The Plank

The Audacity Of Courts


So the
prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has formally requested an arrest
for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of
genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur.
To no one’s surprise, the Sudanese government has rejected the charges as
baseless, but one criticism
that’s also coming from some members of the international community is that the
ICC’s actions will jeopardize the fragile humanitarian relief effort and
security environment in the country. According to one expert quoted
by The New York Times, popular demonstrations in support of the court
are likely to spring up in Darfur’s refugee
camps and “explode into violence,” bringing the threat of further bloodshed.

This is wildly
frustrating, of course. Of course we need to mitigate any threats to the humanitarian
relief effort and to the peacekeeping forces, and it’s true the crisis in Darfur has escalated to such a point that there will be
negative short-term consequences for any action taken. But to argue that such
risks should stay the hand of the ICC at the risk of “breaking the peace” is
absurd, mainly because there isn’t any kind of meaningful peace process that’s
currently underway.

At the least,
the court’s arrest warrant could serve as a leverage point for the UN Security
Council. The Security Council has the power to forestall the ICC’s proceedings
for at least a year under Article 16 of the court’s statute. It could
conceivably invoke this article and stave off the ICC’s prosecutions if the
Sudanese government agrees to behave better--at a minimum, they could demand a
halt to the bloody attacks
on international peacekeeping and humanitarian convoys. The ICC will spend two
to three months deciding whether to issue the arrest warrant for Bashir, which
gives the members of the Security Council enough time to articulate their
expectations of Sudan’s
leaders and evaluate the progress made. What’s more, the threat of prosecution
is also likely to exacerbate internal rifts within the government's power
structure itself, potentially opening a window for the regime's more
reform-minded survivalists to step up.

Finally, the
ICC could have a significant impact on another international actor: the
European Union, which led the effort to bring the ICC and its investigatory
team into Sudan
to begin with. The EU has yet to impose the kind of broad-ranging financial
sanctions that the United States
has imposed upon Khartoum,
and the ICC's actions could ratchet up pressure for European leaders to take a
harder line against the regime, Colin Thomas-Jensen, a policy analyst for the
ENOUGH Project, told me in an interview today. However constrained its reach, the ICC's willingness
to act is far better than nothing--and other international actors should be taking the cue.



Suzy Khimm is a senior editor at The New Republic.

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