Sudan's Expulsion Of Aid Groups Escalates Crisis

Dr. Rajeev Fernando of Doctors Without Borders kisses a friend before leaving Sudan. i

Dr. Rajeev Fernando of Doctors Without Borders kisses a friend at his house in Khartoum on Friday before leaving Sudan following an order by the Sudanese government. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Dr. Rajeev Fernando of Doctors Without Borders kisses a friend before leaving Sudan.

Dr. Rajeev Fernando of Doctors Without Borders kisses a friend at his house in Khartoum on Friday before leaving Sudan following an order by the Sudanese government.

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, excoriated the government of Sudan on Friday for what she called "reckless" and "callous" actions that "threaten the lives of innocents."

Rice was referring to Sudan's decision to expel 13 aid groups after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir on war crimes charges.

Rice told NPR's Melissa Block she spoke with Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, on Friday and urged him to reverse course.

"I underscored that if the government of Sudan proceeds down this course, it will represent a major escalation of the crisis in Darfur, as well as precipitate a crisis in the government's relationship with the rest of the international community," she says.

Bashir has support from the African Union, the Arab League and China to defer the arrest for a year. But Rice says that the U.S. and most of the countries on the United Nations Security Council "do not believe that a deferral is justified or constructive."

"And indeed the events over the last 48 hours only underscore the importance of standing up for the people of Sudan and not allowing the government to put its people at risk and do so with impunity," she says.

Rice says she thinks she "clearly and forcefully delivered" the message to the government in Khartoum to reverse course.

"This move has the potential to take the crisis to a different level," she says. If the Sudanese government does reverse course, Rice says, "then we'll need to take a look at all of the levers at our disposal."

'A Sad Day' For Sudan

Alex De Waal, program director with the Social Science Research Council and author of Darfur: A New History of a Long War, says, however, that an arrest warrant might not be the most prudent course of action.

He says the arrest warrant introduces a new level of uncertainty in "an extremely volatile country" that is "in the middle of a very complex, negotiated transition toward democracy" — rather, a country that needs certainty.

He calls the action by the ICC to issue the arrest warrant for Bashir a "sad day" for Sudan.

"What we're seeing over the last couple of days is the beginnings of things going really quite seriously wrong," he says.

The original international strategy was to negotiate with Bashir rather than remove him from power, De Waal says. Bashir had signed agreements, and the international community was pressuring him to honor them.

"If we introduce a new element into this equation, which is an arrest warrant which can never be withdrawn, no possibility of amnesty ... then we've changed the game, we've created a man who has nothing to lose," De Waal says. "Not just a man, actually a regime because those around him who are not indicted, but are equally implicated, are all in the same boat. They know, they either stay together or if they don't hang together, they will hang separately. ...If you look at the colleagues around him, are they any better? They're absolutely no different."

De Waal says the prospect of a coup d'etat, or an unconstitutional change in government, is dangerous.

"I think it's much better to stick with the devil we know. He may be a devil, he has stuck to a considerable number of agreements, the key parts of the North, South agreement," De Waal says.

De Waal says that the Sudanese have to live together.

"The only way whereby the Sudanese can live together is if there is some space for everyone," he says. "That means a soft landing for those who — yes, they presided over dreadful crimes — but that is precisely why they need to be accommodated."

He says the "only option on the table" is a negotiated settlement.

"It is an imperfect option," he says. "It involves a number of unpleasant compromises that stick in my throat as someone who has worked on human rights issues in this country for a long time. But nonetheless, it is better than any other alternative that is on the table."

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