For decades, summit meetings of the Arab League have resounded with rhetoric about the alleged "double standards" of the West in enforcing U.N. resolutions or respecting international law. No communique of the group — including the one issued from its summit this week in Doha, Qatar — has been complete without a demand that conflicts be resolved "within the framework of international legitimacy."
So it was interesting to see what else was in the latest statement issued by the kings, princes and authoritarian presidents of the Middle East and North Africa. First there was a call on "the international community to prosecute those responsible" for alleged "war crimes" committed by Israel in its recent offensive in Gaza. Then came an ardent defense of Sudanese dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir — who was welcomed to the Doha summit despite an outstanding arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court on multiple war crimes charges.
"We stress our solidarity with Sudan and our rejection of the decision" of the ICC, said the communique, which Bashir welcomed in a bombastic address to the summit plenary. Leader after leader declared fealty. "We must also take a decisive stance of solidarity alongside fraternal Sudan and President Omar al-Bashir," said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is hoping that the Obama administration will pressure Israel to stop building "illegal" settlements in the West Bank; the next time he utters the phrase "double standard" in the presence of a U.S. diplomat, we suggest a query about Bashir.
To be sure, some human rights groups have alleged crimes by Israeli forces in Gaza. But, according to Palestinian accounts, 1,409 people were killed during the offensive, of whom a substantial number were armed Hamas fighters. In contrast, the United Nations has reported more than 300,000 civilian deaths in Darfur as a result of the genocidal campaign sponsored by Bashir. Scores of villages have been burned, and thousands of women raped. Bashir responded to the ICC's arrest warrant last month by expelling international aid groups from Darfur. The result has been growing food and water shortages and new epidemics, according to the Enough Project.
To their credit, a coalition of Middle East human rights groups urged the summit leaders not to protect Bashir. "There should be no immunity for those who have committed crimes," said the Arab Coalition for Darfur. Predictably, the unelected rulers — several of whom could themselves be vulnerable to charges of crimes against humanity — ignored the appeal. If the Obama administration and the rest of the civilized world needed further demonstration of why the promotion of democracy and human rights must be central to any policy for the Middle East, Omar al-Bashir's reception in Doha ought to suffice.