How the International Criminal Court could fail Darfur.
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Recent Western intervention in Africa rarely makes things better and usually makes them worse. Richard Dowden, the director of the Royal African Society, summed it up nicely: “The ICC cannot hand out justice in Sudan as if it were Surrey [England].” More robustly, The Hague has also been dubbed “Europe’s Guantanamo Bay for Africans”.
In Africa and in the Islamic world, the ICC is seen to ignore those voices, be they Ugandan, Sudanese or in the African Union, who say that the Court’s arbitrary pursuit of African leaders is delaying peace.
It can be argued that the ICC has inadvertently prolonged the horrific war in northern Uganda by aborting seemingly fruitful peace talks by issuing warrants against rebel leaders. In the case of Darfur, the ICC warrants against Bashir have merely bolstered the insurgents’ intransigence regarding peace talks. They claim they will hold out, until Bashir is arrested. This could mean an indefinite extension of the Darfur war.
The answer is straightforward: the ICC can defer its arrest warrants for renewable yearly periods. That may be one inducement for Khartoum to start talking again to the Darfur rebels, who then cannot expect rapid regime change. Bashir has not been defeated, the historical precedent for trials of national leaders. Arguably, he is politically and militarily stronger than he has ever been. Economically, the recent oil bonanza has strengthened Bashir’s hand. And, in a further twist, the U.S. economic sanctions against Sudan, in place since 1977, have largely insulated the country from the Western economic meltdown.
Bashir was a vital ingredient in the north-south peace; likewise he may also be crucial in guaranteeing peace in Darfur. Any successor may not be able to hold the country together, let alone have the power to finesse peace deals.
Also vital is the Obama’s administration re-engagement in the political process there. No military solution is on offer; only a replay of Western political will and local cooperation can repeat the success of the major 2005 peace agreement. Darfur is doable, now, given the will — provided the sword of Damocles is removed from the neck of Sudan’s president.
The ICC action may serve as a warning shot across the bows of Africa’s monsters, not least Mugabe’s destructive presidency. This might be a soothing psychic balm to the liberal consciences in the West. But, in a war-ravaged continent, peace must precede justice, whether defined as African or European. Meanwhile, to its many African critics, the ICC’s arrest warrants for Bashir look like the 21st-century equivalent of old-fashioned 19th-century gunboat diplomacy — but minus the gunboats. Meanwhile, the suffering goes on in Sudan’s refugee camps. The ICC may have failed, not fixed Darfur.
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