The International Criminal Court (ICC) today issued an arrest warrant and charged the Sudanese head of state Omar al-Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity arising out of the conflict in Darfur. The judges dismissed the prosecution’s most contentious charge of genocide which arose out of allegations that Bashir had tried to wipe out three non-Arab ethnic groups.This is the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state.An aide to President Bashir was quoted in the Guardian as describing the decision as â€œneo-colonialismâ€; whilst protesters took to the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
The ICC, in its press release, reported that
â€œThe Chamber found that Omar al Bashir, as the de jure and de facto President of Sudan and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, is suspected of having coordinated the design and implementation of the counter-insurgency campaign. In the alternative, it also found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that he was in control of all branches of the â€œapparatusâ€ of the State of Sudan and used such control to secure the implementation of the counter-insurgency campaign.â€
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, welcomed the decision but there has been disquiet amongst those who have been trying to broker peace talks in the area. Arab states and the African Union had argued for a postponement of the charges to allow Bashir a final chance to end the Darfur conflict while not under duress.
Sudan does not recognise the ICC, and Bashir said the court could “eat” the arrest warrant, which he described as a western plot to hinder Sudan’s development. Despite this, the case will raise questions about his political future.
UCC Faculty of Law Adjunct Professor Lord Lester of Herne QC has revealed that he quit as Prime Minister Gordon Brownâ€™s advisor on constitutional reform last month because of the British Governmentâ€™s â€œdismalâ€ lack of leadership on human rights. Described at the time of his appointment as an â€œeminent outsiderâ€ brought into â€œthe government of all talentsâ€ his position was clearly not a comfortable one.
In a speech marking 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Lord Lester revealed that he had felt â€œtetheredâ€ by the government and described its human rights record as â€œdismal and deeply disappointingâ€. He singled out the Justice Secretary Jack Straw for particular criticism for both a failure to defend the Human Rights Act and the lack of radical constitutional reform. The criticism of Jack Straw comes on the back of the Justice Secretaryâ€™s comments in the Daily Mail pledging to â€œreform the â€˜villainâ€™s charterâ€™â€ (the Human Rights Act).
Lord Lester stated that
“In spite of its achievement in introducing the Human Rights Act, the government has a deeply disappointing record in giving effect to the values underpinning the Human Rights Act in its policies and practices. Through a lack of political leadership, it has also failed to match the expectations raised by the Governance of Britain green paper for much-needed constitutional reform.”
And he criticised the government’s failures to fight for human rights in relation to a wide range of human rights issues:
“The government could have celebrated Human Rights Day by defending the Human Rights Act against unfair attack. It could have celebrated by accepting the recommendations of the UN human rights treaty bodies, the joint committee on human rights and NGOs to allow the people of this country to exercise the right of individual petition against the government under the international covenant on civil and political rights, the convention for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, and the torture convention.
“The UK is alone in the European Union in refusing to do so in the case of the international covenant. And the government is judge in its own, rather than in the people’s cause, in shielding itself in this way.”
Many human rights activists and organisations have voiced their support and understanding for Lord Lesterâ€™s position. Amnesty International issued a statement saying that they sympathised with his position and were â€œdisappointed by the antagonism towards human rights coming from the government.â€ The proposed 42 day detention period and the treatment of asylum seekers were singled out by Amnesty as causing particular concern.
Today, 10th December, is International Human Rights Day. And it also marks 60 years since adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.
In Ireland, the Equality and Rights Alliance is calling on TDs and Senators to â€˜stand up for human rights and equality. Amnesty International Ireland made the point as it launches its report Human Rights: The Sustainable Future that this meant not only speaking out against human rights abuses abroad, but also at home. The message is an important one. Ireland, like many developed nations, does little to mark International Human Rights Day, and the role of international human rights treaties tends to be limited to a rhetorical one. At the same time, the government encourages and expects developing nations to â€˜live up toâ€™ their international human rights obligations.
Minister for Foreign Affairs MicheÃ¡l Martin writing in the Irish Times today, states that â€œThe 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers us an opportunity to renew our commitment to securing the declaration’s promise of dignity and justice for all.â€ In practice this renewal of commitment must include both human rights protection at home and abroad. For the Universal Declaration provides the promise of dignity and justice for everyone. And in the current financial climate, the impact of budget cuts on key human rights bodies in Ireland – Equality Authority facing a 43% cut and the Irish Human Rights Commission a 24% cut â€“ are significant. At the very least such cutbacks send out a message that domestic human rights bodies are a luxury â€“ something the government would not suggest to the developing nations they provide development aid to.
International Human Rights Day does however, provide me with an opportunity to highlight significant concerns regarding human rights violations that are being systematically carried out in a country I know well â€“ Cambodia. The country has dropped off the international news agenda in recent times, even as it is gearing up to begin trials of people accused of crimes against humanity arising for atrocities committed during the Pol Pot era. However, whilst Cambodia has been consolidating its rebuilding process following those terrible years of violence and occupation and although its economy has grown dramatically, human rights abuses are widespread. Ironically many of the abuses arise out of years of strong economic growth as the rich consolidate their power and wealth.
Land theft and community evictions are at record levels and represent one of the most significant areas of human rights abuses in the country. According to Amnesty International in 2008 some 150,000 Cambodians were estimated to live at risk of forced eviction and tens of thousands have already been forcibly evicted in recent years: Cambodia: A Risky Business â€“Defending the Right to Housing. These actions leave people homeless or relocated to inadequate resettlement sites with poor infrastructure and limited access to work opportunities. The Cambodian authorities fail to protect the population against forced evictions and in fact many with political and/or economic power are allowed to act with impunity in arbitrarily expropriating land â€“ Cambodia: Rights razed: Forced Evictions in Cambodia. The basic rights to land and housing, access to sanitation, amenities and the possibility of work, are crucial in a country where so many of the population are simply struggling to survive on a day-to-day basis. It is not surprising therefore that many of the countries civil society organisations took to the streets today to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.