Omar al-Bashir: members of the public are warned not to approach this man

The late-breaking news last night that Ejup Ganic, a former Bosnian vice-president, had been arrested at Heathrow was, for my money, heartening. Why? Because we’re supposed to be living in a world that, after Srebrenica, after Kigali, after Darfur, after god-knows-where-next, we DON’T pretend that atrocities in distant (or not-so-distant) countries are nothing to do with us.

Too simple? No, not really. OK, we haven’t miraculously been transported to a brave new world where justice is being pursued rigorously, dispassionately and with 100% even-handedness in every hotspot around the globe. If only. But I’d say there’s no need to fall into the comfortable trap of defeatism (“they’ll always get away with it”), or to slide into a sort of cynicism propagated by the likes of John Laughland (as on The World Tonight last night) that denounces all or most international justice efforts as mere “victor’s justice”.

Is it really the case that Radovan Karadzic’s appearance at The Hague is all about the major powers calling the shots? Here, after all, is a Serb leader on trial while at the same time a former Bosnian leader is picked up in London. Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims have all been indicted by the Hague, and judges come from countries like China, Turkey and Senegal.  It doesn’t look that one-sided to me.

Meanwhile, all this is unfolding while utterly disturbing news reaches us of heavy fighting in Darfur in western Sudan, with reports of “hundreds” of civilian deaths following aerial raids from Sudanese planes.

Lest it be forgotten, Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir has himself been indicted by The Hague’s International Criminal Court for war crimes. Bashir may still be president of Sudan, signing peace deals one day and reportedly unleashing attacks on civilians the next – but he’s also effectively a fugitive from justice. Call me an optimist, but I’d say it’s now only a matter of time before he‘s either apprehended in Khartoum or picked up in a country he visits. The main worry is that this could still take years, but it’s bound to happen eventually.

Back in Britain, the Heathrow arrest reminds me that there’s still intense diplomatic pressure from Israel on the UK government, with Israel wanting amendments to the legal system here to make it harder for suspected war criminals to be arrested on British soil. I’ve blogged previously about this (and an ongoing Amnesty action is here), but let me say it again … there should be no politicisation of this process and no loopholes for officials from favoured “friendly” countries. If someone is suspected of involvement in serious crimes for which there is international justiciability, if they are present in Britain and someone has presented a magistrate with good grounds to order an arrest … then they should be arrested. That’s it.

I couldn’t help thinking of some of this the other week when the alleged Heathrow robber Peter Blake absconded from his trial at the Old Bailey and the authorities (the Flying Squad, actually) issued their standard (and slightly meaningless!) “members of the public are warned that he may be dangerous and not to approach him”.

I kind of think they could say the same about someone like Omar al-Bashir …

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