In the first few months of 2005, the Security Council considered granting the International Criminal Court the jurisdiction to investigate alleged war crimes in Darfur. The debate was tough at the time. The United States is not a signatory to the treaty that created court and it was unclear whether or not it would support the referral in the Security Council. The crisis in Darfur, however, seemed to inspire a brief détente between the United States and the ICC. When the resolution came to a vote, the United States abstained and let the measure pass.
Nearly 20 months later, we are seeing the first results of that decision. On Tuesday, the ICC’s top prosecutor released the names of two individuals against whom his office has built a case. According to the recently released court documents, Ahmad Harun, a Sudanese government official, is alleged to have hired a janjaweed militia commander named Ali Kushyb to clear out villages and towns in West Darfur.
Though these are two relatively mid-level players, the investigation in Darfur is still open. The prosecutor has pledged to follow the evidence where it leads. Presumably, this means up the chain of command to more senior officials of the Sudanese government.
So now that the ICC has opened the prosecutorial floodgates in Sudan, what does that mean for the long suffering people of Darfur? Specifically, how can the ICC help break Khartoum’s opposition to the already authorized peacekeeping force for Darfur? The answers here depend on how key players of the international community choose to respond to these new developments. The ICC has just given the international community a point of political leverage over the Khartoum. If key international players back the ICC’s work in Darfur, the investigations can help press Khartoum to break its opposition to peacekeepers.
With yesterday’s announcement, the ICC showed the world that it can build a serious case against alleged war criminals in Darfur. This is precisely the right moment for all responsible nations to show Khartoum that they are unified behind the Court’s work. With the threat of indictments hanging over the heads of the leadership in Khartoum, perhaps then they will come to realize that letting peacekeepers into Darfur is really an offer they cannot refuse.