Ibrahim Gambari is head of Unamid, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. He’s a diplomat. And one of the things about being a diplomat is that you go to things when you are invited. That’s the diplomatic thing to do. And so it was that he turned up at a wedding do in Khartoum. Of course it wasn’t any old wedding. It was the marriage of Chad’s president Idriss Deby to a daughter of the infamous Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal. And guess who was there? Omar al Bashir, president of Sudan who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on several counts of crimes against humanity.
Unpleasant and distasteful the company may have been. But then few diplomats in the region would get very far if they avoided unpleasant and distasteful company. But look what happened next:
New York-based Human Rights Watch protested in a letter last week to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the meeting, in which a Reuters photograph showed Ibrahim Gambari talking to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir at the wedding in Khartoum.
“Mr. Gambari’s attention has been drawn to the letter and to the need to avoid such encounters in future, however unintentional this particular encounter may have been,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
In an ideal world, of course Mr Gambari should not be consorting with suspects such as Mr Bashir or his Janjaweed lieutenant. But then again, we don’t live in an ideal world. As Simon Allison points out, that is rather why we have diplomats:
This is a conflict in which there aren’t any good guys, only men of varying levels of disrepute. Bashir is among the worst, but he is also the most important. Knowing this, and given the parlous state of Darfuri politics does it not make some kind of sense that Gambari should seize whatever opportunities he can to speak with Bashir and his lieutenants?
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I turn up at an office in my tie with tape recorder in hand then everyone’s guard goes up. Instead I get some of my best work done, contacts made and titbits collected at social occasions. And the same goes for diplomacy.
The human rights analysis has proved an effective tool for raising awareness of so much suffering around the world. But sometimes we have to remember it isn’t the only game in town.
In the end, Mr Gambari has a better chance of making a difference in Darfur than a bloke with a megaphone laying down the law from New York.