Peace or justice in Darfur?March 24, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Posted in International | 7 Comments
Should we prosecute murderous despots when they commit acts of genocide or crimes against humanity? At first glance, it’s a question so obvious, so morally clear-cut, that the only possible answer is an instant & unequivocal ‘yes’. So when the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on the grounds of mass murder, rape & torture, it was widely welcomed as a warning to other tyrants that their time will also come. Finally, they thought, the murdered & displaced people of Sudan will have justice.
Except, as reports this week have shown, the situation in Darfur has gotten markedly worse since the warrant was announced. In response to the news, three weeks ago al-Bashir expelled 16 foreign aid organisations from Sudan. What little aid remains is completely inadquate to meet needs, the number of those without proper access to food, medicine & clean water has skyrocketed, and NGOs report increased interference from security forces coupled with a surge in attacks directed at aid workers. Just last week, in defiance of international pleas to reconsider, Khartoum went a step further and announced that all aid agencies must leave the country within a year.
Before I continue, I’d just like to make one thing clear: the fault for expelling these aid groups and worsening the situation in Darfur lies squarely with the President of Sudan; the ICC isn’t to blame if al-Bashir only cements his inhumanity by cutting the supply lines to those who’ve already suffered too much. But in light of a situation that continues to deteriorate and without any new international initiatives on the horizon, I think it’s right to ask whether the decision by the court to pursue justice before peace has, actually been detrimental those suffering at the hands of the President and his henchmen.
That was certainly the argument put forward earlier this month by Sudan experts Julie Flint & Alex De Waal. They point out that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor at the ICC, repeatedly hinted that he’d received significant amounts of incriminating evidence from relief organisations; an indiscretion which al-Bashir seized-upon to kick them out of the country. Furthermore, they claim that the prosecution is based on an argument so flimsy that it could well see him acquitted, and point out that rather than toppling the regime in Khartoum, the warrant is likely to cement its bloody intransigence. Finally, they warn that if this is to mark an abandonment of a diplomatic approach, then the people of Darfur will be forced to forfeit peace & security for a pursuit of justice which might never be fulfilled.
On the other side, there’s an equally compelling case from Eric Reeves, who argues convincingly that revoking the arrest warrant now would only embolded the regime in Khartoum and send a dangerous message beyond Sudan that the ICC’s judgements should only be upheld when it is morally and politically expedient. Reeves notes that that regime’s flagrant violation of international law and harrassment of aid workers predates what’s currently happening in the region and and concludes that, rather than seeing the ICC’s prosecution as an obstacle towards saving Darfur, it should underline the pressing need to take more concerted action – at the end of the day, only justice will bring peace.
Just the fact that there are strong arguments on either side of the warrant issue should show how the ICC’s well-meaning intervention has complicated matters, and it still remains to be seen whether President Obama’s new special envoy to the region will have the authority, wisdom & resources to navigate through a disaster which currently seems intractible. And meanwhile, amidst all this haggling over whether the pursuit of peace or justice is more important, the people of Darfur – frightened, starving, dead – get neither. We really need to get a move on.