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.