The President of Sudan to be a Wanted War Criminal

Well, it’s happening. Finally. And amen.

I said most of I wanted to say about how the United States should respond in my American Prospect piece but there is one key point worth making–so key, in fact, that I will put it in italics.

If handled with the proper diplomatic touch, this warrant will make peace in Darfur and Sudan more, not less, likely.

Others disagree. They argue that the ICC is an impediment to peace because it gives Bashir little incentive to work with the international community. The problem with that line of reasoning, though, is that it ignores the fact that Bashir was never a credible partner for peace. This is because from the start of the conflict until today, Bashir never faced external political pressure sufficient to budge him from an unrelenting hostility toward international efforts for peace in Sudan.

The ICC warrant is such a critical development because it gives the international community a chance to change this prevailing political dynamic. It is a brand new tool to with which to pressure Bashir.

One specific way this warrant can be used to good political effect is in support of the rapidly crumbling Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which Bashir signed in 2005. The CPA was a peace agreement between the central government and southern Sudanese rebels (not Darfuri rebels) but it nonetheless paves the way for the democratic transformation of Sudan. The problem, though, is that the central government has not lived up to its obligations under the CPA–and is working to undermine national elections called for by the CPA later this year. (Check out this report from the International Crisis Group, which explains how the central government is using armed proxies to change the demography of key regions to gain electoral advantage.)

The international community–and by that I mean mostly the United States, western countries and the Security Council–suddenly has a new tool at its disposal to press Khartoum into taking credible steps toward the full implementation of the CPA. And if Bashir does demonstrate a new found commitment to the CPA, the Security Council can –as it is wont to do under the ICC’s charter — suspend the warrant.

To make this work, the United States needs to make the ICC warrant central to its Darfur diplomacy. This means pressing as many countries as possible to pledge to support the warrant, including countries that could be considered Sudan’s allies in Africa and the Arab world. The more isolated Bashir becomes, the more willing he may be to strike a deal.

I imagine that this kind of utilitarian view of the ICC may make some of my friends in the human rights community somewhat uncomfortable. But for now, I think the overwhelming priority for all of us who are concerned about Darfur should be peace. Accountability can come later. The international community needs to take advantage of the golden opportunity that just landed on its lap.

UPDATE: This landed in my inbox from the ICC: “Following press articles published today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) wishes to inform the media that no arrest warrant has been issued by the ICC against President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan. No decision has yet been taken by the judges of Pre-Trial Chamber I concerning the Prosecutor’s application of 14 July 2008 for the issuance of such a warrant.” I guess we’ll have to wait just a little bit longer.

Photo from Flickr user Ammar Abd Rabbo