Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir is riding the kind of hot streak that might make other autocrats think twice before dialling back their most oppressive and provocative policies.
First, the International Criminal Court (ICC) effectively froze its investigation of Sudanese government atrocities in war-torn Darfur. Khartoum then more or less declared the conflict over. Bashir’s government expelled two top UN officials while pressuring the UN to draw down its peacekeeping force in Darfur.
The war in Darfur is far from over and is actually getting worse. As the New York Times reported this week, 457,000 people have been displaced in 2014 with violence roughly equal to what it was at the peak of the conflict about a decade ago. Government-armed militia groups bear much of the responsibility for the escalation. But the regime has waited out both the ICC and the UN. After a decade of conflict, Bashir has proven that the international community is both unwilling and unable to reign him in.
Now he’s taking a victory lap, sitting down with the Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff for his first interview with a western journalist in five years. The dictator took the opportunity to share his thoughts on the police killings of unarmed African Americans this past year.
When Sieff asked Bashir about his government’s crackdown on anti-regime protests in 2012 and 2013 in which as many as 200 people were killed, Bashir responds by characterising the protestors as violent hooligans before implying that his government acts even more virtuously than its American counterpart.
“If these events happened in the United States, would the government allow people to go?” Bashir asked. “Of course, we have examples in the United States. Even someone in his car who is asked to raise his hands and refuses, he will be shot. We’ve seen it. Especially if he is black.”
Considering the Khartoum government’s longstanding hostility towards non-Arab ethnic groups in the country’s south and west, this is an incredibly audacious statement. But it shows how the events of this past year have entered into the vocabulary of authoritarians the world over.
The killing on Michael Brown has been a frequent topic of the Ayatollah Khamenei’s Twitter feed, and on RT, the Kremlin’s state-sponsored English-language news channel. Even the North Koreans have perversely co-opted Ferguson as a cheap authoritarian talking point and a deflection from some of the most severe human rights abuses on earth. And a suddenly-confident Omar al-Bashir — hardly a household name in the US, compared to Khamenei and Kim Jong-Un — knows to deploy it.
Bashir also gloated about how things are going in his country, proclaiming the war in Darfur finished and along with it the UN’s reason for keeping 20,000 peacekeepers in his country: “The area of peace has expanded in Sudan to the extent that there is no need for these forces to stay,” Bashir tells Sieff.
Then he made an appalling statement about people displaced during the Darfur fighting, accusing them of fleeing to refugee camps out of sheer laziness: “They would rather stay in these camps than go back and work.”
Taken with the rest of the interview, Bashir’s Ferguson comment registers as a sign of his almost bottomless cynicism more than a worthwhile comment on human rights. And with the international community helpless to stop atrocities inside Sudan, that cynicism is clearly paying off.
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