Mahmood Mamdani is a pre-eminent scholar and intellectual in the fields of African history, politics and international relations. The following essay are his thoughts on the recent International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment for crimes of genocide against President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. He is currently the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government in the fields of Political Science and Anthropology at Columbia University, and head of the African Studies Program.
On July 14, after much advance publicity and fanfare, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court applied for an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, on charges that included genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Important questions of fact arise from the application as presented by the prosecutor. But even more important is the light this case sheds on the politics of the "new humanitarian order." ()
This new humanitarian order, officially adopted at the UN's 2005 World Summit, claims responsibility for the protection of vulnerable populations. That responsibility is said to belong to "the international community," to be exercised in practice by the UN, and in particular by the Security Council, whose permanent members are the great powers. This new order is sanctioned in a language that departs markedly from the older language of law and citizenship. It describes as "human" the populations to be protected and as "humanitarian" the crisis they suffer from, the intervention that promises to rescue them and the agencies that seek to carry out intervention. Whereas the language of sovereignty is profoundly political, that of humanitarian intervention is profoundly apolitical, and sometimes even anti-political. Looked at closely and critically, what we are witnessing is not a global but a partial transition. The transition from the old system of sovereignty to a new humanitarian order is confined to those states defined as "failed" or "rogue" states. The result is once again a bifurcated system, whereby state sovereignty obtains in large parts of the world but is suspended in more and more countries in Africa and the Middle East. ()
It takes no great intellectual effort to recognize that the responsibility to protect has always been the sovereign's obligation. It is not that a new principle has been introduced; rather, its terms have been radically altered. To grasp this shift, we need to ask: who has the responsibility to protect whom, under what conditions and toward what end? ()