Articles and Analysies
The Value of ICC Action on Darfur by Anne Bartlett
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Jul 16, 2008 - 9:39:16 AM

The Value of ICC Action on Darfur



Monday’s request for an arrest warrant to be issued for President al-Bashir – the first against a sitting head of state in International Criminal Court history – took the court into new and uncharted territory.   The charges filed by chief prosecutor, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, of three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two of murder, place Bashir at the apex of the command and control structure of Sudan’s apparatus of genocide. They seek justice and accountability for the citizens of Darfur, by refusing Bashir’s attempts to hide behind the diplomatic protection afforded by his role as leader, charging him instead with personal responsibility for a systematic campaign of murder, rape and destruction in the region.

One might well expect the Sudanese regime to be less than pleased with this outcome, yet it is the attitude of the AU, UN officials and a number of Darfur activists that has proved rather more puzzling. From the AU camp come claims that “nothing should be done that might jeopardize the peace processes in Sudan”. Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the UN has also been at pains to distance the UN from the actions of the ICC, stressing the independent role of the UN vis a vis the ICC in a phone call to Bashir last week. He was also quoted in Le Figaro this week, saying that the actions of the ICC “would have very serious consequences for peacekeeping operations including the political process”.

Piling on the pressure in the Observer this week, writers such as Alex de Waal and Julie Flint argue that Bashir’s suppressed rage and the affronts to his dignity brought about by possible indictments will only act to further destabilize Sudan. These affronts to his dignity will place Bashir - a political pragmatist - in a position where he will not feel inclined respond to the incentives being offered by the international community and may unleash his wrath on the people of Sudan. Moreover, since the international community has no contingency plans if Bashir “responds in character”, by terrorizing aid workers and Darfuris alike, the ICC process is a very dangerous road indeed.

Dangerous it may be, but let’s examine the counterfactual – that is to say, if the status quo continues and no message is sent to Bashir and his junta about the consequences of their actions. The AU argues that the peace process is at stake with ICC indictments, but at the risk of stating the obvious, where is the peace process? From what I have witnessed this year, the peace process has all but died, appearing instead to be a disorganized group of ad-hoc meetings and conferences with no unifying theme. The key issue – security – has not been addressed; the rebel groups are constantly berated while their requests are ignored, and the Sudanese regime – headed by Bashir – is allowed to carry on with business as usual, giving the diplomatic finger to any request made by the international community.

If the peace process is in disarray, then what of the situation on the ground? Recent research that I’ve conducted shows that insecurity continues unabated on the ground in Darfur both around the towns and in rural areas. Bashir is able to terrorize locals at will, with the help of weapons from his trusty sidekicks -- the Chinese and Russian governments. When not shooting or raping innocent people in rural areas, his cronies can make massive profits from charging rents to aid organizations who are able to pay for rent yearly in advance, thus displacing locals to more insecure areas on the peripheries of the cities. As of today, this research shows that in urban areas such as Nyala, prices for staple goods have risen substantially in local markets, rents are sky high (comparable with Western rental prices), aid levels are dropping and the Janjawiid are free to prey on the inhabitants of IDP camps with impunity. Genocide has become big business in Darfur – a business to which locals aren’t party.

This of course begs a question about the incentives for Bashir to stop his current behavior. De Waal and Flint argue that Bashir must be “convinced of the benefits of peace”. Yet as the foregoing suggests, Bashir is not interested in the benefits of peace, rather the spoils of war which are far more lucrative. It has been clear for decades that war-mongering provides the NCP with revenues that wouldn’t otherwise be available. Where the CPA is concerned, the Sudanese regime has singularly failed to implement key agreements over land and border zones with Abeyi being a key example of this mentality. It is therefore highly unlikely that the carrot will work better than the stick unless the carrot of the international community grows significantly in size.

What then, is the use of ICC arrest warrants? If anything it is not a short term measure, but instead much longer term affair. Being the political pragmatist that he is – and here I do agree with De Waal – Bashir knows that at some point in the future, his political viability will wane in relation to other political figures around him. At this point - and when it is profitable to trade him for enhanced political visibility for Sudan on the world stage - he will be betrayed by his followers for a pot of diplomatic gold. Bashir knows that if he now oversteps the line and terrorizes Western aid workers and Sudanese citizens alike, this time will come sooner rather than later in a destabilized Sudan. One only has to look at the extreme measures brought in by Nimeiri (i.e. the courts of decisive justice and floggings in the streets) to see how this hastened his departure as leader. Being the coward that his is, Bashir is well aware of this and will therefore play a game of rhetoric rather than action, to preserve his own skin.

For the people of Darfur, the value of ICC arrest warrants is also largely symbolic in the short term. But there is nonetheless, a value to symbolism. While their lives will not change appreciably, they will at least know that one organization on the world stage had the courage to stand up to their regime in spite of the criticism that it generated. If nothing else, this may help to salvage the battered, amoral reputation the international community justifiably deserves. It may also help to offset the damage done by the diplomatic fence sitters and their game of inaction.   For my part, I take my hat off to Mr. Ocampo and hope that many more arrest warrants will follow.  

Anne Bartlett is a Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco.   She is also a Director of the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development based in London. She may be reached on [email protected]

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