By: Dr. Rafael Medoff
The same week that Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez denounced Israel as “genocidal,” he invited a genuine perpetrator of genocide, the president of Sudan, to attend a summit in Caracas.
Hypocritical? Outrageous? Offensive?
All of the above. But Chavez also may have inadvertently created an opportunity for the United States or its allies to take a major step towards ending the Darfur genocide.
Chavez announced last week that Israel’s “genocidal government” is “a murderous lackey at the service of imperialism.” In almost the same breath, he invited Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to Caracas later this month, to take part in the third annual Africa-South America Summit.
Evidently Chavez was not fazed by the fact that earlier this year, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Bashir for his role in the Darfur genocide. Bashir’s government sponsors the Arab militias, or janjaweed, that have brutally slaughtered hundreds of thousands of non-Arab Darfurians in recent years.
The indictment charges Bashir for “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” for “intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing, and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property.”
Bashir, craving international legitimacy, has desperately sought countries that would permit him to visit without being arrested. And he has found some. In March, he visited Eritrea, Egypt, Libya, and Qatar, where he took part in the Doha Arab Summit. The following month, he was welcomed in Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. In June, it was Zimbabwe, and in July he visited Egypt a second time.
There was a brief bump in the road this summer, however, when Uganda announced that Bashir might be arrested if he attempted to participate in the “Smart Partnership” conference in Kampala. It was the first attempt to isolate Bashir and treat him like the pariah he is. And it worked: Bashir decided to stay home.
Venezuela is a party to the International Criminal Court and is obligated to implement the arrest warrant for Bashir.
But don’t count on that happening any time soon. Chavez has been actively pursuing warmer relations with the genocidal regime in Sudan. In 2005, Venezuela established diplomatic relation s with Sudan. Last year, a Venezuelan embassy was opened in Khartoum, and just last month Bashir appointed his first ambassador to Caracas.
So perhaps it is no surprise that Chavez invited Bashir to the upcoming summit in the Venezuelan capitol. And surely Bashir must be tempted to accept the invitiation. After all, it would be his first visit to the Western Hemisphere since the ICC warrant was issued. That would be a significant step in Bashir’s campaign to escape international isolation.
The problem for Bashir is that a flight from Sudan to Venezuela would have to stop somewhere for refueling. Perhaps twice.
That would create one, maybe two, opportunities to capture Bashir. America’s military forces have demonstrated their ability to apprehend wanted figures in unusual situations. One only need recall the U.S. capture of the hijackers of the Achille Lauro in 1985 by forcing down the Egyptian plane that was carrying them, or the pursuit and arrest of Manuel Noriega by U.S. forces in Panama in 1990. America’s allies are also capable of undertaking such operations.
Sixty-five years ago this week, U.S. bombers flew within a few miles of the Auschwitz death camp as they struck German oil factories nearby. They were never given the order to hit the gas chambers, the crematoria, or the railway lines leading to them. The Roosevelt administration was not willing to expend even the most minimal resources for such a non-military goal.
Today, in the face of the ongoing killings in Darfur, the leaders of the Free World face a similar question as they consider whether to employ a small amount of military force in order to take down the world’s primary perpetrator of genocide.