Another unintended side effect of the ICC indictment, and perhaps the most disturbing, is that it has united many Arab and African governments behind Bashir, including some that both despise his regime (and have told me so privately) and have signed the ICC’s founding treaty.
Two years ago, Bashir and his party were being increasingly isolated; now he has a legion of supporters who have come to dislike the ICC more than they dislike him. The Arab League and the African Union have condemned the warrant order against Bashir and announced they would not carry it out; half of the AU’s members have even threatened to withdraw from the ICC over the issue. Pragmatic leaders who want a negotiated peace in Sudan see the ICC’s moves as Western neocolonialist impositions.
In their zeal to burnish the fledgling court’s credentials with such a high-profile case, the ICC’s prosecutors have indeed weakened the institution. During a lecture at Yale University on February 6, 2009, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court’s chief prosecutor, claimed that 5,000 war-related deaths continue to occur each month in Darfur. Presumably, he believed that the court’s action could reduce that number.
Not only does history suggest he will not get the results he expects but the data on which he based his assertion were questionable. He provided no source for it, but according to the human rights group Genocide Intervention Network, about 1,500 people were killed in Darfur in all of 2008, 500 of them Arabs killed by other Arabs. (The rest were Africans killed by Arabs.)
Even assuming that these accounts understate the number of casualties by half, it would be difficult to get to 5,000 deaths for the year 2008, let alone per month, as Moreno-Ocampo asserts. Statistics for 2007 were similar, which suggests that the fairly clearly delineated situation of 2003-4 has mutated into more general anarchy and that the line between victims and aggressors is no longer so clear.
Reports from the United Nations and several nongovernmental organizations show that mortality rates from disease and malnutrition in the internally displaced camps are now well below those in the villages of Darfur. The high mortality rate during the 2003-4 civil war was largely accounted for by deaths among displaced people suffering from malnutrition, dehydration, and disease before the aid community could assist them with food, water, and medical care.
By invoking a monthly death toll of 5,000, Moreno-Ocampo seems to suggest that Darfuris still die from these causes as a result of continued displacement, if not from violence per se. But this is simply not true — at least it was not until the arrest warrant for Bashir, because the work of aid agencies had been keeping mortality rates down. These groups’ recent expulsion now puts Darfuris at risk, but since that was retaliation for the ICC’s move, that problem cannot justify the court’s action.
Some ICC advocates insist that with Bashir under so much international pressure, the Sudanese military and security forces are now more likely to depose him. They seem to presume that this would be a good thing. But they misunderstand the problem.
Bashir is just one in a long line of Arab leaders from the central Nile River Valley who have brutally suppressed any opposition from the country’s periphery. Successive Nile River Arab governments (including one that had been democratically elected) prosecuted the 22-year civil war between North and South Sudan, which killed over two million southerners — or ten times as many people as have died in Darfur since 2003.
One intelligence chief in a neighboring country told me in early 2007 that a coup against Bashir would yield an even more murderous and fanatical regime. According to him, more than half of Sudan’s current senior military officers were handpicked by Hassan al-Turabi, the leader of the Sudanese Islamist party that invited Osama bin Laden to Sudan in the 1990s and tried to carry out an Islamic revolution in Africa.
(Turabi was the mastermind behind the 1989 coup that brought Bashir to power, but Bashir and his allies later broke with his movement, finding it too radical.) A coup may indeed transform Sudan, but not into a constitutional democracy. At worst, an unintended effect of the ICC’s arrest warrant would be to enable Turabi or another radical to return to power. A coup could also endanger the CPA’s very existence: having not negotiated the treaty, a new government might well abrogate it.
Overlooking these risks, proponents of the indictment against Bashir say it can be used as a bargaining tool to secure a peace agreement in Darfur. They argue that the fact that the UN Security Council might postpone prosecutions for one year, as the ICC treaty allows, could entice Bashir to negotiate.
This is specious. President Barack Obama cannot afford the political cost of calling for a delay and being viewed as softer on Sudan than the Bush administration, which opposed postponing Bashir’s prosecution in 2008.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *