By Corrie Hulse
In the midst of the referendum on independence in Sudan in early 2011, there was great concern that the situation would deteriorate into a full-blown civil war. Tensions were high, with outbreaks of violence in many of the border towns, such as Abyei. Calls were made stateside for the appointing of a high-level US diplomat for Darfur, as well as making genocide prevention a priority among the international community. After the vote on January 9, 2011, we saw the creation of the new state of South Sudan. There was great hope among many that this was the beginning of a path toward peace in the region. As often happens with violent conflicts, once things seemed as though they were moving in the right direction, the international community lost interest. The story had climaxed, and thus ended our collective attention span.
This loss of interest is not surprising. Honestly, it has come to be expected. Yet the fact remains, to truly believe any sort of lasting peace would be attained immediately upon the south acquiring independence is naïve at best. Under the misguided assumption that this vote for independence marked a solution to the violence in Sudan, we turned our focus to other conflicts and forgot about the African country. We turned away under the belief that “oh, the two countries simply need to demarcate the border. No big deal.” In doing so, all we have done is allowed atrocities to continue to occur under the radar without the full condemnation of the international community.
Recently I have been writing about the International Criminal Court (ICC), its accomplishments, and places where I think it could be doing better. While the ICC is making progress in achieving convictions, it continues to struggle to address the problem of impunity for those charged with major international crimes such as genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. Even as the ICC begins to achieve convictions, it has yet to establish a feasible plan for arresting those charged with these heinous crimes. This is a problem that comes with massive repercussions, particularly as many of these criminals maintain positions of power. It reinforces their not-so-false sense of security, and emboldens them in their actions.
The world should remember that in addition to the complicated history among the various regions of Sudan, the North is ruled by a wanted war criminal. President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC on 5 counts of crimes against humanity, 2 counts of war crimes, and 3 counts of genocide. The majority of these charges are in relation to the genocide his regime has inflicted on the people of Darfur. It is likely in the future we will see charges added for violence in the border regions, specifically in the Nuba Mountains.
A burned village in Darfur. President al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC for encouraging war crimes, including the decimation of villages and their occupants. (Wikicommons)
President Bashir has enjoyed years of impunity, and rightfully has no fear of ever being held responsible for his crimes. He understands the limits of the ICC better than anyone. Two of the states most involved in Sudan (China and the United States) are not signatory to the Rome Statute. Thus, neither is likely to arrest him and turn him over to The Hague. While the US has made progress recently with actions such as the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board, this is simply not enough. If such super powers are not willing to work with the ICC to arrest criminals such as Bashir, how can we be surprised when Sudan's neighboring countries also refuse to arrest him? Justice cannot be achieved simply by hoping for it.
The situation in Sudan illustrates the broader implications of allowing war criminals to roam free. Without Bashir, would Sudan be perfectly peaceful? Probably not. However, allowing Bashir to remain in power has only exacerbated the situation. It is time not only for the creation of a feasible strategy for arresting war criminals, but also the willingness to follow through with said strategy. If there is no fear of arrest, how can we ever expect criminals such as Bashir to act any differently?
As humans, we seem to be perpetually drawn to this idea of justice. We desire to see it done in the world. Yet, we continue to allow ourselves to shy away from the fight for it. The US in particular talks a big game about justice, yet continues to fail on follow through. This vicious cycle will simply continue until the international community is willing to not simply create, but enact a strategy to enforce justice and bring an end to impunity.
Follow Corrie on Twitter @corrie_hulse