Posts Tagged ‘african union’

Can the ICC Execute its Warrant?

Thursday, March 5th, 2009


The ICC has, at long last, issued a warrant for Sudan’s military dictator, Omar al-Bashir, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although the anticipated charge of genocide was left out, it remains a historical moment, as this is the first time the ICC has charged the current leader of a state, albeit a failed state.

To recap, in November, we noted that the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor was calling for al-Bashir to be charged personally with multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Al-Bashir had seized power of the Sudan in 1989, and ruled ever since as the military dictator of one of Africa’s most ruthless regimes. In the Darfur region of western Sudan, a war had raged for about five years, with government troops and proxy fighters committing massive bloodshed against rebel groups as well as civilians and entire villages seen to be sympathetic to the rebels. Despite enormous outcry from the rest of the world, and pressure from the U.N. and powerful nations, al-Bashir had shown no inclination to temper or cease the bloodshed. On the contrary, it appeared that his regime had only ramped up the violence in a war that is estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of human beings through murder, combat, starvation and disease. But after Moreno-Ocampo started calling for ICC charges to be brought against him, al-Bashir called for a unilateral cease-fire in an attempt to get the U.N. Security Council to defer any legal action.

Later, we reported that Moreno-Ocampo warned the Security Council that any criminal charges could cause al-Bashir to launch a violent reprisal against peacekeepers and civilians, and so the U.N. would need to be prepared to take action. Meanwhile, the African Union and the Arab League asked the Security Council to defer the prosecution, on the curious grounds that prosecuting war crimes and genocide were not helpful to the peace process.

It was beginning to look like the Security Council was going to go along with the crowd, and defer any prosecution indefinitely — even though doing so would have created a terrible precedent of appeasement and keeping out of situations like Darfur. So it was an act of unexpected conviction for the ICC to be permitted to go ahead and issue its warrant for al-Bashir.

The warrant doesn’t charge everything that Moreno-Ocampo had called for, notably omitting the charge of genocide. Still, it does charge the sitting head of state with “intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property.”

Issuing a warrant is one thing. Executing said warrant, however, is an entirely different matter. When will the ICC get its chance to arrest al-Bashir? Moreno-Ocampo stated “as soon as al-Bashir flies outside Sudan, he could be arrested.” The odds of al-Bashir doing any such thing are vanishingly small.

So significant odds were overcome, courage was demonstrated, and a significant new precedent has been set in International Criminal Law. But practically speaking, there is little chance that anything will come of it. 300,000 are still dead, countless injured and suffering, and 2,700,000 refugees (according to the U.N.’s Darfur numbers), without any international action to punish those who committed the crimes.

It’s not over yet…

African Union Asks Security Council to Quit on Darfur

Friday, January 30th, 2009


As previously reported, the ICC prosecution of Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir has had its share of challenges. Yesterday, the African Union threw another monkey wrench into an already shaky machinery.

The African Union is an international organization of all African nations except Morocco. The organization, which is expected to name Libyan head Muammar Khaddafi as its new chairman next week, lacks significant authority to do much more than scold or impose mild trade sanctions. But it does have a peacekeeping force in the Sudan. After the force ran out of funds a couple of years ago, the United Nations stepped in to run the operation in a joint effort known as UNAMID.

Yesterday, the AU formally called on the UN Security Council to suspend the ICC indictment of al-Bashir. The leadership fears that any arrest would cause violent uprisings by al-Bashir’s supporters. They also claim that al-Bashir is a necessary party to ongoing peace mediations in the region, and indicting him would derail the peace process.

The Security Council has authority to defer the prosecution under Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC in 2002.

The Security Council’s permanent members already have incentives to stall the prosecution. The Sudan is a major oil supplier to China, and the two regimes are very tight. China also opposes any action that would create a precedent of interference in domestic affairs. Russia also has strong economic ties, particularly as the supplier of Sudan’s weapons and attack helicopters. The U.S. wants to avoid any precedent of having leaders held to “international” standards of conduct. Britain and France would prefer any solution that calms the ongoing violence, rather than causing more.

So the AU’s plea is certain not to fall on deaf ears. It’s almost as if the AU is preaching to the choir.

But the suspension of prosecution on these grounds would actually cause a much worse precedent for the AU and the UN. The position essentially boils down to “we’d better leave thugs alone, because if we try to enforce the rules then they’ll act like thugs.”

In other words, if the Security Council goes along with this, its policy will essentially be to stay out of situations like Darfur. This is contrary to the stated policies and desires of the UN and its membership. It would be a mistake from a policy point of view, and it would create an undesirable precedent from a legal standpoint.

The ICC should just get it over with. Exercise its authority, hold a civilized trial, and act accordingly. That would demonstrate to the world that it exists for a reason. Delay would only fan widespread belief in the ineffectiveness and injustice of international law, as crimes go unprosecuted and unpunished for years and years. If there’s sufficient evidence, then there’s no reason not to proceed. If there’s insufficient evidence, then let that come out too. Either way, let the world move forward.

But to refuse to act because of a fear that people might riot as a result… well, that just takes authority away from the civilized bodies and hands it back to the lawless types that law is supposed to protect against in the first place. It would be an act of cowardice masking itself as prudence, and would be despicable.