Thursday, 6 December 2007

One woman's release will not end the injustice

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Like Gillian Gibbons imprisoned for the crime of calling a teddy bear Mohamed, I know something of the havoc wreaked on families and individuals by the topsy-turvy morality of the authorities in Sudan. After the coup in 1989, the regime arrested me – I was a trade unionist – and imprisoned me for more than a year, although I was never told what crime I had committed. I was tortured in the “ghosthouses” for two months. For the first month my family had no idea where I was. But the arbitrary nature of the regime in Khartoum does not affect only those wrongly imprisoned. Perhaps even more disturbingly, it also affects who is allowed to remain free. On Wednesday the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will tell the UN Security Council that the two men who have had an arrest warrant issued against them by the court for the murder and mayhem that have ravaged Darfur in the past five years have still not been handed over to face trial. One of those men, Ahmed Haroun, wanted for the destruction of villages in South Darfur, is now enjoying all the perks of high office. But Haroun is not any old minister – he is the minister in charge of humanitarian affairs. Like the plot for the bleakest of satires, Haroun is responsible for the welfare of the same people whose lives he is accused of having destroyed. As is so often the way, the plight of one person has come to highlight a far wider concern: the Sudanese Government’s ingrained utter disregard for fundamental rights. We must channel our outrage at the punishment meted out to Ms Gibbons into bringing to an end the Sudanese Government’s attempts to thwart international justice. The British Government’s efforts to secure Ms Gibbon’s immediate release deserve to be applauded. But in the interests of justice, it must also act on the bigger picture. Using its influence on the Security Council, Britain can help the international community to take the first steps towards justice for the millions that have suffered in Darfur. At the same time we must try to ensure that the hard-won peace agreement between North and South Sudan is put into force – that will also mean ending arbitrary detention, torture and restrictions on freedom of expression across Sudan.

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