Don't Panic

Who is Omar al-Bashir?

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click to enlarge Don't Panic - Andisheh Nouraee
Andisheh Nouraee
Don't Panic

Dear readers of this column who happen to be strolling through Sudan's capital city, Khartoum: You are hereby advised to be on the lookout for one Omar al-Bashir.

Mr. al-Bashir is a black male, 64 years of age. He speaks Arabic, has two wives, wears lightly tinted eyeglasses, and is often seen in public wearing either an olive green shirt and pants with a matching beret, or white robes with a matching turban.

He is known to frequent large government buildings on Nile Street. Mr. al-Bashir is easy to spot as he is typically surrounded by armed guards and lackeys who call him "Your Excellency."

Mr. al-Bashir is the president of Sudan. And he is a wanted man.

On July 14, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, charged al-Bashir with 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The charges mark the first time the International Criminal Court has charged a sitting head of state with a crime, and the first time the court has charged anyone with genocide.

According to the prosecutor, al-Bashir is the mastermind of the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region. The prosecutor alleges al-Bashir had "absolute control" of the forces that carried out the genocide, which began in March 2003.

Based on interviews with witnesses in 18 countries, the prosecutor says al-Bashir ordered members of Sudan's armed forces, as well as militia forces known as Janjaweed, to attack civilian members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups. Towns in Darfur populated by the three groups were systematically attacked, while nearby towns populated by other ethnic groups were spared.

The following is the prosecutor's general description of how genocide happened:

"The Armed Forces and Militia/Janjaweed carried out such attacks jointly and in a similar pattern throughout the entire period, up to the date of filing. Typically, the Armed Forces would arrive in trucks and land cruisers mounted with [large caliber machine guns], and the Militia/Janjaweed would arrive on camels and horseback. These joint forces would then surround the village and on occasion, the Air Force would be called upon to drop bombs on the village as a precursor to the attacks. The ground forces would then enter the village or town and attack civilian inhabitants. They kill men, children, elderly, women; they subject women and girls to massive rapes. They burn and loot the villages."

An estimated 35,000 people were killed outright in these attacks. About 2.7 million were forced from their homes and farms. And to be forced from your home in Sudan's harsh terrain is a slow death sentence. "Don't waste the bullet; they've got nothing to eat and they will die from hunger," is what one of the attackers said to another, according to a victim who survived to speak to the prosecutor. The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have died of violence, sickness and starvation in the wake of the attacks.

What are al-Bashir's motives? Same as with most wars — power, greed and ethnic hatred.

Arable land is increasingly scarce in Sudan, the result of desertification many say is the result of global warming. The victims of the genocide are non-Arab peasant farmers. The perpetrators of the genocide were largely Arab nomads who want more land for grazing.

Al-Bashir sided with the Arab nomads — because of ethnic fraternity, and because Darfur's non-Arab peasant farmers had rebelled against his government because they thought al-Bashir and his Arab-dominated government was racist. The government denied the charge, but responded with a racial genocide.

Will the charges lead to al-Bashir's arrest? Almost certainly not. Even if the ICC's judges issue an arrest warrant, who's gonna arrest him? Certainly not Sudan's government. He runs the place.

I recommend the ICC put Dog, the bounty hunter, on the job. Arresting one of the most murderous racist heads of state since Hitler would not only make for great reality television, it would allow Dog to redeem himself after the racist outburst last year that almost cost him his show.

I can already picture Dog lighting a nervous al-Bashir's cigarette as he drives him along the Nile in the back of his signature black SUV. "You gotta stop doin' genocide, brah."

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