As unrest continued to grip several parts of Syria on Monday, a group of Arab League observers arrived in the country as part of a mission to monitor a nine-month-long crackdown on anti-government protests. Leading the delegation is Sudanese General Mohamed Ahmad Mustafa al-Dabi, a man whose past has raised questions over the legitimacy of the mission.
In early December, after weeks of stalling, Syria’s government finally agreed to comply with an Arab League deal allowing a delegation of observers into the country in order to assess whether President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had honoured its promise to withdraw troops from various cities and release prisoners. Dabi arrived in Syria’s capital Damascus over the weekend to prepare for the Arab League’s mission, and met with several government officials on Monday.
According to the United Nations, at least 5,000 Syrians have been killed in clashes between Syrian security forces and anti-government protesters since March.
Upon hearing news that Dabi had been appointed to head the delegation, the Enough Project, a Washington-based non-profit organisation dedicated to fighting genocide and crimes against humanity, immediately slammed the decision.
“It is perplexing that the Arab League chose the Khartoum regime's General al-Dabi to lead its team monitoring the Syria regime because of his record of turning a blind eye to human rights crimes, or worse”, said Omer Ismail, Sudan analyst for the Enough Project.
Ismail also accused Dabi of having stood witness to similar crimes in Sudan, saying, “Instead of heading a team entrusted with a probe of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by Syria, the general should be investigated by the ICC for evidence of similar crimes in Sudan."
Dabi, 63, is a veteran of Sudan’s military. Over the course of his lengthy career, he rose steadily through the ranks, eventually becoming President Omar al-Bashir’s head of intelligence.
His role in the military and his relationship to Sudan’s president has been a point of speculation. On March 4, 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant
for al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes over his role in the Darfur conflict.
Attempts to contact the Arab League for a comment were not immediately answered.
Dabi is expected to oversee a trip of Arab League observers of Syria’s restive city of Homs on Tuesday amid continued reports of deadly clashes in the area.
Hivin Kako, a spokesperson for the opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
(SOHR), declined to comment on Dabi’s appointment, saying that the SOHR was aware of the allegations against him, yet as far as they knew, he had never been charged of any crime.
“We support the mission”, Kako said, pointing out that their main concern was getting Arab League observers into Homs. “We’re going to give them 48 hours to figure out what’s going on before we react”.