Been thinking more about the motivations behind Darfur activists’ interest in Sudan, their ethical frameworks and moral reasoning following on from a previous post I wrote on Ben Wallace-Wells Darfuristan piece. It was prompted by Bec Hamilton’s invitation to comment, in which she took exception to Wallace-Wells interpretation of the peace v justice debate, which came into sharp focus when President Bashir expelled 13 aid agencies following the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant.
Wallace-Wells portrays the episode as a straightforward mistake: one event provoking the inevitable backlash; the arrest warrant to blame for the expulsions.
The unqualified optimism lasted precisely five minutes. Exactly that long after the indictment was announced, Sudanese police began to order humanitarian aid workers to leave the country.
Hamilton disagrees. On her blog she accuses Wallace-Wells of short sightedness:
The segment on Justice falls into the standard trap of painting a picture, promulgated by Khartoum, to suggest that the ICC caused the expulsion of the humanitarians. To state the obvious, it was Khartoum’s choice to thwart the humanitarian operation, and it is a choice they had already been making long before the ICC came along
Her logic is perfectly reasonable. Essentially her point is that Bashir has long hampered the ability of NGOs to do their jobs, so why blame the ICC for the latest round of obstructions? He knew he could get away with it because the rest of the world had not shown enough steel in dealing with him before.
Fair enough. As I say, nothing wrong with the reasoning. But I disagree. And the disagreement here lies at the heart of the problem with advocacy on Darfur, not to mention capturing one of the biggest disagreements in philosophy down the ages. Bridging this divide lies at the heart of efforts to save Darfur and might have lessons for future public policy.
Here’s how it goes. Bashir has a history of intimidating, harassing and obstructing the work of aid agencies in Darfur. For Hamilton that means he is to blame for expelling the aid agencies and no-one else. But what if the expulsions were the knowable, predictable result of the ICC indictment. Plenty of aid agencies were warning of exactly that. So too Sudano-philes such as Alex de Waal and Julie Flint. Knowing the risks, the ICC still indicted Bashir (of course, its place is not to make ethical or policy decisions, rather to prosecute when they are called on by the UN, but bear with me). Does that not mean the ICC judges – or at least the political leaders who asked them to consider charges – shoulder some of the responsibility. Are we not responsible for the consequences of our actions? Don’t the consequences matter?
Not to the advocates who pushed the justice solution. For them Bashir is responsible for his actions, as Hamilton argues; we for ours. And we are acting in the proper fashion by seeking justice. Why? Well, it’s the right thing to do.
This debate is not new and it pops up all the time. This is just the latest incarnation of a centuries old debate between consequentialists and deontologists. Do we use an ethics based on rules or one based on consequences? In Darfur it has resurfaced as part of the peace vs justice argument about whether or not we should indict President Bashir. That issue is rather done now, but it still has lessons for the wider questions about what to do in Darfur.
PARALYSED BY POLARITY
The question is not about which position is right and which is wrong. That’s for philosophers. And the truth is that most people operate with a mixture of the two approaches (eg it is wrong to lie, unless to fail to do so might hurt someone’s feelings) . The point is how to reconcile the two, so that at least we can agree on what is important in the debate and how to frame the questions. What is the end point of our interventions? What is success? What are we trying to do?
Maybe this question is too esoteric to be worth worrying about. People are hungry and frightened in Darfur. Why trouble ourselves? Well in the case of Darfur, the debate has often become paralysingly polarised between the two points of view – often expressed by aid agencies or diplomats as consequentialists on the one hand, and human rights advocates on the other. Often their points of view will coincide. Other times they will be in direct opposition. Forging a middle way on justice and peace has been impossible, for example, when the two sides not only differ on policy – but differ fundamentally in the way they see the world.
Bridging that divide is something I’ll explore next week.