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Today Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir became the world’s first serving head of state to be indicted as a war criminal.
As anticipated the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant charging Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court’s judges did not charge him with genocide.
Sadly, this will not mean an end to the fighting in the western Sudanese region of Darfur where an estimated 300,000 have been killed and a further 2.7 million people forced from their homes during six years of nasty conflict.
The indictment may serve to underscore the ICC’s weakness. The court has no police to enforce the warrant and Sudan itself is hardly about to hand over its own president. Bashir has allies in the African Union, the Arab League and China. They may decide, with Sudan, to simply ignore the court’s orders meaning Bashir will be able to travel widely without fear of arrest. This will deal the court’s credibility a heavy blow.
Bashir’s apologists say that attempting to bring the president to justice will undermine peace talks and may increase tensions and violence.
This is nonsense. All peace talks in recent years have failed without the help of arrest warrants, so there is no reason to believe the current talks would fare any better. To give in to Bashir’s thuggish and thinly veiled threats — indict me and the killing will get worse — would be cowardly and immoral.
If he is ever arrested Bashir will not face a charge of genocide as alleged by the Chief Prosecutor in July 2008. The fact that the judges decided there was insufficient evidence to bring charges of genocide is a humiliation for Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
As Bashir mulls his newfound notoriety as the world’s most high profile wanted war criminal, the prosecutor licks his wounds and a chunk of the international community prepares to ignore the only court in the world mandated to bring justice for the worst crimes wherever they are committed, the people of Darfur continue to die.