Archive for Justice

Beware Human Rights Fundamentalism!

Posted in International Affairs, Law with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2009 by Umer

by Mahmood Mamdani

When former South African president Thabo Mbeki makes the African case for a postponement of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) indictment of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, what can he say with dignity and foresight?

To begin with, he should remind his audience that nowhere in the world have rights existed outside an enabling political context. No democracy enforces a fixed standard of rights regardless of the country’s political context. Few can forget how the Bush administration diluted the Bill of Rights in the interest of pursuing Homeland Security. In the relation between law and politics, politics is always paramount. Precisely because the struggle for rights is a political struggle, enforcers of rights — and not just its violators — need to be held politically accountable lest they turn rights enforcement into a private vendetta.

Mbeki can then share with his audience the lessons Africans have learned in the struggle for peace and justice over the past several decades. Contrary to what many think, this lesson is not that there needs to be a trade-off between peace and justice. The real trade-off is between different forms of justice.This became evident with the settlement to end apartheid. That settlement was possible because the political leadership of the anti-apartheid struggle prioritised political justice over criminal justice. The rationale was simple: where there was no victor, one would need the cooperation of the very leaders who would otherwise be charged with war crimes to end the fighting and initiate political reforms. The essence of Kempton Park can be summed up in a single phrase: forgive but do not forget. Forgive all past crimes — in plain words, immunity from prosecution — provided both sides agree to change the rules to assure political justice for the living.

The South African lesson has guided African practice in other difficult situations. In Mozambique Renamo sits in Parliament instead of in jail or in the dock. In South Sudan, too, there would have been neither peace nor a reform of the political system without an agreement not to pursue criminal justice.Why not in Darfur?

Mbeki would also be well advised to keep in mind that in the court of public opinion — unlike in a court of law — the accused is considered guilty until proven innocent.

The public needs to be reminded that when the justices of the ICC granted the prosecutor’s application for a warrant to arrest the president of Sudan, they were not issuing a verdict of guilty. The justices were not meant to assess the facts put before them by the prosecutor, but to ask a different question: if those facts were assumed to be true, would the president of Sudan have a case to answer? Unlike court, which took the facts for granted at the pre-trial stage, we need to ask: to what extent are these facts true? And, to the extent they are true, are they the whole truth?

The prosecutor’s case
The prosecutor’s application charged President al-Bashir with (a) polarising Darfuri tribes into two races (Arab and Zurga or Black), (b) waging a violent conflict (2003-2005) leading to the ethnic cleansing of Zurga ethnic groups from their traditional tribal lands, and (c) and planning the malnutrition, rape and torture of internally displaced persons (IDPs) so as to “slow death” in the camps — a process that the prosecutor claimed went on from 2003 to the time the application was submitted in 2008.

The racialisation of identities in Darfur had its roots in the British colonial period. As early as the late 1920s, the British tried to organise two confederations in Darfur: one “Arab”, the other “Zurga” or black. Racialised identities were incorporated in the census and provided the frame for government policy and administration. In spite of official policy, Arabs never constituted a single racial group. Contemporary scholarship has shown that the Arab tribes of Sudan were not migrants from the Middle East but indigenous groups that became Arabs starting in the 18th century. This is why there can be no single history of Arab tribes of Sudan. Little unites privileged sedentary tribes of riverine Sudan and impoverished nomads of Western Sudan. Unlike the Arabs of riverine north, who have tended to identify with power, the Arabs of Darfur are the most marginalised group in a marginalised province.

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So will our fist strike again!

Posted in Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2007 by Umer

What horror the face of fascism creates!
They carry out their plans with knife-like precision.
Nothing matters to them.
To them, blood equals medals,
Slaughter is an act of heroism…
How hard it is to sing when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
Horror which I am dying.

So wrote Victor Jara in his immortal poem Estadio Chile, moments before his death by the hands of one of the most brutal dictatorship that the world has ever seen – the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile; a tyranny sponsored, as ever, by the U.S.A. While repeating Jara’s words again, I remain convinced that the social-realist literature makes immensely more sense to people who have gone through the experience that the particular literary piece is talking about. I have read the quoted verses of the Jara’s last song countless times, but never before it generated so much strength and meaning for me as it does when I read it today.

The unforeseen and sudden death of Benazir Bhutto led to some of the most agonizing moments of my life. My first reaction when I heard the news of Bhutto’s death over the phone from a friend was utter disbelief – it has to be a rumor. But the news was soon confirmed as I switched on my TV set and messages started pouring in on my cell phone. What happened was horrific. For the first time in my life, I felt shocked to the extent that I was wordless.

To my young mind concerned with the good of my people, the assassination of Bhutto brought immense confusion and horror. As I stayed glued to the TV screen, there were a number of questions that cropped up, but I could not find an answer to any of them. It was like my thinking half died with Benazir. What will happen next? How will the powers that rule Pakistan use this event to their favor? What will happen to our struggle for democracy and social justice? How will people respond to the sense of insecurity that the assassination of Benazir has created? How will this event contribute towards the prevailing threat of religious extremism? Somewhere between all these questions was also a deep sense of sympathy for all those who once witnessed and mourned the death of great leaders like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and President Salvador Allende. I was living through the ordeal that they once went through. I could comprehend what it is to deal with political uncertainty and insecurity and what it is to live under the shade of fascist terror.

Confusion, however, is temporary, particularly if your mind is equipped with the tools of Marxist theory and revolutionary practice defines the motto of your life. So, I started explaining to myself what might be there behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in order to reach a conclusion about what needs to be done.

In my view, as I have written elsewhere, the murder to Bhutto resulted in collusion between the Islamic Extremism and the pro-Taliban lobby in the ruling establishment of Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto was not as much a threat for the former for the lack of effective power as she was for the latter. The pro-Taliban lobby in the armed forces knew very well that their defacement would be construed as the disgrace of their institution internationally and, therefore, enjoyed a strong cover through this blackmail. They also knew well that Benazir Bhutto, with a history of opposing the military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq that killed her father and with the patronage of Washington, will not miss a chance to publicize the activities of the remnants of Zia era in the international arena. Had that happened, the armed forces would have lost the much needed international image with which they justified its continuous rule over the people and resources of Pakistan. Benazir became, as Aitzaz Ahsan correctly pointed out, a threat for the establishment of Pakistan.

The retributive struggle against the death of Benazir, therefore, has two main forces to blame: Islamic Extremism and Armed forces. Without ending the power of Army, the pro-Taliban elements within the Army responsible for the assassination of Bhutto can not be brought to justice. The struggle for democracy is now not just a struggle against Pervez Musharraf, but a struggle to bring the clandestine activities of intelligence wings of armed forces under public scrutiny. Army must no longer benefit from the privilege that it has been enjoying since the colonial era. People should not merely throw the Army out of power, but must conduct its post-mortem to see where the problem lies. Our struggle is no more about the separation between Army and politics, but about the subjugation of the former to the latter.

At this point in the history of my country, I humbly will call upon all my people to heighten their effort for democracy and resistance against military dictatorship and religious extremism. It’s time to refurnish long lost popular unity built on the foundations of democracy and social justice. It’s time to refresh our resolve for a better world. It’s time to renew our commitment for people’s rule. It’s time to live, for slavery is no better than death.

The water is transparent
White between our fingers
it flows
“El Fascismo-el Fascismo”

-Take your guitar
Chilean
and play play
until our arteries brust
don’t let the dust
swallow your brain
Strike!
the women
will give birth to grenades.

– Andrée Appercelle, To Chile, To Allende

The task that the history sets out for us is difficult but it’s crucial. Without struggle and unity, we will perish, and history will never forgive us. Hope, we can not loose. Struggle, we can not put down. And when we move forward, let the verses of Victor Jara, ready to embrace death for his cause, give us strength and courage:

To see myself among so much
And so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment…
So will our fist strike again!