The ICC: An Irresponsible, Counterproductive Court
Last week the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an indictment against Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. The ICC tries genocides, war crimes, and “crimes against humanity”, and the chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo apparently thinks that the Sudanese government’s recent behaviour in the western region of Darfur qualifies on all three counts.
The conflict in Darfur is sometimes described as a straightforward case of an Arab government killing and displacing vulnerable black Africans. In reality, a number of different militias and tribal groups are involved in the fighting, and the atrocities have hardly been one-sided. It’s to the credit of the ICC, then, that the indictment takes some of this complexity into account. Al-Bashir is accused quite specifically of trying to “destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups”, members of which had “engaged in a rebellion”. The charges relate to a vengeful, brutal response to internal opposition, not to an unprovoked genocide.
What makes this interesting from a Canadian viewpoint is that the ICC is actually in no small measure a Canadian project. The diplomacy of Jean Chretien’s government helped ensure the passage of the Rome Statute, the court’s founding document, and the current president of the court is the Canadian lawyer Philippe Kirsch. Whatever comes of the ICC’s intervention in Sudan, Canada will bear a measure of ultimate responsibility.
It’s easy to understand the humanitarian impulse to protect Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa civilians from al-Bashir’s militias. Nevertheless, Sudan is not even a signatory to the Rome Statute, so the ICC is empowered to go after al-Bashir only because the UN “referred” the Darfur situation to the court. It’s hard to imagine a clearer violation of Sudan’s sovereignty, and every step in this direction helps to set a precedent that could eventually backfire badly on Canada and the court’s other western backers. I would prefer that the wording of any future referendum on the status of Quebec not be decided by lawyers in The Hague.
A more immediate problem is that the indictment has already been contemptuously rebuffed by Sudan, prompting a declaration of solidarity from the Arab League. By forcing Sudan into a position of defiance, backed by regional allies, the indictment will only make it harder to negotiate a sensible end to the Darfur violence. If this a good example of the ICC in action, Canada should think twice before launching more utopian geopolitical schemes.