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Addressing the Security Council yesterday, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor dropped some strong hints that his office is readying a new set of indictments on Darfur. And this time, it looks like he is setting his sights high up the government food chain.

So far, only two people are under ICC indictment for alleged crimes in Darfur, a mid level government official and a janjaweed militia leader. But when the prosecutor indicted these two, he did not close the case. Rather, he opened a new investigation into the “joint criminal enterprise” that plotted and executed the plan to raze Darfur. According to his testimony at the Security Council, the prosecutor is nearing an end of an investigation into how the state apparatus directed and coordinated the systematic violence against non-combatants in Darfur.

This is a big deal. On the one hand, indicting top government officials could seriously disrupt current diplomatic efforts to coax and cajole Khartoum into cooperating with the deployment of peacekeepers in Darfur. The international community also needs Khartoum’s cooperation to shore up the separate peace agreement with the south and resolve the conflict in the Abyei region. Another way of looking at this, though, is that current international efforts to bolster UNAMID are already fledgling. Fighting in Abyei has already broken out (causing some 50,000 displaced) the north-south peace accord is already fledgling. This new intervention by the ICC, if it comes, could provide a critical point of political leverage over the political elites calling the shots in Khartoum.

So far, the international community has not been able to convince the Sudanese government that it is in their best interests to cooperate on Darfur, Abyei, and elsewhere. The threat of indictment (and the ability of the Security Council to suspend those indictments) could inject the necessary impetus for the government to finally take a conciliatory stance toward the international community. The problem is, ICC indictments are a relatively new phenomenon on the international stage. Diplomats seem not yet to have quite learned the best way use these indictments to serve their political ends. Here’s hoping they learn fast.

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