My life as a Darfurian has been turbulent and dangerous. So for a victim of war crimes like me, the International Criminal Court has been both inspirational and essential in our fight for justice. When your own government fails you and mistreats you, the ICC becomes your only hope. I am lucky to have escaped the genocide in my country, but I still live each day in fear for my family and friends – for my people, my fellow Africans.
Our leader, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – the most heinous crimes in the world. He is alleged to have committed the ongoing atrocities in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have died since 2003, and millions remain and continue to be displaced, including much of my family. In the last two years, violence and displacement has reached the highest levels since the height of the conflict over ten years ago. So why isn’t the world talking about it? Bashir continues his reign of terror to Arabize Sudan, targeting black Africans like me, bombing our homes for his own personal benefit.
After more than five years following the Bashir case at the Court, I finally saw a glimmer of hope last summer when Bashir visited South Africa for the African Union summit in June 2016. Being part of the ICC, the South African government was obligated to arrest Bashir and send him to the Court for trial. We were all so excited. I remember calling the International Justice Project to discuss what this could mean for victims and the cases in front of the Court. For a moment, it seemed the world really cared about Darfur. This excitement, this joy, quickly shifted to disappointment as we saw our South African brothers and sisters litigate successfully for Bashir’s detention, as he quietly jetted off in the thick of night back to Sudan.
Now, after more than a year of scrutiny, pressure, and legal battles over South Africa’s role in shielding our President, South Africa has decided to withdraw from the ICC. And we are seeing other fellow Africans following suit and turning their back on my people, on the victims. As a nation that prides itself on its pro-human rights stance after such a dark period of apartheid, not only does South Africa risk damaging Mandela’s legacy, but it deprives victims like me of any meaningful justice for crimes we have suffered.
While we must all try to understand and acknowledge each other’s views, for me, the idea that Western countries target Africa through the ICC is simply not true or fair. The Court was built with me in mind. It is for my brothers and sisters who are suffering. I don’t see the ICC as African or anti-African. When a government signs the Rome Statute or if the UN Security Council refers a conflict, like in Darfur, the purpose is to promote peace and justice, and justice does not take sides. When we heard about South Africa specifically, it sent shock waves through my community. It is not only symbolically upsetting, but will have real, tragic consequences on people’s lives, and that’s what I want others to understand.
The effect of the ICC on people’s lives, like mine, is not taken for granted by my community. We believe in this Court and the States that wish it well. We believe in its potential to discourage dictators from waging wars against its citizens. We have no Court in Sudan to do this work, we have no other option. We will fight for its success until the end. While there are efforts to build a successful African Court, for and by Africans, I wonder if it will run into similar problems. I hope my fellow Africans will first start by helping advance the system already in place, and allow me my day in court. We cannot afford to wait while Bashir continues to kill my people in Darfur, the Blue Nile, and South Kordofan with impunity. I watch with sadness as Bashir is invited to our neighboring countries, as if he has done nothing wrong, as if an indictment for genocide means nothing.
Yet, I do remain hopeful. I must. We must. I will carry hope even if all of my African brothers and sisters give up. The international community fought too hard for the ICC’s establishment to see the institution fail. So I beg my friends from every continent and country to stay in the fight with me. If you think the Court has double standards, fight within it, and work to improve it, don’t throw yourself out. That can’t be the answer. Darfur won’t give up on the ICC, and I hope my brothers and sisters won’t either.