Accountability in Darfur
Accountability in Darfur
A Critical Window to Bolster Sudan’s Next Government
A Critical Window to Bolster Sudan’s Next Government
Op-Ed / Africa

Accountability in Darfur

ICC proceedings against two Darfur suspects signal that the court may be able to succeed in western Sudan, where there is little international political will for tough action and the UN Security Council is deadlocked.

Today's ground-breaking application by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to start proceedings against senior Sudanese minister Ahmed Haroun and militia leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, may be a turning point in the ongoing civil war in Darfur. Since the conflict broke out in 2003, violence, chaos and impunity have increasingly become the norm in the western region of Sudan.

The international community's engagement has been heavy on rhetoric, but short on action, thereby allowing all parties to continue ignoring pleas for peace and the ceasefires they've signed. These proceedings are hopefully the first step to bringing to justice those most responsible for the large-scale atrocities that have taken place over the past four years.

Accountability and compensation are two of the core demands of the more than two million Darfurians who have been displaced over the course of the conflict. While compensation was dealt with - albeit insufficiently - in last May's Darfur Peace Agreement, the negotiations purposefully left the topic of accountability untouched because the African Union mediators hoped that this would be dealt with the by the ICC.

Yet almost two years have passed since the ICC was first mandated by the UN Security Council to investigate atrocities in Darfur, and little has changed on the ground. The threat of prosecution failed to stop the flow of attacks against civilians, perhaps in part because the Sudanese government, which engineered most of the military campaigns against civilian populations, believed it could evade ICC action just as deftly as it has most other international threats thus far.

The government of Sudan has rejected the ICC's jurisdiction in Darfur and is now scurrying to re-establish a domestic judicial system to try war criminals - the same war criminals that the government armed and mobilised, for the most part.

Today's ICC proceedings change all these dynamics, at least temporarily. They demonstrate that the mountains of evidence and documentation of war crimes - by the ICC, UN, governments and human rights organisations - have finally translated into something tangible in the international legal system. And they signal that the ICC may be able to succeed in Darfur, where there is little international political will for tough action and the UN Security Council is deadlocked.

Ultimately, success and impact in Darfur will be measured over many years. One challenge that must be overcome is the ICC's lack of independent enforcement mechanisms, and its reliance on member states for help. A second challenge is whether the ICC is able to maintain full independence and continue to go after those most responsible for crimes in Darfur, or whether it will be pressured to go after only lower-ranking players so as not to rock the boat, as has occurred with the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on Darfur.

Both challenges must be met if the ICC is to maintain its credibility, and if accountability is to return to Darfur.

The ICC proceedings are one important part of an eventual solution to Darfur that must include a paradigm shift in the international community's actions in Darfur, and Sudan more generally. The Sudanese government and the Darfur rebel groups must be held accountable for their commitments and promises - ceasefires, peace deals, and disarmament programmes. Without these changes, the ICC will ultimately be ignored by the Sudanese government, based on its assessment that the ICC - like all other international bodies addressing the Darfur crisis - speaks as a weak institution that lacks the political will to enforce its decisions.

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