No, Wait, It's On Its Way...

While the International Criminal Court has not actually announced yet that it is going to issue an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, it is expected any day now. This announcement is both a big opportunity and a big danger for the people of Sudan depending on how we, and the rest of the world, use it.

The chief danger lies in the possibility that President al-Bashir will find himself backed into a corner with no reason to work for peace. In this case, he may try to kick out humanitarian aid workers who are saving millions of lives in Darfur, increase attacks on his enemies, the rebel groups, and kick out the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID). Additionally, such a response would endanger the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and South that President al-Bashir signed in 2005. The resumption of war between the North and South would be a devastating increase of violence and suffering for the Sudanese people. Also, President al-Bashir might be tempted to cancel the elections that are meant to happen later this year.

The opportunities, however, are also numerous. If the international community supports the decision of the ICC and offers real protection to the civilians, this could be the first real substantial pressure on the government of Sudan for a meaningful peace process. Similarly, this sort of pressure may also persuade the President of Sudan to actually implement the peace agreements he makes, something that he has rarely done up to this point.

Although it's extremely unlikely right now, it is also possible that the President of Sudan will actually be arrested. In this case, the best we can hope for is a scenario like that which has befallen Charles Taylor, the former leader of Liberia who is now on trial in The Hague.

Needless to say, the most important thing is that the international community ensures that the response to this arrest warrant is one that moves the country in the direction of peace rather than more war. This is an opportunity and a dangerous situation. It is partly up to Canada to determine which way it unfolds.


Tyler said...

Alex de Waal, for one, believes that the Security Council must immediately use its authority to invalidate any arrest warrant issued against al-Bashir. I tend to agree. There's little doubt at this point that the warrant will be issued. However, as you mention, there exists no mechanism to actually arrest acting heads of state. If an arrest warrant is issued, I can only see the CPA falling apart. Elections won't be held in 2009, and the referendum on Southern independance won't be held in 2011. There will be an even greater push to consolidate power, and little to no incentive to actually work towards a peaceful agreement for the Darfur region (not that Congress is trying particularly hard at this point anyway). We'll see more political demagoguery and further polarization of groups into those who support the President, and those who support the 'Western/Jewish conspiracy' to have him arrested.

The prospects of an arrest warrant/sanctions/etc. can be dangled as an incentive to cooperate to some extent, but once it's been issued, the ICC can't take it back. What's the incentive to cooperate when a warrant for your arrest on ten counts of genocide and war crimes has already been issued? That some actor will follow through on pursuing the arrest? Al-Bashir, as well as anyone, knows the warrant has no teeth.

In striking down the warrant, however, would the UN be sending al-Bashir the message that any future crimes will go unpursued? It's a very tricky situation.

Ruth said...

I agree with Tyler that this arrest warrant hanging over al-Bashir's head could turn out to be a lose/lose situation for Darfur. On the one hand, if the arrest warrant is issued elections won't take place as planed, the North/South peace agreement will fall apart, and the lives of retaliation against Darfurians and Aid workers will be at great risk. But of course, if the arrest warrant isn't issued the U.N. will be scorned as weak-minded (like it hasn't already) and ignorant towards crimes against humanity.

Laurie said...

I also agree with the Tyler and Ruth's comments, and believe that the possibility of an arrest warrant has more weight than an actual warrant. When speaking with one of my professors about this issue she highlighted a very strong point, that Bashir remains a diplomat. As his speech given at Garang's funeral illustrates, Bashir is concerned with perceptions of his power and influence. This means that a potential warrant might push him towards maintaining the CPA and encouraging elections. At the same time though, issuing an arrest warrant would mean that the international community is ready to make a stand, something that dangling the warrant fails to do. I feel that once again we are faced with an issue of ideas and values conflicting with reality. Finding the right balance will be hard.

Ian said...

Wow. Best Blog discussion ever. Thanks, guys.

I'm going to play devil's advocate a bit and hope that you read this. First of all, I think you are all right that the situation is very delicate. I've been working for a humanitarian agency (I can't say which one) but I know that they are very concerned about being kicked out once the arrest warrant is issued. At the same time, however, they have been threatened with that over and over again for a long time now. I think even Bashir realizes that if he kicked them out then HE would have to deal with all the starving, dying people on his hands. Also, it may turn the country against him. Also, it will validate the ICC.

In terms of the CPA and elections, a lot depends on Sudan's internal politics. I know its not smart to bet against Alex de Waal, one heckavu smart guy, but I could see a couple different scenarios emerging. One part of me can see Bashir trying to get more serious about elections and implementing the CPA to prove the ICC wrong, to make the international community look bad, to save himself from a possible coup, and to shore up support with the AU and Arab League. I am also curious as to whether Bashir's political allies would ever dump him and save themselves, cut-and-run. Plus, I hate to be a pessimist but as things currently stand, the 2011 referendum would not be carried out without starting another war anyway, so maybe this is what is needed to knock events off that course.

Also, I believe the Security Council can still postpone, or momentarily lift, the arrest warrant after it has been issued.

So basically, I'm approaching the issue with a very anxious support. Something needed to happen to break the painful stalemate that has existed for the past five years while people are dying. This happened. Maybe it's not the perfect scenario, but now we need to try to make the most of it. We all know nothing else has persuaded Bashir to work for peace - unless you count 22 years of fighting and millions of deaths (end of the North-South war).