In describing the hard political trade-offs that must be made in negotiating peace in Darfur, longtime Sudan expert Alex De Waal, in his aptly named blog, Making Sense of Darfur, offers this insightful nugget into the operations of the young ICC:
Arguably the main role of the ICC is less to mount prosecutions itself and more to push nations to take the rule of law and accountability seriously. We are a long long way from possessing an international rule of law in which it would be possible routinely to enforce justice against perpetrators.
In the cases of both Darfur and Northern Uganda, I have argued that bringing perpetrators to justice — at least eventually — is a key aspect of achieving peace and reconciliation. Alex correctly identifies the scale of the difficulties faced by the ICC and the importance of infusing a culture of justice into societies marred by conflict. However, I am not swayed by the implication that the ICC’s involvement in Sudan will push that country’s government to “take the rule of law and accountability seriously.” The system of kangaroo courts that it has implemented to try suspects involved in the Darfur genocide is proof enough that, without a credible threat, the regime will pay only lip service to the notion of accountability. ICC prosecutions are important in their own right — they need to at least initially be used as sticks, even if, later, they are turned into carrots.