France and Darfur: Dirty deals over genocide or pragmatism for peace?
French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that if Sudan changes its behavior and actively supports growing international calls for peace in Darfur, Paris would back suspending any indictments the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Sarkozy made clear there would be strings attached. In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, the French leader said Sudan would have to “radically” alter its policy towards Darfur, where international experts say at least 200,000 people have died since 2003. It would have to remove a cabinet minister indicted for war crimes in Darfur from the Khartoum government and stop delaying the deployment of international peacekeepers.
Not everyone will laud Sarkozy’s comments on the opening day of the General Assembly.
The New York-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has already chided the African Union Peace and Security Council for calling on world powers to use their power to put the ICC investigation of Bashir on hold to avoid undermining the stalled peace process in Darfur.
“A suspension of the investigation would deny justice to the thousands of victims in Darfur,” said Georgette Gagnon, HRW’s Africa director. “The African Union should reaffirm its commitment to seeing justice done for atrocities and support for the ICC in Darfur.”
According to Western diplomats whispering in the corridors of the United Nations, France is not the only western country that could imagine invoking Article 16 of the ICC statute, which allows the U.N. Security Council to suspend court investigations or indictments for up to one year at a time. They say Britain may also be open to the idea, though London would have an even longer list of conditions – terms that Khartoum might find very unpalatable.
Some say Washington, which has refused to become a party to the ICC, could also be persuaded.
Privately, some Western diplomats have called the threat of a humiliating ICC prosecution of Bashir an ideal club to beat him over the head with as they try to get the full U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force on the ground in Darfur. More than a year after the Security Council approved deploying the force, known as UNAMID, only around 10,000 of the 26,000 troops and police have arrived in Sudan.
None of this is good news for ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who has run into snags with another case and has come under fire for his retaliatory dismissal of an ICC employee. Moreno-Ocampo is currently in New York meeting with African and other officials to defend his drive to indict Bashir, whom he accuses of masterminding a campaign of genocide in western Sudan.
He says Bashir’s war crimes began in 2003 and that his orders led to the deaths of 35,000 people outright, at least another 100,000 through starvation and disease and forced 2.5 million from their homes.
What do you think? Is Sarkozy trying to barter away justice for the victims of genocide in Darfur? Or is a stay of execution for Bashir a small price to pay in the interests of peace?