Under the title "Sudan/United Nations: Do Not Meet With Officials Wanted for War Crimes", Kenneth Roth - the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch - published a letter to the UN Secretary General.
He questioned the sanity of UN officials attending the inauguration of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, who is indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country's western Darfur region.
I have mixed feelings about this stand, and decided to write an open letter to Mr. Kenneth Roth myself. Here are both letters:
Letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
May 24, 2010
I was dismayed to learn of your spokesperson's recent announcement that UN representatives Haile Menkerios and Ibrahim Gambari plan to attend the May 27 presidential inauguration of Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum. I urge you to reconsider this decision because it is both wrong and contrary to United Nations (UN) guidelines on this very issue.
UN guidelines limit UN interaction with individuals indicted by international criminal courts such as President al-Bashir to "what is strictly required for carrying out UN mandated activities." Attendance at the inauguration cannot be justified as "strictly required." To the contrary, the UN guidelines state that "[t]he presence of UN representatives in any ceremonial or similar occasion with [persons indicted by international criminal courts] should be avoided." In addition, I understand that further UN guidance specifically concerning President al-Bashir bearing your initials states that "interactions of a ceremonial nature with President Al-Bashir should be avoided, including courtesy calls, receptions, photo opportunities, attendance at national day celebrations and so on."
These guidelines are right. Disregarding them will significantly damage the UN's credibility. Attending the inauguration of an individual subject to an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for serious atrocity crimes would send a terrible message to victims of such crimes in Darfur and around the world that their suffering is not reason enough to dispense with ceremonial support for their alleged abuser. Attendance also risks signaling that the United Nations is not committed to the ICC's success-a signal that would be particularly unfortunate to send in the week before the first review conference of the ICC's Rome Statute, which takes place in neighboring Kampala, Uganda from May 31 to June 11, 2010. The review conference will be a moment of significant attention to the court's work and an important time to showcase dedication to the cause of international justice. Any short-sighted breach of the UN's own principles will be doing neither the court nor you any favors.
For all of these reasons, I hope you will reconsider the plans for UN officials at any level to attend the al-Bashir inauguration. Should you wish to discuss this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Human Rights Watch
My answer reads:
Letter to Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
May 27th 2010
Dear Mr. Roth,
While I applaud the tenacity in which your organisation pursues injustice and attempts to protect the weak and oppressed, I call upon you for a better balance in your actions, rather than pushing for issues "that suit The West".
You are correctly insisting the UN should be consequent in its actions towards Mr.al-Bashir. However, so should your organisation.
As an example: Back in 2003, George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf and Tommy Franks were indicted in a Belgian court for crimes against humanity, under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Under the pressure of the US, the Belgian law was changed. Apart from my amazement on the hypocrisy of the Belgian politicians, I would still like to point out that your organisation was one of the six human rights groups calling the loss of the universal jurisdiction component "a step backwards in the global fight against the worst atrocities."
Now I wonder, if you stood that firmly on the principle of universal jurisprudence, and indeed supported the indictment of the Bush gang, did you also write a letter to the UN Secretary General insisting on avoiding any official contact with the Bush administration?
I understand both cases are unsimilar. Bush was unfortunately not indicted by the ICC - even though he should have been. However, I call upon you, to stand by your universal principles. Bashing Mr.al-Bashir is singing a tune very popular in the West. Bashing Bush would not have been. Or was that goal too high? Too ambitious? Too costly for your organisation's supporters? Funders?
For all of these reasons, I hope you will admit the error at that time of the Bush administration. I encourage your organisation to pursue objective measures, and not only those suiting The West, or to those popular by demand, and easy hits in Western media.
Should you wish to discuss this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Let's see what he says.
Picture courtesy AP Photo/Gerald Herbert