Seven reasons to pause

Mixed opinions abound on the ICC’s indictment of Sudanese President Bashir.

The Sudanese opposition says nay: they see it as a stumbling block to the first peaceful elections in 23 in years, scheduled for 2009. So does Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation.

The New York Times editors say yea, as does John Prendergast & Co. Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor of the International Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, likewise argues in favor of the ICC’s move.

Here’s what worries me about the arguments of the yea-sayers:

1. Aid is already hobbled, as is peacekeeping. So how much worse can it get? My worry: actually, a great deal. Why downplay these risks? Darfurians deserve an honest accounting of the danger they face, and a commitment to protect them. Is there a plan?

2. The Taylor and Milosevic indictments worked, so will this one. These are valid successes–albeit by other institutions. But no one highlights the performance of the ICC on its caseload so far. The curious Congo case is falling apart. The other two have the potential to be blunders as well.

3. The indictments are a lever that can be removed once the Sudanese play along. That’s what they said about Uganda. But many believe that the ICC’s refusal to remove the indictments (even when the rebel leadership was cooperating) has been the chief stumbling block to a peace agreement. Are we sure the ICC will play along on such an important case as Sudan?

4. There is no peace process in Darfur to end. More or less correct. But what about the (equally or more important) relationship with southern Sudan (closer to collapse every day), the 2009 elections, or the endangered peace with neighboring Chad? What’s more, if there is movement to a peace process, can international mediators work with an indicted war criminal? The regional ramifications are not being addressed, at least in public.

5. All other diplomatic options have been exhausted. What about asset freezes, travel bans, condemnations, and trade sanctions–against Bashir and his coterie?

6. Peacekeeping hasn’t worked. There are more than 15,000 peacekeepers in Liberia to Darfur’s 10,000. Yet Darfur is dozens as times as large (and is more dangerous to boot). The Darfur force has been undermanned, undertrained, and undersupplied. What do they say they need most? 1000 helicopters. And more warm bodies. Without it, the peacekeepers have been predictably vulnerable and impotent.

7. The indictments might push Bashir to a compromise. Absolutely. It could. I hope. But with these indictments, Ocampo gambles not only with the country and regional peace, but with the stature of the ICC itself. And he may be doing it on his own agenda, not based on consultations with the UN Security Council or the African Union peacekeepers. We really don’t know to whom he talked. If it’s anything like Uganda and the Congo, the answer is: not too many people.

None of these are reasons to oppose the indictments. They should, however, give us pause. We should also expect answers. I’ll be less worried once I get them. So, more importantly, might the Darfurians.

7 thoughts on “Seven reasons to pause

  1. Hi Chris,
    Don’t you think the whole concept of international law and justice has been so shattered that the indictment on President Bashir is worth the risk? The big question for me is what happens next. Say the Sudanese President is totally uncooperative and is somehow found guilty or is asked to appear before the ICC and just refuses to cooperate. Who will act against him and what form will that action take?

  2. good points all around. though i paused when you mentioned travel bans. are people really traveling much to sudan in an unofficial capacity nowadays?

  3. @Bryan: I don’t know if I understand your question. But if the system is broken, do we use the system on a tough, risky case with a vulnerable war-torn people left to pick up the pieces if we fail? Sounds callous to me.

  4. Spot on, Chris. This whole issue is rife with silly statements and groww misunderstandings, but my favorite quote is from the Richard Goldstone NYT article, where he writes, “the arrest warrants for President Bashir reveal to the world what type of regime holds power in Khartoum.”

    Yes, as if before these arrest warrants no one knew what “type of regime” held power in Sudan. On the contrary, the only thing these arrest warrants have revealed is that the ICC, and the international system as a whole, will always target the weak perpetrators of violence over the strong. Despite both the government and the LRA committing vast atrocities in Uganda, the ICC of course targets the LRA; they target Lubanga in Congo, who is by no means the worst killer but he is politically the weakest, and of course Sudan is alreay a pariah regime in the West and has been for decades. When the ICC gets serious about persecuting those responsible for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, then we can start talking about impartiality.

    Leaving all this aside, as with other similarly complex crises around the world, there are people far more informed than me, Ocampo Goldstone, or others who have written on this topic as late. The person here to read is, of course, Harvard’s Alex de Waal, who, with his co-author, published a damning piece on the ICC in the London Observer on Sunday: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/13/sudan.humanrights/

  5. Aid is already hobbled, as is peacekeeping. So how much worse can it get? My worry: actually, a great deal.

    This is a valid concern, and the one that troubles me the most. However if we allow that humanitarian issues are grounds for not indicting war criminals, then we are offering a license to potential criminals to defend themselves by keeping people in dire circumstances as long as possible.

    But no one highlights the performance of the ICC on its caseload so far. The curious Congo case is falling apart. The other two have the potential to be blunders as well.

    Any criminal case has the potential to be a blunder, and the ICC does not have a large enough track record to draw any solid conclusions.

    But many believe that the ICC’s refusal to remove the indictments (even when the rebel leadership was cooperating) has been the chief stumbling block to a peace agreement. Are we sure the ICC will play along on such an important case as Sudan?

    No, but then we’re back to the peace vs justice argument, which is one of principle rather than practice.

    But what about the (equally or more important) relationship with southern Sudan (closer to collapse every day), the 2009 elections, or the endangered peace with neighboring Chad?

    The people I met in Sudan were predicting the collapse of the deal with southern Sudan at least three years ago. The 2009 elections are unlikely to be anything resembling a fair shake for those affected by the conflict, since presumably groups that might represent their interests will be prohibited from participating. What peace with Chad – as far as I can tell it’s a proxy war?

    What about asset freezes, travel bans, condemnations, and trade sanctions–against Bashir and his coterie?

    The ICC indictment does not prevent these actions from being taken – indeed, they might spur those actions to be taken. The question for me is why haven’t such actions been taken before?

    Peacekeeping hasn’t worked… the peacekeepers have been predictably vulnerable and impotent.

    A peacekeeping force only works if there is a peace to keep, and there doesn’t seem to be a peace to keep in Darfur, so this doesn’t give me much pause.

    The indictments might push Bashir to a compromise.

    The indictments should not push Bashir to a compromise, but to a courtroom.

    I don’t know – I could be so easily persuaded that this is a bad thing, but the only argument I hear against the indictment is that it might contribute to instability or conflict at the national or regional. Yet we have those things already, and I haven’t read anybody who thinks that there is any near-term solution that will end the instability and conflict. So the argument against the indictment seems to be (as far as I can tell) an argument for business as usual by the international community – and frankly, business as usual in Sudan has been a bloodbath.