Waltz With Bashir

Why the Arrest Warrant Against Sudan's President Will Serve Neither Peace nor Justice

Courtesy Reuters

Two weeks ago, the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced what many had long clamored for: an order for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, whom it indicted in July for the atrocities his government committed against the people of Darfur. As the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and then the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, I have interviewed enough people in Darfur over the past six years to know that Khartoum committed terrible crimes, particularly in 2003-4, when it tried to crush an insurgency through ethnic cleansing, ordering the burning of villages, mass rape, and the summary execution of young men it feared might join the rebel movement. The question now is not whether such crimes were committed -- they were -- but what consequences the ICC's latest action will have for justice, peace, and stability in Sudan. They will not be good.

Within days of the court's announcement, Bashir ordered the expulsion of 13 U.S., British, and French nongovernmental organizations on the grounds that they had been providing information about war crimes to the ICC. Unlike most war crime indictments, which are served against former heads of state, this ICC warrant was issued against a sitting head of state who controls an army, a ruthless internal security force, and a growing group of internal and external allies. Bashir had means of reprisals at his disposal, and he was swift to use them.

This was a predictable response. After the Bush administration developed plans in March 2007 for a new sanctions regime against Khartoum -- of my design and at my urging -- Bashir responded by, among other things, suspending oil payments he was required to give to the government of southern Sudan under the terms of the 2005 peace deal that ended the civil war between the north and south (known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement). He also cancelled the withdrawal of northern troops from the south, in violation of the CPA,

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