Justice and Peace in Darfur

Justice and Peace in Darfur

The International Criminal Court has taken a crucial step in naming two perpetrators of the violence in Darfur. But for survivors and victims of the ongoing catastrophe, much more must be done.


On February 27, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), named two individuals suspected of being responsible for some of the bloodletting in Darfur. Despite the thousands dead and the millions displaced, this is the only judicial action the international community has taken to date to stop the carnage. For those of us who have lived through the horrors of Darfur, this is most certainly not enough, but it is a crucial first step to achieve a sustainable end to the violence in Darfur.

The two singled out in the ICC’s initial presentation of evidence–Ahmad Muhammad Harun, minister for humanitarian affairs who is a junior member of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir‘s government, and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, a member of the Janjaweed–represent the two pillars of state and proxy militia that are to blame for the death and destruction in Darfur. Moreno-Ocampo’s finding against Harun marks the first time that the ICC has cited a government official for crimes against humanity and war crimes. This alone is a profound step forward for those of us who struggle every day to put an end to the worst crimes imaginable.

But these announcements, although welcome, are not sufficient. Moreno-Ocampo must initiate a sequence of cases that will bring to light the extent and rapaciousness of what has been done to Darfur and its people–and move further up the chain of command to those ultimately responsible. The current list is simply too short and aims too low.

Celebrations were loud in camps for the displaced last year, when Moreno-Ocampo announced he would commence an investigation; for the very first time there was a noticeable decline in aerial bombardment and militia attacks on civilians. But as time passed and no further impact of the ICC’s investigation was seen on the ground, the situation in Darfur deteriorated significantly, fueled by a culture of impunity and the failure of the political processes.

Former State Department official Stephen Rademaker, writing in the Washington Post in January, argued that the ICC is somehow an obstacle to peace in Darfur and that the government of Sudan’s vehement resistance to the deployment of UN troops, for example, is linked to concern about the implementation of future arrest warrants. Certainly the reality of potential indictments colors the climate of calculation for the government. But for us–the people of Darfur who are survivors and victims of this ongoing catastrophe–there is no confusion between peace and justice. We believe that accountability must be an essential component of any campaign to “save Darfur” and cannot be separated from political negotiations, deployment of peacekeepers or humanitarian efforts.

More than 4 million Darfurians have been directly affected by this crisis and some 500,000 are dead. Many have been killed by the government’s aerial bombardment, which has been in concert with Janjaweed militias on the ground. More than 2,000 villages have been burned. Thousands of women and girls have been victims of rape. Our land has been depopulated and invaded.

These heinous offenses constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes and possibly genocide. Justice along with security is the only way to stop the cycle of impunity and violence.

The Sudanese judicial system is incapable of delivering justice to us in Darfur. International crimes are not adequately recognized under our national laws. Impenetrable immunity renders cases against members of the military and security forces almost impossible to pursue. Even the new special courts set up last year in Darfur have only heard a handful of cases, and none relating to the most serious crimes committed during this crisis.

Victims and survivors in Darfur want the international community to support the ICC investigation. In fact, many refugees have said that justice is not only a precondition for return but also necessary for the consolidation of the political process. They believe that accountability is a vital link in building peace and trust–and deterring future crimes.

The people of Darfur are not willing to sacrifice their legal right to justice to political bartering. The Sudanese government, on the other hand, is eager to seal a deal that exempts them from accountability. The government has opportunistically hinted that its reluctance to consent to a United Nations deployment to Darfur stems from fears that UN forces will be able to execute ICC arrest warrants. We cannot accept these insinuations at face value. Let us remember that the North-South peace pact has already mandated the deployment of 10,000 UN peacekeepers in Sudan. If the government of Sudan is unperturbed by the first deployment, why should it be concerned about the second? The vital difference this time is that UN peacekeepers in Darfur would shore up the efforts of a weakened African Union force–and create a context in which there would be much less room to maneuver for those intent on continuing the war.

In fact, Sudanese leaders know very well that the key to avoiding trials in The Hague is entirely in their hands. If fair and effective prosecutions of those most responsible for international crimes are commenced in Sudan, the ICC can halt its work. A basic principle of the ICC process is that genuine prosecutions at the national level will trump prosecutions abroad.

What Darfurians therefore need from the international community is not compromise on the ICC. We need you to encourage a sustainable peace process and an agreement to which all parties can assent. We need to see you support the deployment of more international troops to Darfur and to Chad, backed up by sufficient resources and a clear mandate to protect civilians. Finally, the voices of ordinary Darfurians demanding justice must be heard. We want to see the international community supporting the ICC process. Any attempt to sacrifice justice not only validates the false dichotomy between peace and justice but undermines the potential for a sustainable end to the crisis.

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