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Monday, December 22, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 7/22/2008

A president charged

IF THE purpose of war crimes and genocide charges against the president of Sudan is to end the deadly conflict in Darfur, the world probably will be disappointed.

The International Criminal Court, headquartered in The Hague, last week charged Sudan's head man, Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir on 10 counts, including crimes against humanity.

The Sudanese replied immediately that the indictment counted for nothing because it does not fall, in its view, under the jurisdiction of the court. Another country that does not accept ICC jurisdiction is the United States.

The American position is based on concern that some day, somehow, the ICC might seek to bring charges against a senior U.S. official, an American president for example, for having instigated and waged what could be considered to be an illegal war or for not having respected the terms of an agreement such as the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war.

The argument at present, however, is not about whether the United States should accept ICC jurisdiction. It is, instead, about the impact of the indictment of President Bashir on the situation in Sudan itself and his role in it. There are currently two issues in play in Sudan. The best known is the situation in Darfur.

Darfur as a problem has been on the world agenda since 2003. It has grown from a problem in which government-backed militias, the so-called janjaweed, in support of herdsmen of Muslim Arab background, carried out violent attacks against farmers who are also Muslims but are of African background. The result was an estimated several hundred thousand dead and more than 2 million displaced.

The trouble spilled over into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. A severe humanitarian problem attracted aid, which resulted in the anti-government rebels fragmenting into more than a dozen groups and converting the aid into arms. The external and internally displaced refugees remain. In spite of many international efforts, no resolution of the problem has yet been negotiated.

The other problem is implementation of the 2005 agreement intended to bring an end to north-south conflict in Sudan that had been waged since the 1950s and claimed thousands of casualties.

The question now is whether the ICC indictment of Mr. Bashir improves or decreases chances of resolving either or both of these conflicts.

The companion aim of the ICC is to set an example to other miscreant heads-of-state and other senior officials who may be involved in comparable situations around the world.

Mr. Bashir may come to deeply resent the fact that he will not be able to travel outside of Sudan without running a risk of some country's authorities placing him under arrest and turning him over to the ICC.

It is difficult, however, to believe that he will take any meaningful action in either of Sudan's two conflicts based on the court's charges. The ICC action, therefore, was probably a mistake.

It's one thing to pose dramatic charges. It's something else to end violent conflicts.



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