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Sudan divided over ICC charges against Bashir

Most support president but non-Arabs say he should be tried by international court.

Students at the law department of Sudan's Khartoum University, above, have differing opinions about the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir. Because of government repression the students are reluctant to openly discuss the issue. (Betwa Sharma/GlobalPost)

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Outwardly, all seems normal at the Khartoum University campus. The sun streams through the hundred-year-old passageways. Noisy students mill around the campus with reckless abandon.

But a closer look reveals something strange. No one discusses politics openly. A rally opposing the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is quashed within minutes. Government “inspectors” are said to roam the halls, listening for anyone “inciting dissent.”

Only after careful negotiations will five students agree to meet in a small room of the law department to discuss the current politics, including the arrest warrant that has been issued by the International Criminal Court against Bashir for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

On the condition that their real names are not used, they talk about whether the ICC's first arrest warrant against a sitting head-of-state is a ground-breaking moment for international justice or whether it will frustrate the endeavors for peace and prolong the war.

“There can be no peace without justice,” is a black and white mantra. But realities on the ground in Sudan are gray.

Omar is a second year law student who is against the indictment. “This interference will hold back peace in the region,” he declares. An Arab from Nyala city in South Darfur, 23-year-old Omar has unshaken faith in Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party.

Another student, Ibrahim, who was arrested for organizing a pro-ICC rally, sees Bashir's NCP in a more negative light. His home village was attacked and scorched in the conflict in Darfur. “Even if Bashir develops Darfur that does not release him from his crimes,” he said.

Since childhood, Ibrahim, who is half-Fur, has felt suffocated by the Arabization of the Sudan. “I would have learned English rather than Arabic,” complained the 25-year-old student.

His classmate Fatima, 20, an Arab from North Sudan, seems annoyed with questions about growing up in an Islamic state. “No religion treats women better than Islam,” she declares, pushing a stray strand of hair behind her pink headscarf. “The ICC is a political tool controlled by Western powers. Bashir does not deserve to go to jail, Bush does.”

Like many Sudanese, Fatima does not believe that international intervention will help the Darfurians. “They need peace and development, not justice,” she said.

It is not safe to talk for very long. As curious students pop their heads into the small room, the group is eager to disperse. “They could be informers,” someone explained. Minutes after they scatter, an inspector arrives and begins to ask questions.