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Sudan: Justice, Peace and the ICC
Sudan: Justice, Peace and the ICC
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
The Horn: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold
The Horn: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold
Report 152 / Africa

Sudan: Justice, Peace and the ICC

The International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against President Bashir for atrocity crimes in Darfur has brought Sudan to a new decision point. The long-ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has defied the court, gained African Union (AU) and Arab League pressure on the Security Council to suspend the case and restricted humanitarian aid in Darfur, putting several million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and others at risk.

Executive Summary

The International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against President Bashir for atrocity crimes in Darfur has brought Sudan to a new decision point. The long-ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has defied the court, gained African Union (AU) and Arab League pressure on the Security Council to suspend the case and restricted humanitarian aid in Darfur, putting several million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and others at risk. Darfur rebels have been emboldened, reducing prospects for diplomatic progress. Simultaneously, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South civil war is unravelling. As a new U.S. special representative begins to make his mark, the international community may be ready to sacrifice the justice issue for a quick-fix deal that would ensure elections in 2010. But Sudan will have peace only when its impunity system is dismantled. The right course is to build leverage by strongly backing the ICC so as to persuade the NCP that it will only secure the deferral of Bashir’s case by adopting and implementing serious reforms.

 In 2005, the Security Council gave the ICC jurisdiction over the situation in Darfur. The prosecutor eventually obtained arrest warrants against one mid-level official and one militia commander and then applied in July 2008 for a warrant against the president. The NCP sought to mobilise African, Arab and Islamic help by charging that the court, and its prosecutor in particular, was an instrument of a Western campaign against its Islamic discourse and for regime change. Domestically, it launched the Sudan People’s Initiative (SPI), advertised as a broad-based national consultation to come up with Darfur solutions, but it tightly controlled proceedings and has not carried out its recommendations.

Violence intensified in Darfur from September 2008 onwards, with deadly attacks on aid workers and the peacekeepers of the joint UN/AU mission (UNAMID). Inter-tribal clashes and fighting between government and rebel forces continued unabated, creating new civilian displacements. On 4 March 2009, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber ordered the arrest of Bashir, upon which the NCP retaliated by expelling thirteen international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) that had been providing vital food and health services. Perceiving Bashir to be weakened by the arrest warrant, opposition and rebel groups hardened their positions and became even more reluctant to engage genuinely with the government. Though the Darfur rebel group JEM signed a “good will” agreement to pursue further talks with the government in February 2009, fighting continued on the ground, and the mediation process set up by Qatar in Doha appears stymied.

Attention has turned increasingly to the overarching threat in Sudan: possible collapse of the CPA, which could mean a return to wider civil war. The NCP has held back the key concessions required for the democratic transformation that agreement appeared to promise, including repeal of repressive laws and restoration of basic freedom of association and expression, and it has blocked the actions necessary for a peaceful referendum, such as a credible census, demarcation of the border, fuller wealth-sharing and de-escalation of local conflicts in the transitional areas of Abyei, South Kor­do­fan/Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. It appears to have decided to allow neither the secession of South Sudan nor meaningful political reforms in the North. The South’s goal is now to maintain its 2011 self-determination referendum.

The international community, including the Obama administration and its new special envoy, Scott Gration, who shows welcome signs of activism, is right to make saving the CPA a priority. But the temptation is to accept a humanitarian, political and security quick-fix on Darfur in order to preserve chances to hold the 2010 general elections on time and move on to the 2011 referendum. Justice for the crimes committed in Darfur would be in danger of disappearing from that kind of peace process, just as it was dropped from the CPA negotiation itself in 2005 and later from the Eastern Sudan and Darfur Peace Agreements.

That would be a mistake. Justice and peace are closely connected in Darfur. Judicial reforms and transitional justice mechanisms leading to reconciliation and a culture of accountability are essential to the success and sustainability of the peace process there. Nor will there be sustainable peace in northern Sudan if the system of impunity is not done away with and genuine change of governance promoted. If the NCP is allowed to relegitimise its rule and close the door to political accommodation with Darfur rebels through a fraudulent electoral process in 2010, northern Sudan will likewise face increased turmoil. That turmoil and the failure to deal with census, border and military redeployment issues will also undermine the conditions for a peaceful referendum in the South on the future of that region.

The U.S. and other international partners of the Sudan peace process should increase pressure on the NCP in order to create a chance for meaningful policy changes. The best way to do so is to reconfirm their support for execution of the ICC arrest warrants and to deliver a firm message in Khartoum that they will only consider a Security Council resolution suspending execution (via the procedure for one-year renewable deferral provided in Article 16 of the Rome Statute that established the ICC) if the NCP first takes a series of specific and irreversible steps, including but not limited to acceptance of judicial reforms and transitional justice mechanisms as key elements of a Darfur settlement.

What is needed is not to sacrifice peace in Darfur to save the CPA – in any event a self-defeating proposition – but to strengthen peacebuilding throughout Sudan by taking aim at the system of impunity that has led to and prolonged the country’s multiple conflicts.

Nairobi/Brussels, 17 July 2009

Podcast / Africa

The Horn: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold

In early 2020, Vice News correspondent Julia Steers was the first foreign journalist in five years to set foot in the Jebel Marra mountains, Darfur’s last rebel-held area. She tells of a region traumatised by war and explains why these rebels stayed out of an August peace deal.

S2 Episode 2: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold

Sudan’s 31 August peace deal between the government and an alliance of rebel groups from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile was welcomed with enthusiasm by the international community. But in the Jebel Marra mountains of Darfur, controlled by a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), a rebel group that refused to sign the agreement, it was met with raised eyebrows.

In early 2020, Vice News correspondent Julia Steers became the first foreign journalist to set foot in the Jebel Marra in five years. She witnessed first-hand why mistrust toward the government flies high in this remote area traumatised by seventeen years of war, even after former President Omar al-Bashir’s ousting in 2019.

Steers explains how the rebels want justice for the crimes committed in Darfur and a significant improvement of the situation on the ground, where gunshots ring out daily and humanitarian services are absent. High on their list of concerns is also the fact that the process that led to the August agreement involves a general they consider as one of the masterminds of the genocide committed against them.

Elsewhere in Darfur, Steers notes, challenges standing in the way of peace also abound. One obstacle is a surge in what the United Nations calls “tribal clashes”, where civilians displaced by the conflict are attacked in and outside the camps they live in.

Click here to listen on iTunes or Spotify.

Explore our Sudan page to learn more about Crisis Group’s analysis on the country. 

Watch Vice News’ feature “Inside the Forgotten War in Darfur, Where the Killing Never Stopped”.