A Sudanese general linked to genocide in Darfur is leading an Arab League team to Syria to monitor the regime’s compliance with a promise to end its violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Gen. Mohamed Ahmad al-Dabi served as Sudan’s military intelligence chief, and President Omar Bashir appointed him as his representative in the western province of Darfur in the late 1990s.
In Darfur, Gen. al-Dabi recruited and armed Arab militias and set the building blocks for the mass killing of black Africans, said Omer Ismail, a Sudan analyst with the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group.
“He was one of the architects of the genocide in Darfur. Instead of going to Syria, he should be investigated by the ICC and held accountable for his deeds,” he added.
The Hague-based International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Gen. al-Dabi on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He denies the allegations.
Mousab Azzawi, chief coordinator with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in an interview from London that Gen. al-Dabi’s presence undermines the credibility of the Arab League mission.
“Out of 340 million Arabs, they could not find one decent person to lead the observer mission?” he said.
Gen. al-Dabi on Wednesday said that he had seen “nothing frightening” in the restive city of Homs, where the Syrian military has inflicted mass casualties.
About one-third of the more than 5,000 deaths documented by the United Nations in the uprising that started in March have been reported from Homs.
Nevertheless, Gen. al-Dabi told the Reuters News Agency, “The situation seemed reassuring so far.”
His comments sparked an angry response from the Syrian opposition.
“I wonder if he does not have a much higher threshold than others for what constitutes frightening, given his own baggage,” said Rafif Jouejati, a spokeswoman for the civil resistance movement in Syria.
Members of the opposition Syrian National Council worry that Gen. al-Dabi’s comments portend a possible Arab League whitewash of the crackdown on protesters by Syrian President Bashar Assad.
An Arab League official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Gen. al-Dabi is not wanted by the ICC in connection with war crimes in Darfur, but declined to say whether the accusations would affect the monitors’ mission in Syria.
The Obama administration has called on the Syrian regime to allow unfettered access to the monitors. However, the Arab League team is accompanied by Syrian military minders, deterring many who want to report atrocities committed by the regime’s forces but fear for their safety.
“How effective can people believe this delegation to be when it is being accompanied by the tools of the regime that are killing them,” said Dima Moussa, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council and spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Council of Homs.
The Assad regime has flouted an Arab League peace initiative that calls on it to halt its crackdown, open talks with the opposition, withdraw forces from city streets and allow access to human rights workers and journalists.
Najib Ghadbian of the Syrian National Council predicted that the Arab League mission is destined to fail.
“The point of the mission is to stop the killing, but the killing is still going on even while the observers are on the ground,” he said. “We don’t believe this is going to work.”
In Homs, explosions and gunfire rocked the city, armored vehicles were in the streets, and a large protest erupted even as the observers visited on Tuesday.
Abu Rami, a resident of Homs, said security forces killed 15 people.
“What is the use of these monitors if this death machine doesn’t stop?” he asked.
On the eve of the monitors’ visit, the regime transferred thousands of political prisoners to military bases, giving the impression to the monitors that there are very few people incarcerated for opposing the government, according to multiple sources.
Activists also accused the regime of deceiving the monitors by changing neighborhood signs.
In Homs on Tuesday, the team was taken to Nuzha, a pro-regime neighborhood but were told they were in Bab Sbaa where heavy fighting has been reported.
International journalists have mostly been barred from Syria, making it difficult to confirm accounts from conflict zones.
The monitors are expected to visit the city of Hama on Thursday.