Omar al-Bashir Q&A: 'In Any War, Mistakes Happen on the Ground'

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So there are no actions specifically, though, that you feel in retrospect were mistakes?

In any war, mistakes happen on the ground. This is not the policy of the government; we are a government that functions according to laws. The security apparatus functions according to laws and whoever intentionally transgresses [the laws] is held accountable. We are the only country, in the Third World at least, that removed immunity from members of the armed forces, police and security and took them to trial. They were tried and some members of these forces were even executed, because they transgressed. Human mistakes happen. We've seen greater mistakes committed than what has happened in Darfur by ten times in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we hold accountable and put to trial persons [who break the law] as a responsible government.

Do you still maintain that only 10,000 people have died in Darfur?

This is what we believe the number to be according to all the events that have taken place in Darfur. There is fighting between the armed forces and the rebels, so there are [a number of deaths] among the rebels and members of the armed forces. There are also tribal conflicts, which are not connected to any ethnic group [in particular]; it is not, as portrayed, an "ethnic war." Most of the intra-tribal fighting in fact is between tribes of Arab origins over resources because years of drought that hit the area made the scarcity of resources one reason for conflict; between nomads and peasants; and between nomads themselves because grazing lands have become limited due to the decline in rainfall. Conflict, therefore, between youth that herd their livestock is likely. We maintain that there is a problem in Darfur, and its main reason is environmental before anything else.

There's been a great deal of concern in the international community that there has been no accountability within the Sudanese government for its actions in Darfur — thus we have the arrest warrants issued by the ICC earlier this year. The reaction from your government has been mixed: On the one hand, it's been dismissive of the ICC and said that it's a "terrorist organization." At the same time, your government has taken it quite seriously and viewed it as a real threat. Which is it? How do you perceive the ICC's arrest warrants?

We are not concerned with the ICC except for one issue: The methods that the Court followed had a dangerous impact in signaling a message to the armed rebel groups that they should not reach peace with this government because its president is wanted by international justice, which will definitely lead to the government's fall, and therefore there is no need to talk to the government which is perceived to have the international community against it. This is the most dangerous thing with this court.

The ICC is a political court and not a court of justice, because the decision to refer the issue of Darfur to the ICC exempts American citizens from appearing in front of the Court with the excuse that America is not a member of the Roma Statue. We are not members of the [Rome] Statute. It is a political issue of the first degree and not a matter of justice because [achieving] justice has other methods. We are a country that has an old and qualified judicial system that can perform trials. In addition, Darfur has its customs and traditions of conflict resolution that usually override the judicial system because it is able to find the best and ideal solutions to these issues.

So you believe the ICC is an illegitimate organization?

We think that the ICC is a tool to terrorize countries that the West thinks are disobedient. The African position today, by consensus, is not to cooperate with this court, and it has reached a conviction that this Court is directed against the countries of the Third World and a tool of neo-colonialism.

And yet, you did sign the Rome Statute that created the ICC. It was not ratified by Parliament, but your government did sign the Rome Statute — and despite the objections of countries like Algeria and Rwanda which said, "You don't know what you're getting into; don't do this." What accounts for your change of heart?

In the beginning, the signing was seen as a possible tool to achieve and support justice. After we studied it carefully, its details and consequences, our vision was very clear not to ratify it. And therefore we did not. Even in the Cotonou Agreement which created a partnership between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group, there were amendments made to abide by the ICC and we refused to sign these amendments.

[ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-]Ocampo alleges in his indictment that there is a complete command-and-control structure within the Sudanese government; that you are not only President but you are Field Marshall of the armed forces. And therefore you are directly responsible for every action down to the lowest enlisted man. To what degree do you control the apparatus of the government?

As I mentioned, there are laws that govern the armed forces. Yes, I am the commander-in-chief to these forces. But there is a joint chiefs-of-staff; there are joint chiefs for the army, the air force, like [in] the organization of any armed forces. The army conducts military operations with the support of the air force. There are joint-operations staff, units and leaders that manage operations on the ground in addition to field commanders.

For example, the U.S. air force in Afghanistan mistakenly bombed a wedding and killed 147 civilians. But you cannot say that the U.S. president should be tried for this because he is the commander-in-chief of U.S. forces, not even the [American] head of chiefs-of-staffs would be put to trial. But if it was proven that the field commander that ordered this operation made this decision without confirming whether this was a gathering of civilians or combatants, then he is the one to be held responsible and laws are clear on this. I mentioned that the law holds accountable those who transgress the law, and we've held trials.

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