Nick Grono on the ICC Indictment of Bashir
4 March 2009: Nick Grono, Deputy President, discusses the International Criminal Court's 4 March 2009 arrest warrant for Sudan President Omar al-Bashir.
Full transcript of the video
The decision of the International Criminal Court to issue a warrant of arrest against President Bashir for crimes against humanity and war crimes is a very significant development for both the ICC and for Sudan.
For the ICC it’s a first arrest warrant against a head of state, so it’s a bit of a coming of age for that institution, and it also signals that the ICC is going to be at the forefront of efforts to fight impunity in Sudan where the conflict in Darfur has claimed 300 thousand or so lives over the past few years. For Sudan, it’s also a very significant development.
It signals that the international community is not going to stand-by while atrocities are being committed on a grand scale. It signifies that there won’t be impunity for those most responsible for these atrocities, and that realisation will have implications, domestically in Sudan.
Of course one big issue is how the Sudanese government will react to this development, it’s unclear yet whether they will react with restraint, or they’ll seek to lash-out against those they see as supporting regime change in Sudan. There are constraints on the ability of the regime to lash-out – for a start, its international allies, such as China with its oil investments, and the Gulf states with their big economic investments in Sudan will be opposed to any action by the Sudanese government that will increase instability in Sudan. There are also domestic political considerations that make it difficult for the regime to react violently to this decision. There are senior elements within the ruling National Congress Party, who believe that the policies of confrontation with the west have led to greater isolation and have weakened the regime’s position. They’ll be urging a more restrained approach.
The international community should also be making it very clear to the regime that a violent reaction, particularly targeting civilians in camps or international humanitarian agencies, will not be tolerated. The prosecutor of the ICC can make it clear that any further violence by those in power in Sudan will be the subject of investigation by him and may result in them being the subject of arrest warrants.
On issue that’s likely to soon be on the international community’s agenda is whether or not the UN security council should put prosecution on hold – it has the power under Article 16 of the Court’s founding statute, the Rome Statute to defer prosecutions for one year increments, and those can be renewed annually. There will be pressure from Sudan and its allies to put the prosecution on hold, on the basis that this will allow peace efforts to proceed.
However it’s unlikely that any such effort will be successful in the short term, because one, Sudan hasn’t demonstrated any significant moves towards peace in recent years, and certainly the new Obama administration will require a very clear demonstration on behalf of the Sudanese regime that it’s serious about efforts to move towards peace.
The international community must make it clear to the Sudanese regime that the situation has changed now with the issue of the arrest warrant. It should make it clear to the regime that it requires a political transformation in Khartoum for there to be movement on peace and justice issues; it should make it clear that there should be full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, between Khartoum and southern Sudan; and that there has to be full accountability for atrocities that have been committed in Darfur.
If all those steps are taken it will certainly be open for the international community to look at ways of re-engaging with the Sudanese government and ways in which peace and stability can be more effectively built in that country.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see President Bashir subject to arrest any time soon – the ICC doesn’t have a police force – he will be safe while he remains in Sudan, but history has shown that the issue of an international arrest warrant is a very powerful instrument: President Melosovic of Serbia and President Charles Taylor of Liberia eventually ended up before The Hague, Radavan Karadic from the Republika Sverbska was on the run for 13 years before he two was arrested, so the likely-hood is that while President Bashir won’t be arrested anytime soon, he’ll have to be conscious that there is an arrest warrant out there, and if he travels or if the political situation in Sudan changes, he may end up before The Hague one of these days
Nick Grono, Deputy President, International Crisis Group.