First Justice, Then Peace in Sudan

Article excerpt

For almost two decades, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has waged foul wars on ethnic groups within his country that happened to live on oil- or mineral-rich land. Today, the international community is finally close to holding him accountable. Though it could make for a rocky transition, it is the key to peace.

Even before Darfur, aerial bombing, murder, and rape seemed to be his government's tools for settling scores with the mainly African Christians of southern Sudan. In that 23-year war for resource control, just under 2 million people died as a result of mass violence.

In 2005, the US brokered a peace deal that divided control of the oil fields. But it did not address the crimes committed. And by the time it was signed, Mr. Bashir was back to the same, in Darfur.

This summer, however, things changed. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, requested an arrest warrant against Bashir on suspicion of genocide. A flood of worst-case predictions followed. A fear that the situation will worsen has increased. And so have worries about chances for any meaningful peace process.

The pressure is now mounting on the United Nations Security Council to defer the ICC proceedings - as soon as this month - before the court judges decide the fate of the warrant request. This political emergency brake was meant to be used only when the interests of justice and peace collide.

Bashir is clearly doing his best to convince the world that the call for his arrest will indeed collide with peace in Darfur. He recently sent a diplomatic mission to Security Council member states, promising renewed peace and possible deals. Back home, his troops attacked Darfur's largest refugee camp, killing dozens.

In fact, the most serious threat to peace and security in Sudan is Bashir himself. His regime has the power to make the Darfurians' life worse yet. It can also endanger international peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, upset the fragile peace in the south, and continue to destabilize its neighbor, Chad. In the past, Khartoum has often used its power in unsettling ways - and many believe that it would not hesitate to do it again.

But is pursuing the course of justice the right answer to this threat? Within the Security Council, divisions run deep on that question. About half of member states support a deferral, and many others still sit carefully on the fence.

In order to credibly pull the brake on justice, the Security Council would have to promptly ensure real peace in Darfur, including a military force strong enough to back it up. …