Darfur ICC Referral Turns 10: Reflections on the Troubled Path to Accountability

March 31st, 2015 marks ten years since the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1593 referring the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court. Ten years later, little progress has been made in the pursuit of peace and justice. The Sudanese leadership, including President Omar al-Bashir who was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity, has yet to be brought before the Court. Worryingly, many commentators are warning of a new threat of genocide as the government carries out a brutal “scorched-earth” counter-insurgency campaign against rebel groups.

ICRtoP Blog and Social Media Coordinator Matthew Redding had the privilege of speaking to our partners at the International Justice Project (IJP) to discuss the ICC referral and the challenges and opportunities associated with its implementation. Read on to learn how these impact efforts to ensure accountability for atrocities committed in Darfur, and in turn, to uphold the Responsibility to Protect Darfuris from future violence.

 

To begin with, let’s start with a brief overview of what the IJP believes are the main obstacles that have prevented the International Criminal Court (ICC) from bringing those indicted for atrocity crimes to justice after Resolution 1593 first referred the situation in Darfur to the Court in 2005?

 

Those who believe that a huge step forward was taken with the ratification of the Rome Statute are correct. As of now, 123 nations have committed themselves to supporting a permanent court with its own jurisprudence and an independent existence. However, the ratification of the treaty and its coming into force and effect as of 2002, did not end the struggle for international justice. Among other things, there will perhaps always be a tension between sovereignty and the status of sitting heads of states on the one hand, and the reach of international justice on the other.

1024px-Omar_al-Bashir,_12th_AU_Summit,_090131-N-0506A-342

Omar al-Bashir at the 12th African Union Summit. US Navy Photo/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released.

This is evidenced by the fact that the two most controversial cases at the Court – charges against the president of Kenya and those against the president of Sudan – have been mired in controversy, and at this point must be regarded as unsuccessful proceedings.

In that context, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that there has been significant political, ideological, and diplomatic opposition, couched in jurisprudential terms, to the prosecution of Omar al-Bashir for genocide.

Additionally, whether it is a matter of the will of states or fiscal conservatism, the two referrals from the UN Security Council, including Darfur, have not been accompanied by financial support for their prosecution. Indeed, the Court has had to weather years of “zero budget growth” that produces general inadequacies in staffing and funding for the prosecution, defense function and victim participation. So on the whole, some of the obstacles to preventing the Bashir case are precisely those kinds of rough waters one should have expected the Court to encounter, while others are particular to the Darfur situation and Bashir case. Some member states of the Arab League and the African Union in particular have placed other interests ahead of the challenge of combating genocide.

Any observer who believes the mere existence of the Court and treaty are sufficient in and of themselves to guarantee justice is prizing hope over experience.

 

There are those who suggest that the backlash against the ICC referral, for example, Omar al Bashir’s decision to expel humanitarian organizations for their alleged cooperation with the Court, means that in some instances justice should be deferred for the sake of peace and stability. Others have suggested that Bashir has succeeded in politicizing the investigation in a manner that has only allowed him to tighten his grip on power. What does IJP have to say about these claims, and the overall relationship between justice and conflict resolution?

 

The peace or justice debate relies on a false premise. That premise is that peace and justice are somehow mutually exclusive and that either can be obtained at the expense of the other. It is difficult to conceive, for example, after years of interaction with the Darfurian diaspora and with Sudanese and other sympathizers, that there will ever be peace in Darfur without some true accounting for the genocide that transpired. On the other hand, timing can often be crucial.

It is widely accepted that the timing of the ICC investigation and warrants against Joseph Kony did interfere with a legitimate peace process. This criticism has been frequently articulated by friends of the Court in Uganda. However, few of them would argue that there was never going to be an appropriate time to bring warlords like Kony to account under the statute. Returning to Darfur, the attempt for an Article 16 deferral in 2008 on the grounds of a sincere peace initiative in Sudan was a ruse, and ultimately seen as one by the international community. The countless efforts “at peace” – and the consistent failures – have nothing to do with any attempts at prosecuting Bashir. Indeed, a stronger argument can be made that the failure to bring Bashir to account in The Hague has instead encouraged the ruling clique in Khartoum to believe that mass atrocities are a viable policy option, and has led to enhanced attacks in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and throughout Sudan, and ultimately making it more likely that the two Sudans would divide.

As to the point of “politicization”, it is true that Bashir has been adept at politicizing his circumstance. For some time, he played the “Islamist card”, letting certain Western countries believe that he could be a source of intelligence and a bulwark against violent Jihadis and terrorists. He argued to anti-Western forces that the ICC process is a western colonial project, and he has suggested that it is also an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab institution. At the end of the day, all such allegations can only be addressed in a fair and open trial in which the question of Bashir’s culpability, and that of his lieutenants who have been charged, are tested against well-settled principles of international humanitarian law in a process that for more than half a century has been widely accepted as fair.

In short, we reject any theoretical or practical opposition between justice and peace, and think that rigorous commitment to justice and sincere and common sense efforts at peace must go hand in hand and are not irreconcilable.

 

In December of last year, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda announced that she was “shelving” her investigation due to frustrations over the lack of cooperation shown by the United Nations Security Council. What effect does this decision have on future prospects for justice in Darfur? Why is cooperation between the ICC and the Security Council so important?

 

Let us start by saying IJP continues to have full confidence in Fatou Bensouda. She is an honest, professional, dedicated prosecutor who is being hamstrung by the failure of the international community to fully support her efforts in the Bashir case. That said, we were unhappy with her use of the word “hibernation” in her appearance at the Security Council in December 2014, not because it was an inaccurate term, but because it was twisted by enemies of the Court and comforters of Bashir to mean that the ICC had given up its efforts at prosecution with respect to the Bashir case and Darfur situation.

fatou bensouda ICC

Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda. Photo via Journalists for Justice.

We fully understand that she was functioning under the circumstances in which the Security Council had given her virtually no support in the ten years since Resolution 1593 in the form of council, advice, fiscal assistance, or robust cooperation (we should note that other members of the international community, including several members of the ICC Assembly of States Parties, had failed to arrest Bashir when he was on their territories), and that tensions within the P-5, particularly with respect to the Chinese and Russians, meant that even the informal powers of persuasion of the Council had not been robustly employed to assist in bringing Bashir to account. Since Bensouda’s speech, the Court ruled that because this is a Security Council referral, both Sudan and all other member states of the United Nations are obligated to assist in cooperating with respect to the Bashir case. This marks an important milestone, and it will be important to see whether the Security Council and other regional and subregional organizations are willing to take a stand in support of justice.

 

What measures can the Security Council take to help enforce arrest warrants issued by the ICC? If the Security Council continues to waver over Darfur, what alternatives are there?

 

The measures that the Security Council can take are straightforward. It can be more comprehensive in the sanctions that it imposes on all members of the Sudanese government and leadership in terms of travel and holding resources abroad. It can insist that member states arrest Bashir, and could establish a sanctions regime for those who fail to arrest him when he travels. Minimally, it could urge member states to uphold their duties with respect to cooperation with the ICC. In other words, the Security Council could live up to its mandate under the UN Charter and insist that an accused, albeit a sitting head of state, be brought to account before a recognized Court, in connection with which it has statutory responsibilities for the most serious crimes that persons can commit against each other.

 

What does the renewed spectre of atrocities seen in the government’s latest “counter-insurgency” campaign, along with UN reports that up to 400,000 were displaced in 2014 alone, demonstrate about the Court’s ability to prevent future atrocities in a country where an investigation is ongoing?

 

We think it’s self-evident from what we’ve said before that the continued failure of the Security Council, some members of the Assembly of States Parties, and many members of the international community to rigorously assist the Court in pursuing justice in Darfur, strikes at the very heart of the integrity of modern ideas about humanitarian justice. It also strikes at the heart of international obligations in cases of genocide where the duty of the international community to “prevent and to punish” is clear. Some have argued that the great lesson of World War II was a commitment for the world not to be a bystander in the face of genocide. It can fairly be said with respect to Sudan that alongside Bashir, who faces charges of genocide, are the rest of us who face Bashir, who might meet charges of having stood silent and not exercised sovereign and other responsibilities to bring him to account.

 

What “lessons learned” can be drawn from this case, and how can these be applied to improve the effectiveness of international justice as a tool for responding to and preventing the commission of mass atrocities? For example, what can be done in cases where a lack of regional support for an ICC investigation leads to obstruction or non-compliance?

 

Before directly answering this final question, we think it important to address the sub-textual issue of the response of the AU and some African states to the charges against Bashir. Initially, it has been said that some resistance to the Bashir case is the result of African states concerned that currently all “situations” before the Court are in Africa. We think that this is a red herring. The 34 African states that have ratified the Rome Statute constitute the most robust regional response to the Rome project. Furthermore, despite various controversies – ideological, jurisprudential, and diplomatic – not a single African state has sought to withdraw from the treaty. The elevation of Fatou Bensouda to the position of Chief Prosecutor, and the fact that the ASP is currently lead by President Sadiki Kaba, further suggests that Africa is indeed deeply engaged with the Court (if a decade from now, all situations are in Africa, this may be a different kind of picture).

Haboob Chase in Darfur

A Rwandan member of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) stands guard. UN Photo/Albert González Farran.

With respect to regional efforts, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the advent of an African Court of Justice and Human Rights. Far from being a negative development, this reveals movement in the direction of the idea of complementarity that lies at the core of the Preamble and Article 1 of the Rome Statute. While IJP is opposed to the concept of immunity for sitting heads of state, which is part of the statute, on the whole, this African court should be viewed as a positive development, and the self-righteous response to it – even from some supporters of the ICC – is inappropriate.

This is not to ignore the fact that there are some leaders within the African continent who may very well feel personally threatened by the ICC, but this is, as we noted, a very logical and expected response from those who seek impunity. We mention this because one lesson learned can be to continue to be flexible and to take seriously the concept of universality in responding to initiatives from other parts of the world, and in many instances, to expect some opposition from vested interests in the robust application of justice.

Although the IJP was founded by two lawyers, Raymond Brown and Wanda Akin, who represent victims in the Darfur situation and Bashir case, we have been forced to learn new skills and to collaborate in the context of our representation. We are, for example, private citizens untrained in diplomacy, and yet we have had to learn in the last decade how to interact creatively with representatives of states – many of them non-lawyers, and many of them only minimally exposed to the details of the justice project with which we have spent a lifetime. We have collaborated with organizations who function in different environments, but with common objectives, such as the Pan African Lawyers Union, with whom as recently as November 2014, alongside the International Refugee Rights Initiative, we gathered and interacted with African human rights activists to explore challenges facing the Court.

We have also expanded our own work into an area sometimes known as “transitional justice”, which has involved developing a means of chasing Bashir (BashirWatch coalition) and working with universities to develop mechanisms for combating the understandable diasporian-wide depression affecting Darfurian diaspora. We have also become more engaged with our own government – with members of Congress and friends within the Executive branch – to encourage the US to assert more leadership, and perhaps even amend its own laws to permit the US to exercise more effective leadership in favor of justice and in opposition to genocide. We continue to teach at the university and law school levels and make public appearances to speak to a wide variety of groups and organizations on behalf of the Darfurian people. We have expanded the reach of our own Darfurian contacts, including within the Darfur People’s Association of New York, the Darfur Rehabilitation Project, and other advocacy groups, and finally, we have exposed a generation of undergraduate and graduate students, new professionals, and public leaders to these issues on an intimate level.

With ten years having passed since Resolution 1593, and still no accused in the dock, we encourage others to similarly advocate and send letters to their own governments promoting leadership on Darfur. A redacted version of our letter can be found here. Finally, thank you to the ICRtoP for providing this opportunity, and for its longstanding commitment to pursuing justice.

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Filed under African Union, genocide, Guest Post, International Criminal Court, Justice

2 responses to “Darfur ICC Referral Turns 10: Reflections on the Troubled Path to Accountability

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