TOPICS:ICC turns the spotlight on itself

Opinions differ widely about the likely impact of the genocide charges filed on July 14 against Sudan’s leader, Omar al-Bashir, in the International Criminal Court. Sombre predictions of political collapse, escalating violence, and the fragmentation of Africa’s largest country contrast starkly with the more complacent view that, in the medium term, nothing very much will change. Andrew Natsios, the former US special envoy for Sudan, believes the charges are a disaster in the making. Human rights groups that applaud the ICC’s action should think again; it would undermine already slender hopes of a political deal, he wrote on the Social Science Research Council’s Darfur website.

“Without a political settlement Sudan may go the way of Somalia, pre-genocide Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo — a real potential for widespread atrocities and bloodshed as those in power seek to keep it at any cost... this indictment may well shut off the last remaining hope for a peaceful settlement,” Natsios said. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, evidently shares these concerns.

He telephoned Bashir at the weekend to emphasise that the ICC took its decisions independently of the UN, its aid agencies and Unamid, the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. But that distinction is not entirely clear-cut. The ICC was created by a UN-driven initiative and it was the UN security council that referred Darfur to the court.

According to Phil Clark of Oxford Transitional Justice Research, Bashir will simply continue to shun the court. ICC jurisdiction is not recognised in Sudan. By blocking this landmark case Khartoum may hope to fatally undermine its credibility. “To fulfil its mandate and maintain its legitimacy, the ICC should indict Bashir,” Clark wrote. “However, the impact of the ICC so far in Sudan and elsewhere suggests Khartoum has little reason to take the court seriously.” Until now, at least, it had proven itself a “toothless tiger”; Bashir had no need to react by unleashing further mayhem.

Gareth Evans of the International Crisis Group said yesterday a likely three-month delay before an arrest warrant for Bashir was issued offered an opportunity to crank up pressure on Khartoum. There are many wild cards in this volatile situation that could still bring a sharp short-term security deterioration. But the chances that Bashir will be able to shrug off the whole affair are enhanced by Zimbabwe-like divisions in the international community. Russia, China and the African Union opposed the court’s action. And some countries claim to discern an anti-African bias.

Even the Bush administration, famous for its black-and-white view of the world, seems to be in two minds. It supports the court’s right to bring the indictment. But it does not recognise the court per se. And although it lists Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, Washington is encouraging democratic reform, not regime change, via national elections due next year. Little wonder the outlook is hazy. — The Guardian