In mid-July the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and genocide.
The evidence strongly suggests that the nation’s president, who displaced a democratically elected government to take power in 1989, has been responsible for violence and bloodshed in Sudan.
If accountability and justice were the only issues at hand, the ICC would be right in its attempt to indict him. But justice is not the only issue, nor even the most important one. Sober voices are questioning the effect indicting al-Bashir will have on the peace of Sudan.
Their worries are justified. Several rebel groups who support the ICC decision are refusing to cooperate with African Union (AU) peace mediators. The United Nations is pulling out all non-essential staff.
The Sudanese government’s statement that it may not be able to protect peacekeepers sounds more like a threat than a warning. United Nations staff on the ground are concerned that the indictment is rallying resistance, which could lead to more bloody conflict.
The AU is one of many organizations to come out in favor of promoting peace first. It has asked the ICC to hold off indictments until the region settles down.
THE INCIDENT is the latest example of irresponsible ICC indictments in the face of volatile predicaments in Africa.
The ICC has indicted Africans involved in conflicts in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. In each of these situations, the indictments interfered with national attempts to build and keep fragile peace.
Uganda’s history, post independence, is characterized by waves of coups, military dictatorships, and war. The current president, Yoweri Museveni, is a member of the National Resistance Party (NRA), which came out on the winning side of a civil war in 1986.
The party’s rule is contested. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been fighting the good fight since 1987, giving rise to numerous charges of human rights abuses. In 2005, the ICC indicted five members of the LRA, including leader Joseph Kony.
Though peace talks had started and stopped several times before the indictments, the ICC has been generally credited with prompting additional talks in 2006. Weeks before the talks were to begin, the Ugandan government offered Kony amnesty for past crimes in exchange for his promise to renounce terrorism.
Kony rejected offers of amnesty, denying to the BBC that atrocities had not been committed. It is no small matter that the ICC was unlikely to respect the government’s offer. Leaders refused to sign any agreement until ICC charges were dropped, but the ICC refused.
In February, the Ugandan government finally coaxed Kony to sign a peace accord, but the ICC may yet ruin this negotiated peace. Part of the accord calls for Ugandan Courts to prosecute war criminals, but the ICC may not respect the prosecutors’ discretion or allow the country’s courts to have the final word.
“It is the ICC judges who decide if a national trial will be sufficient for their cases,” explained Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
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