On July 14, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor requested for an arrest warrant for President Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur. Charges comprise killing members of the Zaghawa, Masalit and Fur ethnic groups, inflicting life
On July 14, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor requested for an arrest warrant for President Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur. Charges comprise killing members of the Zaghawa, Masalit and Fur ethnic groups, inflicting life conditions calculated to cause ethnic destruction, intentionally attacking civilian populations, torture and rape. Since 2003 about 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur and 2.7 million displaced. Sudanâ€™s government denies backing either of the conflicting parties but according to ENOUTH, a think-tank, the Sudanese government directly finances and gives direct battlefield support to the janjaweed militias that terrorise Darfur.
Politicians, diplomats and elites have argued that indicting Bashir bodes ill for Darfurians and southern Sudanese. South Africaâ€™s President proposed a suspension of the indictment and South Sudan President Salva Kiir argues that the ICC should delay Bashirâ€™s indictment until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with South Sudan has been implemented and a peaceful settlement in Darfur has been reached.
Speaking on behalf of the African Union (AU), Tanzanian foreign minister stated that arresting Bashir would create a leadership vacuum in Sudan with outcomes similar to Iraq. The former US special envoy for Sudan similarly argued that the indictment may shut off the last remaining hope for a peaceful settlement for Darfur.
The above statements insinuate that holding perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide accountable is unhelpful and will make the situation worse for Darfurians and southern Sudanese. Looking at the present situation, the UN-led peace keepers in Darfur remain ineffective with only 9,000 of the required 26,000; they cannot adequately protect civilians. Seven peacekeepers died in an attack that occurred before the indictment and was not a response to it. Furthermore, aid workers face harassment, obstruction, intimidation and arrests.
Tensions between North and South threaten to undo the CPA. The International Crisis Group reported that CPA implementation is strained due to lack of support and political will by North Sudan. The Sudanreeves.org reported that Bashirâ€™s government exploits gaps in the CPA to delay and frustrate its implementation and it reneges on key commitments. In October 2007, the South-Sudan government threatened to boycott the coalition with the North over concerns on implementing the CPA. Is this the situation that would be upset with an ICC indictment? Bashirâ€™s government does not need an ICC indictment to engage in brutal behaviour. Conversely, introducing accountability to the Darfur conflict could change the conflictâ€™s dynamics.
ICC indictments against Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor led to positive results. Milosevic was indicted in 1999 during a NATO bombing campaign; and peace talks between the US, Russia and Finland were occurring. Opponents of Milosevicâ€™s indictment argued that it would ruin peace talks and remove good will from the negotiations. Alternatively, the indictment would force Milosevic to stay in power or make him adopt a more brutal approach in Kosovo. However, the indictment did not cause the predicted catastrophe. Peace talks resumed, Serb forces withdrew from the province and Milosevic allowed Kosovar refugees to return home. When Taylor was indicted, the people involved in the peace process similarly thought that the indictment would obstruct peace efforts for Liberia. Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana complained about the timing of the indictment because they were persuading Taylor to resign. The ICC was impugned for bringing justice concepts into politics of peace negotiations. However, Taylorâ€™s indictment, combined with international pressure, created leverage to convince Taylor to leave power. The warrant was executed and peace returned to Liberia.
The above examples demonstrate that an ICC indictment can reduce armed conflict. Bashir is presently taking steps towards the situation in Darfur. He went to Darfur on July 23 and met with the United Nations-AU peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) and reassured them of governmentâ€™s preparedness to provide security for the missionâ€™s convoys. Earlier on Sudanese officials met with the Secretary-General of the Arab League to discuss cooperation and peace in Darfur in the wake of the war crimes charges against Bashir.
The indictment could create an incentive for Bashir to ensure peace in Darfur. Holding war crimes perpetrators accountable can thereby promote peace and reduce chances of future abuses. The International Justice torch should be to shine on human rights violations and deter perpetrators of crimes from emulating others who have benefited from impunity.
South Africa called for suspension of Bashir's indictment, and Article 16 of the Rome statute empowers the UN Security council to suspend investigations and prosecutions. The indictment will give the Security Council leverage to demand for Bashir commitment to peace in Darfur. Incidentally, Darfurians favour Bashir's indictment.
The writer is the national project coordinator for Advocates for International Law Initiative
ICC indictments promote peace and reduce abuses