Lip service only
Beyond announcements of moral support, Sudan's president got very little out of the Arab summit, Dina Ezzat
reports from Doha
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Al-Bashir flashes a smile during the opening session of the Arab-South America summit in Doha
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir chose to put aside his frustration at the refusal of Arab countries to hold an extraordinary summit in Khartoum on Sudan's proposal to show solidarity with Al-Bashir against an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur over the past five years.
On Sunday evening, Al-Bashir arrived in Doha to attend the regular annual Arab summit that adopted a communiqué that rejects the ICC arrest warrant. The communiqué stated that the 22-member states of the Arab League -- Sudan included -- perceive the potential arrest and consequent trial of Al-Bashir as a "threat" to the stability and security of Sudan and to collective Arab strategic interests. The arrest warrant should be annulled, the communiqué stated.
Further, Arab countries reiterated their appeal that Article 16 of the statute regulating ICC procedures should be executed to allow for the suspension of the arrest warrant. This, they said, would be the only way to perpetuate a peace process -- slow and scattered as it might be -- that could lead to a comprehensive peace deal between the Khartoum regime and the main Darfur rebel groups.
From a legal point of view, Arab diplomats acknowledge that the communiqué will not have much influence. "We know that from a legal perspective it does not mean much to reject an arrest warrant that was issued by the ICC upon a UN Chapter VII mandate," commented one Egyptian diplomat on condition of anonymity. However, he added, this communiqué is "basically about offering President Al-Bashir the kind of moral support he was hoping to get, or at least some of it".
Al-Bashir, according to a Sudanese diplomat participating in the preparatory meetings leading to the Doha summit, was hoping to send a strong message to the world by gathering all Arab leaders in Khartoum for an extraordinary summit that he had hoped would label the ICC warrant arrest as a new form of "Western occupation". However, Arab countries only agreed to pledge a series of high level visits to Khartoum to show their solidarity.
As long as the UN Security Council does not adopt a resolution under Chapter VII, Arab -- or any other -- countries who are not members of the ICC are not obliged to cooperate with the arrest warrant. Things, however, would change drastically if such a resolution were to be adopted. "But no such resolution is likely at least for the next few months," said a senior Arab diplomat on condition of anonymity. According to information shared by this diplomat, both Russia and China, who hold permanent seats on the UN Security Council, promised Sudan to block any such resolution in return for lucrative economic deals.
But as Sudanese and other Arab diplomats acknowledge, the words of support that Al-Bashir got out of the Arab summit -- and that he has been getting for a while from several Arab capitals -- might not be enough to buffer against wide and sweeping attacks either in Darfur, west of Sudan, or in the south of Sudan that is already preparing for possible succession by referendum to be held in the near future.
Egyptian officials revealed that they had significantly stepped up intelligence cooperation with Khartoum to address destabilising threats. But, "without a political process, things will only keep moving from bad to worse," admitted one Egyptian diplomat.
The political process that the Arab League and some Arab countries are hoping to see active in the coming weeks would have two objectives. The first is to "help Sudan meet the requirements of Article 16" of the statute of the ICC. Western officials have repeatedly informed Arab interlocutors that if President Al-Bashir wants to bypass the ICC arrest warrant then he needs to "cooperate". This includes suspending the decision of the Sudanese government to expel 13 international humanitarian organisations from Darfur. It also includes amending the national Sudanese penal code to include violations that have been committed by government forces against civilians in Darfur.
Moreover, "cooperation" should allow for the suspension of all Sudanese officials accused of committing violations in Darfur, especially Ahmed Haroun, Sudanese minister of humanitarian affairs. So far, according to the account of diplomats informed on talks conducted by Arab officials with Al-Bashir since the arrest warrant was issued on 4 March, "the Sudanese president is reluctant to cooperate at all. He is determined that he could defy and win."
The second objective for Arab capitals is to see launched a sustainable reconciliation process between Khartoum and the Darfur rebels. This too could prove tricky, but for a different reason. Sponsorship of the reconciliation process is aggressively contested between Egypt and Qatar, which managed earlier this year to strike a deal between Khartoum and a leading Darfur rebel group. The ongoing tug-of-war between Cairo and Doha, Arab diplomats complain, is playing into the hands of the rebels who are trying to maximise their gains by procrastinating on a final deal.
When Al-Bashir arrives back in Khartoum from Doha he could brag that he defied the ICC by going overseas for the third time since its arrest warrant was issued. But Al-Bashir leaves Qatar with nothing more than he got from Asmara, Cairo and Tripoli earlier in the month: moral support. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, outgoing chair of the Arab summit, qualified the ICC warrant as a clear attempt to divide and control Sudan. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa promised continued cooperation with the African Union to "suspend and reverse" the ICC warrant. However, no detailed Arab mechanism of action was announced in Doha.
"No such thing was discussed. Nobody talked about a specific reaction towards Western states if they insist to support the arrest warrant," stated one Arab diplomat.