impossible tasks. For UNAMID, this weekend's announcement that the International Criminal Court is likely to seek an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur will probably make things even worse. Williams writes:
After Srebrenica, the phrase "Never Again" was again on everyone's lips. In international Diplo-Speak, maybe that phrase misses punctuation. Maybe it should be written "Never! Again?", meaning something like "Whoops."

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GVO Summit: Quick note on tools

The Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in Budapest two weeks ago was a whirlwind of new ideas and information. Among them: a list of handy Web 2.0 tools for liveblogging/covering conferences.

Throughout the summit I used ScribeFire to blog within Firefox. It is my new favorite blogging tool, hands down: a quick window that opens in the bottom half of your browser window and lets you save drafts, publish directly to multiple blogs, edit old posts, tag and categorize, all without leaving the precious set of relevant sites you've carefully opened and arranged in tabs.

During the summit, I also posted quick updates to my Twitter account. You can follow me and everyone else who tagged their posts with gvsummit08 using Summize or Hashtags. Summize picks up more from Twitter than Hashtags, but Hashtags aggregates photos, video and blog posts as well as tweets.

The summit liveblog used CoverItLive, which allows readers to comment in a chat-room-esque atmosphere. Livebloggers can also post relevant polls, and the liveblog window can be inserted into any web page. I liveblogged the last session on the GV Summit blog and posted it on Jackfruity as well.

Other tools
The presence of so many skilled photographers intimidated me (the few touristy Budapest photos I did take are on Picasa), and I didn't get any shots from the summit itself, but you can check out the wealth of photos from other attendees on Flickr. SlideShare was used as a hub for many of the Powerpoint/Keynote presentations. Summit videos are on YouTube, and recordings of each presentation can be viewed on Ustream.

The lovely and invaluable Leonard has reminded me that video clips of the conference are also available on Blip TV, thanks to GV Advocacy director Sami ben Gharbia.

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