This is the story of two photos and what they reveal about the incoherence of so-called international criminal justice, as embodied in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Here is a photo of the chief prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo (left), shaking hands with Mahmoud Jibril, the chairman of the Executive Committee of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), on the steps of the court on June 29.
One day earlier, the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for the then Libyan leader Moammar al-Qaddafi on charges of crimes against humanity. The charges gave an obvious public-relations boost to the anti-Qaddafi insurrection in Libya, as well as to the Western countries intervening militarily in support of the rebellion. For the Western public, after all, the entire justification of the war rested on the supposed “responsibility to protect” Libyan civilians from a regime that was allegedly massacring them. The Qaddafi arrest warrant gave this justification the imprimatur of a seemingly authoritative international institution.
Jibril — who is commonly described as the “number two man” in the NTC after Mustafa Abdul Jalil — flew to The Hague to mark the occasion. His symbolically charged handshake with Ocampo on the steps of the court made clear that Jibril and the NTC — and, by extension, the rebellion as a whole — were on the side of the victims.
Here now is a second photo, which shows Mahmoud Jibril exactly three months later, on September 29, at a press conference in Tripoli. In the meantime, massive NATO bombing had paved the way for rebel forces to take control of the Libyan capital.
The man standing at the lectern next to Jibril is none other than the first vice president of Sudan, Ali Osman Taha: a leading representative of a government that the same International Criminal Court accuses not only of crimes against humanity, but indeed of committing outright genocide.
Taha had arrived in Tripoli to meet with NTC officials earlier in the day. Were it not for the general deficiencies of reporting on Libya in the mainstream Western media, his presence in Tripoli at Jibril’s side would have come as no surprise. As discussed in my recent NRO report, “Sudanese in Libya,” Sudan has in fact been an important ally of the Libyan rebellion. Indeed, in mid-June, Sudanese armed forces invaded Libyan territory and, in Mustafa Abdul Jalil’s appreciative words, “liberated” the strategic town of Kufra.
The same Sudanese armed forces are accused by Moreno-Ocampo and the ICC of combining with so-called Janjaweed militias to carry out genocide in Darfur. Vice President Taha has been accused by Moreno-Ocampo of playing an “important role” in that genocide: “in particular by assisting in the mobilization of Militia/Janjaweed.”
The quote comes from Moreno-Ocampo’s July 2008 application for an arrest warrant against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. Moreno-Ocampo’s application further specifies that Vice President Taha instructed tribal leader Musa Hilal “to mobilize his tribesmen into the force that became known as the ‘Quick, Light and Horrible Forces of Misteriha’” (pp. 82–83). The document quotes one Sudanese government official as telling a group of 15 Janjaweed commanders (p. 84), “We as a Government will fulfil [sic] our duty to you Arabs. We will provide weapons and ammunition so that you can annihilate those Zurgas. This directive came from the General Commander in Khartoum and the first Vice President Ali Osman Taha.”
Regarding the term “Zurga,” the prosecutor’s application explains (p. 7), “Al Bashir developed a policy of exploiting real or perceived grievances between the different tribes struggling to prosper in the difficult environment. He promoted the idea of a polarization between tribes aligned with him, whom he labelled ‘Arabs’ and the three ethnic groups he perceived as the main threats, the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa (hereafter ‘target groups’), who became derogatorily referred to as ‘Zurgas’ or ‘Africans.’”
In fact, the term “Zurga” refers to skin color and is, more precisely, a derogatory way of referring to black Africans, or simply “blacks.”
According to Moreno-Ocampo’s account, Vice President Taha personally addressed the same 15 Janjaweed commanders, saying “that the war in Darfur had been imposed upon them and that, as Arabs, they should preserve the unity of their land and religion.” Taha is supposed to have continued (p. 84), “We are willing to supply weapons, ammunition, camels, salary and horses. Martyrs will get money. For every wounded personnel, we are ready to transport them to Khartoum and even send them abroad for medical treatment. Please also accept greetings from the President Omar Al Bashir. . . . I don’t want one single village of Zurgas in Darfur. All the Zurga lands are yours.”
According to testimony cited by Moreno-Ocampo, during one particularly brutal attack on a majority Fur village in 2003, the assailants are supposed to have chanted, “Hail the name of Allah, our orders came from Ali Usman Taha” (p. 35).
As Moreno-Ocampo’s application notes, from an anthropological perspective the distinction between “Arabs” and “Zurgas” makes little sense in the Sudanese context, where the vast majority of the population, including the so-called “Arabs,” are dark-skinned. Nonetheless, it is Moreno-Ocampo’s contention that the Sudanese government not only embraced this distinction, but indeed vowed to “annihilate” the “Zurgas.”
Since Libya’s rebels have been cast in the role of defenders of innocents by the Western media, it might appear shocking that they would make common cause with the regime that stands accused of committing genocide against black African tribes in Darfur. But on closer inspection of the facts, it is not so strange, after all. From the earliest weeks of the Libyan rebellion, there was already extensive video evidence of atrocities committed by rebel forces against predominantly dark-skinned victims. (For examples and discussion, see here and here.)
The rebel atrocities unquestionably constitute war crimes, and, inasmuch as there is strong reason to suspect that many of the victims have been civilians, some of their crimes almost certainly constitute crimes against humanity. For an argument that the rebels’ persecution of the members of one black Libyan tribe constitutes genocide, as defined in international law, see here.
Long aided and abetted by the Western media, the rebels have invariably presented the black victims of their abuse as “foreign mercenaries.” Never mind that millions of black people, both dark-skinned Libyans and black African migrants, already lived in Libya before the rebellion. But the rebels and their supporters have made little attempt to hide their hostility to black Africans in general. After ignoring the evidence of the rebels’ racism for months while the rebellion stagnated, in recent weeks, since the fall of Tripoli, even many mainstream media outlets have begun to talk about it.
By now, there are countless videos available of rebel forces rounding up and abusing black people in the territories they have conquered. Consider, for instance, just the video here, which shows dozens of black men packed into a cage on the back of a truck. All the men appear to be wearing civilian clothing. Their hands appear to be tied behind their backs with plastic restraints. As the truck drives off with its human cargo, cries of “Allahu Akbar!” ring out from the street.
Perhaps, as someone off-camera can be heard asserting at the 0:17 mark of the clip, some or all of the men are indeed “Qaddafi mercenaries.” Perhaps none of them are. But if Luis Moreno-Ocampo and the proponents of international criminal law were faced with such images coming, say, from Sudan — what would they say then?