Politics & Policy

Sudanese in Libya

Our allies in Libya, it turns out, include the people accused of genocide in Darfur.

In a further sign of the close relations between Sudan and the new rulers in Libya, Sudan’s first vice president, Ali Osman Taha, met with the chairman of the executive board of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), Mahmoud Jibril, in Tripoli on Thursday. The same Ali Osman Taha has been accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of complicity in what the court’s chief prosecutor has identified as genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur — the crimes for which Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir is under indictment by the court. Taha’s visit coincided with a visit to Libya’s new rulers by John McCain and three other Republican senators.

Taha’s meeting with Jibril was the third meeting in Libya between leading Sudanese officials and NTC officials in just over a month. On August 27, as reported by the Sudan Tribune, Sudanese foreign minister Ali Ahmed Karti met with NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil in Benghazi, the erstwhile capital of the Libyan rebellion. A few days earlier, the head of Sudanese intelligence, Mohamed Atta, is reported to have likewise met with rebel leaders in Benghazi.

According to the Sudan Tribune, during Foreign Minister Karti’s visit, Jalil expressed his gratitude for Sudanese support for the Libyan rebellion. “It is time to announce that Sudan provided military support to the revolutionaries,” Jalil is quoted as saying. He is reported to have added, more specifically, that Sudanese forces had helped to “liberate some cities, such as the city of Kufra” in southeastern Libya.

Already in July, the Daily Telegraph, citing NATO sources, reported that Sudanese troops had crossed the border and taken control of Kufra, but the report was denied at the time by Khartoum.

The confirmation of the presence of Sudanese troops in southeastern Libya casts new light on a video that emerged in June and that at the time was said to document atrocities committed by Libyan rebels in Kufra. The video was posted online by the Italian news agency ANSA on June 21 and can be viewed here. (Note that a commercial in Italian will appear prior to the clip.) According to ANSA, the clip, nearly four minutes long, was filmed on a cell phone by a Nigerian refugee who later fled Libya and made his way to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The video shows large numbers of what appear to be sub-Saharan migrants, including young children, being held prisoner and abused by a group of armed men. In the chilling segment with which the clip begins, a row of terrified young boys is being whipped with switches. The original ANSA report identified the perpetrators of the abuse as Libyan rebels. Unlike Libyan rebel forces, however, many of the armed men in the video are wearing regular army uniforms. At the 2:48 mark of the clip, moreover, a Sudanese flag can be clearly seen on the sleeve of one of these uniforms, suggesting that the perpetrators were in fact members of the Sudanese armed forces.

The Sudanese support for the Libyan rebellion will come as no surprise to regular observers of African politics. Deposed Libyan leader Moammar al-Qaddafi is known to have supported rebel movements in Sudan’s Darfur region. Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of one of the main Darfur rebel forces, the Justice and Equality Movement, had been living in exile in Tripoli of late. The Libyan rebellion against Qaddafi appears to have provided President Bashir the opportunity for payback.

But the Sudanese support for the Libyan rebels raises obvious questions about the coherence of the so-called “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, which was invoked to justify international military intervention in Libya. The allegedly humanitarian justification was reinforced when the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Qaddafi in June, charging him with crimes against humanity. Qaddafi thus became just the second sitting head of state to be made the object of an ICC arrest warrant — after none other than Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.

The chief prosecutor’s July 2008 application for an arrest warrant against al-Bashir accuses Sudanese armed forces and Janjaweed militias of slaughtering civilians in Darfur. The document specifically accuses Vice President Taha — Thursday’s visitor to Tripoli — of playing an “important role” in “mobilizing” the Janjaweed militias. (For a summary of the prosecutor’s assessment of Taha’s role, see the Sudan Tribune report here.)

Both the U.S. State Department and the ICC have identified the alleged crimes of the Sudanese government in Darfur as genocide. Now it turns out that some of the very Sudanese forces that stand accused of carrying out genocide in Darfur have been the de facto allies of the Western powers in Libya.

— John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.


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