The decision to issue an arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir of Sudan by the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been the source of many intense discussions here in Sudan at the moment. This will be the first ICC arrest warrant ever issued for a sitting president. Since I arrived in Sudan a couple of weeks ago I have talked with many Sudanese people who are members of civil society and human rights organizations, most of whom are no fans of their president, but who have varying views on the indictment.
Vice President Joe Biden visited Afghanistan just one week before the inauguration, indicating the new administration’s foreign policy priorities. It is clear that America’s “to do” list in Afghanistan is a long one. But the first order of business should be regaining the trust of Afghans.
After seven years of international presence, the country is still facing tremendous challenges: a weak government, a fledging economy, a serious humanitarian situation and a growing insurgency. As the Vice President himself said on his return, "The truth is that things are going to get tougher in Afghanistan before they're going to get better.”
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, knows first hand that peacemaking can be dangerous and difficult. He dedicated To End A War, his book on the negotiations that ended the war in the Balkans 15 years ago, to three colleagues who died in the early stages of that effort.
In announcing the appointment last week, President Obama said: “There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the Al Qaida and Taliban bases along the border, and there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
President-elect Barack Obama believes that displacement poses both humanitarian and security problems. A recent article in The New York Times illustrates this point by describing problems caused by angry youths in Sudanese refugee camps.
Some 2.7 million people in the Darfur region of Sudan have been displaced by five years of civil war, and many of them live in vast camps. “Increasingly angry and outspoken about their uncertain fate, the generation that came of age in the camps is challenging the traditional sheiks, upending the age-old authority structure of their tribal society and complicating efforts to achieve peace,” The Times reported over the weekend.
The story caught my eye because it highlights a serious problem: long stays in camps—either as refugees out of their countries or displaced within their own countries—can radicalize youth. We have seen this over the years with Palestinians and with Afghan refugees, and we could well see it with displaced Iraqi youths who are living in increasingly desperate conditions.
Today, nearly four years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended over 26 years of brutal civil war, southern Sudan continues to be a place of acute poverty and underdevelopment. Juba, the capital of the south, is a town consisting of ramshackle, hastily put together homes and a steady stream of goats and dust through what could charitably be considered streets.
Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the beginning of the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence.
All around the world people want to know how American policy will change when Barack Obama becomes president. I expect greater U.S. engagement on two humanitarian crises—Darfur and Iraqi displacement.