As previously reported, the ICC prosecution of Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir has had its share of challenges. Yesterday, the African Union threw another monkey wrench into an already shaky machinery.
The African Union is an international organization of all African nations except Morocco. The organization, which is expected to name Libyan head Muammar Khaddafi as its new chairman next week, lacks significant authority to do much more than scold or impose mild trade sanctions. But it does have a peacekeeping force in the Sudan. After the force ran out of funds a couple of years ago, the United Nations stepped in to run the operation in a joint effort known as UNAMID.
Yesterday, the AU formally called on the UN Security Council to suspend the ICC indictment of al-Bashir. The leadership fears that any arrest would cause violent uprisings by al-Bashir’s supporters. They also claim that al-Bashir is a necessary party to ongoing peace mediations in the region, and indicting him would derail the peace process.
The Security Council has authority to defer the prosecution under Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC in 2002.
The Security Council’s permanent members already have incentives to stall the prosecution. The Sudan is a major oil supplier to China, and the two regimes are very tight. China also opposes any action that would create a precedent of interference in domestic affairs. Russia also has strong economic ties, particularly as the supplier of Sudan’s weapons and attack helicopters. The U.S. wants to avoid any precedent of having leaders held to “international” standards of conduct. Britain and France would prefer any solution that calms the ongoing violence, rather than causing more.
So the AU’s plea is certain not to fall on deaf ears. It’s almost as if the AU is preaching to the choir.
But the suspension of prosecution on these grounds would actually cause a much worse precedent for the AU and the UN. The position essentially boils down to “we’d better leave thugs alone, because if we try to enforce the rules then they’ll act like thugs.”
In other words, if the Security Council goes along with this, its policy will essentially be to stay out of situations like Darfur. This is contrary to the stated policies and desires of the UN and its membership. It would be a mistake from a policy point of view, and it would create an undesirable precedent from a legal standpoint.
The ICC should just get it over with. Exercise its authority, hold a civilized trial, and act accordingly. That would demonstrate to the world that it exists for a reason. Delay would only fan widespread belief in the ineffectiveness and injustice of international law, as crimes go unprosecuted and unpunished for years and years. If there’s sufficient evidence, then there’s no reason not to proceed. If there’s insufficient evidence, then let that come out too. Either way, let the world move forward.
But to refuse to act because of a fear that people might riot as a result… well, that just takes authority away from the civilized bodies and hands it back to the lawless types that law is supposed to protect against in the first place. It would be an act of cowardice masking itself as prudence, and would be despicable.