The devil is in the details

Mahmood Mamdani’s stemwinding book on Darfur brilliantly punctures the sanctities of the international humanitarian order – but doesn’t know where to stop, Wesley Yang writes.

From The National:

ScreenHunter_01 Apr. 05 13.58 The international community is presently engaged in a high-stakes game of poker with the government of Sudan. At stake is the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court, the permanent sitting tribunal whose purpose is to punish those that commit the worst crimes against humanity. Also hanging in the balance are the lives of 2.5 million Darfurian refugees who have been driven from their homes by a scorched earth counter-insurgency campaign launched by the Sudanese government in response to rebel attacks in the region in 2003.

Both sides in this international stand-off have already demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice those lives for the sake of the principles they support. The Sudanese government has thrown out 13 international aid groups who provide the food and medicine necessary to sustain those refugees, under the pretext that they gathered evidence for the ICC against Sudan’s president, Omar al Bashir. The ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo went ahead with the indictment in full knowledge that this was the likely consequence. He claims to be acting in the interest of justice alone, without reference to the political or humanitarian situation – and no one disputes that by arming and abetting mounted Arab proxies (later dubbed “devils on horseback” in the press) to put down a rebellion with indiscriminate violence against civilians, al Bashir violated the spirit and letter of international law (as have many rulers before him). We have a struggle for primacy between the two principles – national sovereignty and international law – that seems likely to define global politics for the rest of this century.

Providing an accurate account of these principles, and the intricate politics in which they are embedded, involves wading through self-serving and overwrought claims from both sides while weighing two genuine and incommensurable claims to legitimacy. In his new book, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror, the distinguished Africa scholar Mahmood Mamdani does his readers the considerable service of laying waste to many of the dangerous and self-serving illusions of one side of this argument. But he erects a mirror edifice of illusions in its place; getting the story straight requires disentangling the true from the misleading in Mamdani’s account.

More here.