According to the Washington Post, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is now seeking an arrest warrant for the Sudanese dictator, Omar al-Bashir, charging him with crimes against humanity for his role in the mass killings that engulfed Darfur during the last five years.
The move in itself, and the symbolic pursuit of morality and justice it represents, are commendable. Any research and evidence that can shed more light on the butchery that took place in Sudan’s western region is more than welcome.
Nevertheless, once all the warm and fuzzy feelings vanish, we are left with the reality and the negative consequences that such moves can cause.
First of all, what on earth does the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, plan to do after he gets his warrant? Walk into Khartoum and handcuff the Sudanese president? Let’s get real. If people in such influential positions are going to make such inflammatory rhetoric, then they better have the ability to act upon it. Otherwise they should avoid making such empty threats in the first place, because such foolishness can carry a high price.
The very lives of Darfur’s innocent women and children could face increasing danger as a result of this warrant. Khartoum will very likely react aggressively, by stubbornly stirring up more trouble than already exists. This is already being foreshadowed by the UN’s very recent security tightening in Sudan.
Al-Bashir is currently scrambling after the Arab League to hold a meeting of foreign ministers in order to discuss the ICC matter. However, this panicky attitude shouldn’t be mistaken as a positive development, because the goal of the effort isn’t to annoy Sudan’s president or force him into a corner. The final goal is peace and security for Darfur’s people — and pursuing a well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful strategy won’t achieve that.
The ICC — which got the green light to conduct its Darfur investigations from the UN Security Council — can’t do much on its own in terms of enforcement. It needs the support of the UN, but the UN has mainly been the source of disappointment after disappointment. Its clumsiness in this context is self-explanatory. All one needs to do is look at the UN’s history in the matter.
What is ironic is that the UN insists on deploying all peacekeepers and pushing the peace process forward, yet at the same time it is coordinating badly with the ICC initiative, which in turn will only hurt the UN’s peace agenda for Darfur.
On top of that, the UN is also notorious for not having the will to confront what needs confronting. The so-called “international community’s” and UN’s reactions to al-Bashir’s possible coming damaging reactionary maneuvers are all too predicable and they’ll be anything but tough or sufficient.
The United States is currently in a position to push the peace process harder, but it isn’t doing so anymore. Why? The little-publicized reason is the anti-terrorism cooperation between Khartoum’s Intelligence (Mukhabarat) and the CIA. Sudan’s intelligence has spies planted in Somalia and Iraq collecting valuable information. Only a year ago the CIA convened a conference in Khartoum attended by more than 50 African intelligence agencies.
To a certain extent this is all understandable, but America needs to balance its national security interests with the importance of human rights.
The Bush administration helped us Sudanese end our 20-year civil war between north and south because it dedicated significant resources to doing so. It can do the same for Darfur with adequate attention and the right approach.
The Olympics, by the way, is not necessarily the venue for action regarding Darfur. Really, if Bush is to be condemned for attending the Beijing Olympics as some believe, don’t we all deserve condemnation for purchasing goods with cute, little labels on them saying “Made in China?”
Choosing to boycott the Olympics or deciding to pressure the sponsors might send a strong message and make us feel good about ourselves, but it would produce nothing substantial at this point — just like the ICC warrants. The pursuit of justice at the expense of peace and highly critical political stability is imprudent.
To clarify my position, I must emphasize that the ICC’s indictment of other lower-ranking individuals involved in Darfur’s mass killings is something that should be fully supported as it is both moral and pragmatic, but indicting the head of state himself is unwise and even reckless. Where is the pragmatism? Where is the concern for possible negative repercussions?
If the ICC effort could truly deliver positive results, it would be wonderful, but I strongly suspect the bad will outweigh the good.
The ICC will just make itself look more and more like what the UN already is — a fangless, paper tiger.