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RIGHTS: Poll Finds Regional Support for Bashir ICC Indictment

Katie Mattern

WASHINGTON, Jul 15 2009 (IPS) - A new survey released on Thursday shows that the publics in four majority Muslim and African nations, contrary to the positions of their governments, largely approve of the indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Many fellow African and Muslim leaders have supported Bashir and argued that the indictment was politically motivated.

The poll, released by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a project of the University of Maryland’s Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), asked people in seven nations for their opinions of the indictment of Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The U.N. estimates the conflict has cost 300,000 lives, while over 2.7 million people have been displaced, in six years of fighting.

More than three-quarters of those surveyed in Kenya and 71 percent of Nigerians overwhelmingly approved the indictment, while respondents in Turkey and Pakistan only recorded a slight margin between approvals and disapprovals.

“This suggests that leaders of some majority-Muslim and African nations, in denouncing the indictment of President Bashir, are out of step with their people,” said Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org.


Briggs Bomba, outreach director at the advocacy group Africa Action, agreed. “I don’t think it’s surprising or something new that there is support on the ground for people to be held accountable for their actions and especially if they are in power,” he said.

“What you see then is the difference in positions between ordinary people in Africa and their leaders,” he added.

Seven in 10 respondents in the Palestinian territories and nearly half in Egypt disapproved of the indictment – the two populations with the strongest disapproval – and Iraqis were divided with 35 percent approving of the indictment and 37 percent disapproving.

A warrant for the arrest of President Bashir was issued on Mar. 4, 2009, making him the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the Hague-based court. He has been indicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court subsequently dropped charges of genocide.

Bashir countered that the accusations were Western manipulations aimed at taking Sudan’s resources, and that he was merely fighting a long-running insurrection in the western Sudanese region.

The U.S. was the only country to officially call the conflict in Darfur genocide, when President George W. Bush broke with the U.N. and other lawmakers and labeled it as such in 2004.

After the indictment was released, the African Union (AU) and the Arab League asked for a deferment of the warrant because of ongoing peace talks between Bashir’s government and one of the rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which was fighting against the government as part of an alliance in the Darfur region.

Bashir met the indictment with outrage. A mass rally in the capital of Khartoum was held in support of Bashir where he declared, “We are telling them to immerse it and drink it” – using an Arabic phrase to convey extreme disrespect.

Shortly after the release of the indictment, Bashir expelled all international aid groups which had been providing assistance to nearly 2.7 million Darfuris.

When asked whether or not they would support the U.N. bringing in food aid if people begin dying of hunger and exposure, even if escorted by military protection, to replace these aid groups and whether or not they believed it was an infringement on Sudan’s sovereignty, six of the seven nations surveyed supported this idea.

People polled in Kenya (82 percent), Nigeria (68 percent), Egypt (61 percent), the Palestinian territories (60 percent), Turkey (58 percent) and Iraq (46 percent) all approved of U.N. intervention to bring humanitarian assistance to the region while Pakistanis were against it by only a slight margin, with 37 percent opposed and 42 percent approval.

“We have seen from working with civil society on the ground and individual activists that activists are tired of impunity and the way that the leaders have abused their power as it is with Bashir,” Bomba said.

The poll also found that in four of five countries – Kenya (63 percent), Turkey (52 percent), Egypt (51 percent), and Nigeria (49 percent) – people had not too much or no confidence in Bashir. In the Palestinian territories, 51 percent said they had some or a lot of confidence.

The Rome Statute, adopted in 1998 and in effect as of 2002, established the ICC. All states that have ratified the Rome Statute must abide by the rulings of the court. To date, 108 states have ratified the statute, with Chile expected to join later this year. Another 39 states have signed by not ratified the treaty.

Commitments of the Rome Statute include arresting Bashir and turning him over to the ICC if he visited their country or even if his plane entered their air space.

Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria are the only signatories to the Statute that were polled by the WorldPublicOpinion.org survey, and only Kenya and Nigeria have ratified it.

Israel originally signed but has said it does plan to ratify the treaty. The Iraqi government planned on ratifying the Rome Statue, but then decided against it two weeks later. Turkey also said it would ratify the court as a move to improve Ankara’s human rights record, but later reversed its decision.

The U.S. is also a signatory but has not ratified the Rome Statute out of fear U.S. citizens could be tried on foreign soil, which some have argued is a violation of their constitutional rights.

Since the Bashir indictment, several African countries, including Senegal, Djibouti and Comoros, have withdrawn from the court in protest of its decision, stating that it is “targeting Africa”.

While Egypt is a signatory of the ICC, it refused to hand over Bashir when he visited the country shortly after his indictment. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak pledged his support for the Sudanese leader.

The poll also asked respondents how much they knew about the situation in Darfur. The majority of people they knew some or a lot about the situation in Kenya (85 percent), Egypt (78 percent), the Palestinian territories (65 percent) and Nigeria (59 percent). In other countries – Iraq (48 percent), Pakistan (39 percent) and Turkey (29 percent) – fewer respondents claimed to grasp the issues.

 
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