Yesterday, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) told the Security Council that by February, his office will hand over evidence of war crimes in Darfur to a set of ICC pre-trial judges. This will set in motion a series of events that will likely lead to indictments of Sudanese government officials for crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Following a January 2005 groundbreaking report on the systematized nature of the government sponsored attacks on civilian enclaves in Darfur, the Security Council considered granting the ICC jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes in Darfur. Initially, the United States responded coolly to this idea. At the time, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper argued against this approach, saying that the United States “does not want to be party to legitimizing the ICC.” But when the proposal eventually came to a vote, the United States abstained and the measure passed. Now, some eighteen months later, the results of this investigation may soon become apparent as the first indictments are handed down.
Of course, paper indictments alone will not stop the killing in Darfur. But a Security Council that is united in support of the Court’s work can help convey to the Sudanese government that the international community is dedicated to ensuring accountability in Darfur. Further, the indictments could give the international community additional leverage over the Sudanese government, which has thus far resisted international calls for a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur.
Though it’s still a young institution, the ICC’s Darfur investigation may help the Court prove itself to skeptics. For one, it has apparantly been able to gather evidence in as tough a place as Darfur. Of equal importance the impending Darfur indictments may prove, once and for all, that the Court can serve a useful political function when confronting the world’s most difficult humanitarian crises.