Lately there has been disagreement as to whether the ICC’s imminent arrest warrants for certain Sudanese leaders, which could possibly include Omar al-Bashir, the current president of Sudan, will help or hinder the situation in Sudan. Two experts in the field, Alex de Waal, an expert on Sudan, and Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur coalition, met last week at the Holocaust Museum to present a lecture and discuss the current situation in Sudan, which was sponsored by the Committee on Conscience. Both agreed that they support the ICC in that the Sudanese leadership needs to be held accountable for its atrocities, but they also agree that the current timing of the future indictment of the leadership in Sudan could present problems. De Waal made the point that indicting a head of state while he is still the current head of state could have possible negative repercussions such as the government lashing out even more because it is humiliated by the indictment or impeding the international community from giving humanitarian assistance.
De Waal, Fowler, and others are rightly desperate over the plight of Darfurians, whether refugees or those civilians still left hanging on. The suffering in Darfur is growing while the humanitarian assistance is being spread thin. Meanwhile European and other countries continue to procrastinate to establish a multi-national force that will help protect Darfurians yet, at the same time they support the ICC in its prosecutions. Fowler and his colleagues view the European nations’ actions as hypocritical, and they view the ICC as being used as a venue of that hypocrisy instead of purposefully and effectively doing what those nations can to help Sudan. Fowler argues that arrest warrants by the ICC that have little chance of being enforced are not worth inciting the Sudanese leadership to take out the repercussions of the arrest warrants on the Darfurians.
De Waal and Fowler also blame the bad timing of the ICC’s future indictment of the Sudanese leadership on the lack of seriousness on the part of the U.N. Security Council. Fowler believes the Security Council referred the case of Sudan to the ICC in 2005, not to seek justice or accountability, but rather because it was politically expedient. And now the Security Council and the international community are reaping the consequences of the Security Council’s short sightedness because of the poor timing of the upcoming indictments.
Whether European countries will form a multi-national force to protect Darfurians or whether the Security Council has taken the crisis in Sudan seriously is not at issue here as much as the arrest warrants that are to be issued for Sudanese leaders. The key issue is how Sudan and the world will handle the ICC’s indictment of the Sudanese leadership. If the timing truly is not right now, when WILL the timing be right to indict the corrupt Sudanese leadership? There are no indications that the Sudanese leadership would stop their present atrocities in Darfur if the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, stopped investigating and prosecuting. If Ocampo has evidence against the Sudanese leadership, he must proceed in the case against them. In any case he cannot allow the impression that a perpetrator can escape accountability by a (probably temporary) suspension of his or her atrocities. The Sudanese leadership will stay in power as long as they can maintain their power, which they will do by continuing to incite violence as long as possible.
The ICC’s imminent indictment of Sudanese leaders may not stop the violence and power struggles that are occurring daily in Sudan, but the indictment will send a signal to the Sudanese leadership that they will be held accountable by the international community rather than given impunity in the wake of committing mass atrocities. In the end, the effect of the ICC’s indictment of Sudanese leaders will be a positive one. As Jordanian ambassador Al-Hussein has stated, “The ICC is the only institution that keeps the Sudanese government awake at night.”