What is the ICC’s showboating Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo up to regarding Darfur?
I admit I haven’t been watching either the ICC or the Darfur situation quite closely enough in recent weeks. But this op-ed in Saturday’s WaPo certainly caught my eye. Not least because it’s written by Ju;ie Flint and Alex de Waal, two of the people who know the most about Darfur of any of the hundreds of westerners who have taken it up as their “celebrity-riven cause celebre” (or, as their way to try to change the topic of conversation in the US from Iraq, where the US does have direct responsibility, to Darfur, where it certainly doesn’t.)
Flint and de Waal start their piece thus:
- Is the International Criminal Court losing its way in Darfur? We fear it is. Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s approach is fraught with risk — for the victims of the atrocities in Darfur, for the prospects for peace in Sudan and for the prosecution itself.
We are worried by two aspects of Ocampo’s approach, as presented to the U.N. Security Council early this month. One concerns fact: Sudan’s government has committed heinous crimes, but Ocampo’s comparison of it with Nazi Germany is an exaggeration. The other concerns political consequences: Indicting a senior government figure would be an immense symbolic victory for Darfurians. But Darfur residents need peace, security and deliverable justice more than they need a moment of jubilation. And with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his men still in power, a high-level indictment would probably damage all these objectives.
While addressing the Security Council on June 5, Ocampo described a Darfur we do not recognize. He spoke of a vast, single crime scene where “the entire Sudanese state apparatus” has been mobilized “to physically and mentally destroy entire communities.” He said he would seek to indict a senior government official — whom we infer may be Bashir — next month. He outlined a criminal conspiracy within government to destroy the social fabric of Darfur with, as he has said, the first stage being the massacres of 2003-04 and the second the destruction of the refugee camps and the ethnic groups housed there.
We were among the first to document the massacres in Darfur — in 2002, even before the rebels announced their uprising — and to call for accountability. We see grave continuing violations of human rights there. But we do not see evidence for the two-stage plan Ocampo described. Yes, there are great obstructions of relief efforts and much violence in and around the camps (not all of it by the government). Government functionaries and soldiers abuse civilians with impunity. But defining today’s violations as a “systematic” campaign to destroy “entire” communities goes too far.
Many, many of the points Flint and de Waal make– especially those I underlined above– are very similar to points that I have made about Darfur over the past couple of years.
- Sudan’s government has only itself to blame for the difficulties it faces. But the ICC prosecutor also is erring. Many crimes have been committed in Sudan. The systematic eradication of communities today is not one of them. Bringing charges of this nature against the highest echelons of government, at this moment, would be gambling with the future of the entire Sudanese nation.
I hope that everyone in the western “Save Darfur” campaign reads this article and thinks deeply about it. I know these are not easy issues. But I certainly believe that Flint and de Waal know (and understand, which is a slightly different matter) a lot more about the situation in Darfur than Ocampo.
As they say, “Darfur residents need peace, security and deliverable justice more than they need a moment of jubilation.” What we also need to look much more at is what kind of justice the Darfuris really need. Return to their homes and the reconstitution of their lives, livelihoods, and communities– that is, the satisfaction of core issues of economic and social justice– is probably, for them as for other populations wracked by atrocity-laden inter-group conflict, their first and most pressing need.