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Sudan revisited: International justice and human rights

Published: April 15, 2011
Section: Opinions


After years of mass atrocities in Darfur, one of the most frequent demands of survivors is that the individuals responsible for rape, murder and destruction of villages and livelihoods be held accountable. By 2008, 2.5 million internally displaced persons were living in large camps across Darfur and there were also approximately 300,000 Darfuri refugees living across the Sudanese border in neighbouring Chad. The death toll had climbed to roughly 300,000, with some estimates as high as 400,000.

In July of that year, an arrest warrant was issued for Omar-al Bashir, Sudan’s sitting president, by the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity and war crimes, and charges of genocide have since been added. This warrant was criticized on all sides, with Russia and China complaining that it violated Sudan’s sovereignty, while NGOs worried that the charges would endanger peacekeepers and aid workers in the region, sacrificing peace for justice.

The debate over the Hague’s indictment initially brought up interesting alternatives thought to serve peace and justice. One option, voiced by Sudanese politician Sadiq al-Mahdi, was the creation of a hybrid court for Darfur in Sudan, which would have both Sudanese and international justices. This mixing of national and international procedure had been accepted in Sierra Leone and Cambodia by 2008, and since then has also been implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the War Crimes Chamber is one of the busiest courts in the world.

This option may have been accepted by Sudan more readily than the ICC arrest warrant, which was touted as being a weapon of neocolonialism, leading to the more recent criticism that the ICC is a court for Africa. The ICC has ongoing cases and investigations in five countries of sub-Saharan Africa: Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic and Kenya.

Despite these regional criticisms, the fact remains that the Sudanese government coordinated numerous attacks on civilians, destroying more than 400 villages, displacing millions of civilians and violating numerous international humanitarian legal treaties. Throughout these conventions, including the Geneva Conventions, the protection of civilians is paramount. Despite massive violations of international law, al-Bashir has yet to be brought to justice in the Hague.

President al-Bashir has so far defied the court’s orders and denied all accusations, which has restricted his dealings with other leaders. Even while justice hasn’t been served, the 111 countries that adhere to the ICC’s jurisdiction have shunned al-Bashir, and while the leaders of many Arab and some African countries continue to meet with him, others have warded off visits by warning that as court members they are legally bound to arrest him. As a result, al-Bashir has avoided a number of conferences and celebrations in Africa, Europe and the United States in the last two years.