Sudan and the ICC: please change my mind

I spent yesterday morning collaborating with the tireless John Liebhardt, the multitalented Elia Varela Serra and a handful of other Global Voices authors on a global round-up of bloggers’ reactions to the International Criminal Court’s recommendation that Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir be indicted on multiple counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Now that I’ve read through other bloggers’ reactions, I’m ready to add my own thoughts.

Warning: this is the worst kind of blog post, born of a late-night argument that no one won, the self-serving kind that blames and complains without offering any solutions. It’s been one of those days.

I have a love-hate relationship with the ICC that’s mostly hate (caveat: it’s so easy to criticize, sitting here on my couch with my coffee). It sounds great in (surface-level) theory: an international tribunal established to prosecute criminals of the worst sort. It’s noble. It appears to fulfill the world’s moral responsibility to victims of large-scale evil. It’s an attempt to atone for the Holocaust, Rwanda, the Balkans and all those other times we said “Never Again.” The ICC does all it can under its mandate, and it works hard to identify the worst human rights abuses in the world and find enough evidence to support a case against them. In practice, though…eeesh.

When the ICC issued arrest warrants for Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and four of his top commanders in July 2005…nothing happened. Well, two of them died, but I don’t think that’s related. Kony demanded immunity, President Museveni backpedaled like crazy and human rights activists in northern Uganda labeled the warrants an obstacle to peace. Three years later, negotiations are still stalled, Kony and his two remaining commanders are still in the bush, and despite the headlines every once in a while claiming peace is imminent, the LRA and the government aren’t any closer to signing an agreement than they were five (or ten) years ago.

Is what’s happening in Darfur despicable? Absolutely. Is al-Bashir responsible? Without question. But what purpose are the ICC’s charges going to serve? As I said in the Global Voices round-up, Sudan has signed but not ratified the Rome Statue, the treaty that created the ICC. This means they’re not legally bound to follow any ICC directives, so who, exactly, is going to waltz into Khartoum and slap handcuffs on al-Bashir? And if someone does, who’s going to govern Sudan while he’s sitting in The Hague? The likelihood is that any move the ICC makes is going to make al-Bashir even more angry, and that anger will probably be taken out in Darfur.

So what can we do? At the risk of sounding like a Kaplanite, I don’t know if there’s anything we can do. If anyone feels up to writing a rebuttal, à la this guest post in response to my earlier, misinformed rant about the Juba peace talks, please do. I’d love to be corrected by someone who has a much better knowledge of the workings of the ICC and the situation in Sudan.

Update: For an elegant, researched critique of the International Criminal Court in Africa, check out “Africa’s unjust deserts” by Stephanie Nolen, writing for The Globe and Mail.

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