Yesterday, the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Louis Moreno-Ocampo, presented evidence of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes by the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, to the ICC, seeking a warrant for Bashir’s arrest. The indictment is the result of an intense investigation that has lasted more than three years, and its effects will be felt in Darfur and Sudan as a whole for years to come.
On March 2005, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1593, which referred Darfur to the ICC for investigation. Since then, Moreno-Ocampo has spent years tirelessly doing his job and gathering the evidence for the case. The ICC issued the arrest warrants for “Ali Kushayb” and Ahmed Haroun in 2007, and the Sudanese Government to this day refuses to hand them over.
Now, after having reopened a second round of investigations, Moreno-Ocampo has presented evidence for the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, which has in turn sparked some discussion in the international community about the effectiveness and indeed the effects of the indictment.
The conversation has seemed to boil down to the debate of “peace versus justice”: many have lauded the indictment as an important and long-overdue step towards justice for the mass atrocities committed in Darfur; others see the indictment as being a major obstacle in the path to peace for Sudan, one that could have disastrous consequences for civilians, aid workers, and peacekeepers alike.
The truth of the matter is that the ICC indictment is a momentous event that will have effects that are both obstacles and victories for the path to peace in Darfur. In a situation as complex as the crisis in Darfur, any action will have both constructive and destructive reactions. However, it is up to the international community to act quickly and decisively to ensure that the opportunities presented by the indictment are used to their full advantage and that the very real risks and dangers it creates are managed and minimized.
If we fail to hold true to the course of justice, then we weaken our chance of ever having a true and sustainable peace in Sudan; but if we fail to protect the lives of civilians in Darfur, there will be no one to enjoy a sustainable peace in Sudan.
The ICC has taken a large step – the international community needs to commit to taking equally large steps for peace, or our celebrations over the indictment will not last long.