Today, the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for a number of war crimes and crimes against humanity, marking the first time a sitting head of state has been subject to an ICC indictment. On a conference call this morning, staff from the Enough Project to End Genocide, including co-founder John Prendergast and executive director John Norris, celebrated the decision. The two analysts argued that the indictment begins a political process that undermines al-Bashir's legitimacy and could empower more moderate members of his governing party to push him into retirement and seek accommodation with the internationally-driven peace process. Mark Goldberg collects more reaction here, including critics who are concerned that the ICC's decision not to charge al-Bashir with genocide would lead to less international attention to the issue, while others are concerned that the criminal charges will lead al-Bashir to more belligerent behavior, including reprisals on refugee camps. On the call, Norris said that last concern was a frequent assumption of "arm chair analysts," arguing that regime in Khartoum will be forced to take steps towards peace because of increasing international pressure.
My biggest concern is the lack of response from the Obama administration, which has yet to even issue a statement on Sudan and specifically Darfur, or appoint a special envoy to the conflict-ridden country. Policy review is no doubt on-going but this is the time for U.S. leadership on this issue. (The U.S. has been able to dampen some small pressure to have the Security Council delay the indictment; although there is little political incentive on anyone's part to pursue that option).
One thing that really struck me on that Enough conference call were the comments of David Crane, the former prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, who observed that in the last decade there have been major leaps forward in international criminal law, referencing his own experiences as well as those of Liberia and Uganda. Building the relatively new understanding of international relations into a widely recognized source of legitimacy is of long-term importance to a stable and secure international order, and the U.S. should be doing more to engage with that process.
-- Tim Fernholz
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