You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The TNR Roundtable Part 5: What Should Obama Do About Darfur?

Click here for Part 4: The case for caution.

Click here for links to each part of the conversation.

From: Elizabeth Rubin
To: Alex de Waal, Richard Just, Eric Reeves, Alan Wolfe

I would like to respond to Alan's final question which gets to the heart of all the debates in recent years on justice versus peace and the nature of interventions. Alan ends by saying that perhaps the ICC should have thought about the political consequences of its decision especially when those consequences may prove so harmful.

Actually, the court has thought about those consequences. Up to the point when Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor, issued the indictment last summer, he was told repeatedly by Andrew Natsios (the former U.S. envoy to Sudan) and others that if the humanitarians pull out and 2 million people die or the country collapses into civil war, it would be his fault. I asked Ocampo at the time whether he agreed with them. And he said, "Today they are being killed. Today they are being destroyed and have no hopes."

There is an irony here which may guide us through the seemingly incompatible goals of peace and justice. In 2005 when "regime change" was still in fashion, the U.S. was pressing Ocampo to charge Bashir with genocide. Yet the U.S. had not even voted in favor of the Security Council resolution to hand the case of Darfur over to the ICC. The Bush administration merely abstained from vetoing the decision. Ocampo declined to do the U.S.'s political bidding knowing that he had to build up his cases with evidence. Since that time the powerhouse states which grudgingly watched the ICC evolve seem to have thought it would lose stamina as diplomats tried to undermine its purpose every step of the way.

Let's take the indictment of Ahmed Haroun as an example. As State Minister of Interior in 2003 and 2004, Haroun organized the Janjaweed to murder and destroy villages in Darfur. In February 2007, Ocampo indicted Haroun and Ali Koshayb, a Janjaweed militia leader and one of his henchmen. At first the Sudanese panicked. They dispatched an ambassador to Ocampo with a proposition: Suppose Haroun comes to the Hague and says he was only following instructions. Do you have to investigate the person who gave the instructions? i.e. Bashir. Now, the diplomats, including Andrew Natsios, instead of exploiting the Sudanese government's panic as a negotiating tool, assuaged Bashir and his men. In effect, they said: Don't worry about the prosecutor, just accept the peacekeepers and nothing will happen. The story would have been comedy if it did not involve so many deaths. The Sudanese officials were delighted by Natsios and decided to play hot potato with the arrest warrants, slamming the door on any messenger with an ICC envelope.

In June, when Ban Ki Moon went to Khartoum with his political negotiators, he, like everyone else, omitted justice from the agenda. With such a gesture the Security Council became in effect Bashir's coach. And Bashir proved himself an adept learner. As if to show the prosecutor just how impotent the ICC was, Bashir promoted Ahmed Haroun a week after Ban Ki Moon left the country. Bad enough that Haroun, in his new position as state minister of humanitarian affairs, was routinely blocking humanitarian aid to the 2.5 million Darfuris trapped in refugee camps. Now Haroun had three new titles added to his portfolio: joint chairman of the committee to control media discourse, joint chairman of a fact-finding committee on human rights violations, member of the UNAMID force monitoring mechanism group. Haroun is a loyal henchman of Bashir's from way back. He was one of the key men on the ground helping Bashir decimate another tribe in another decade--the Nuba.

Alex de Waal and Julie Flynt co-authored a superb book on Darfur, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War. Their book called the violence there a slow-motion genocide. Yet they are now two of the most vociferous opponents of the ICC, arguing that indictments will utterly derail the north-south peace process and destroy Sudan. In an essay written by De Waal back in 2006, I can see why he makes this argument. The piece is about the genocide against the Nuba that was carried out by Bashir and his National Congress Party regime. De Waal describes how the international community not only did not intervene but behaved with decided cowardice. And he describes how the killing was halted by internal Sudanese factors. Perhaps if Bashir had been indicted at that time, he would not have been in a position to oversee the destruction of Darfur, the slaughter of 200,000 people, the displacement of two and a half million. Perhaps he would not have been in a position in the 1990s to finance and arm Joseph Kony, the leader of the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army which has kidnapped more than 20,000 Ugandan children, forging them into wives and killing machines who have ravaged northern Uganda. Bashir is a serial murderer, perhaps even a serial genocidaire. We could let the peace process go on another ten years and have another Sudanese tribe decimated. Instead I think Obama should take the lead here and support the ICC, sign the treaty, and let the law be a check on the immoral compromises politicians will always make as long as there is impunity.

Click here for links to each part of the conversation.

Elizabeth Rubin is the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing writer for
The New York Times Magazine.

By Elizabeth Rubin