From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sat Feb 14 2009 - 05:09:39 EST
A Chance to Sway Sudan
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By <http://projects.washingtonpost.com/staff/email/michael+gerson/> Michael
Friday, February 14, 2009; Page A17
While a new administration is just getting started, history doesn't stop.
On Sudan and Darfur, President Obama's Africa team has begun a lengthy
policy review and is mulling names for a special envoy. But an arrest
warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of war
crimes and crimes against humanity was reportedly approved by the
International Criminal Court (ICC) this week. And the administration
suddenly faces an unprecedented question: Can a hunted war criminal also be
a partner in the Sudan peace process?
While in government, I was skeptical of the usefulness of ICC indictments in
situations such as Sudan. Indictments are a blunt diplomatic instrument --
once imposed, they are almost impossible to withdraw in exchange for
concessions. They leave a thug in a corner -- less likely to negotiate and
more likely to lash out at humanitarian groups and civilians. A dictator
with no options is dangerous.
But I have changed my mind in the case of Bashir. The traditional carrots
and sticks of diplomacy have failed. For decades, the Sudanese regime has
been masterful at using minor concessions and delaying tactics, playing
allies who want oil and critics with short attention spans, to achieve its
genocidal ends. Bashir would like nothing better than to play another round
in this game. The ICC warrant provides an opportunity to change the rules,
holding Bashir personally responsible for achieving massive improvements, or
personally responsible for committing massive crimes.
There are three predictable international reactions to the ICC arrest
warrant against Bashir.
. Sudan's traditional enablers -- China, the Arab League, South Africa and
other nations of the African Union -- will push the U.N. Security Council to
defer enforcement. Sudan's current negotiations in Doha with Darfur rebels
may result in apparent progress, including a rough framework for future
peace talks. Supporters of Sudan will argue that this is reason enough to
give Bashir a reprieve and some breathing room.
. Britain and France, in contrast, will probably insist on the enforcement
of the warrant to maintain the institutional credibility of the ICC.
. The United States can be expected to take a different approach. For a
variety of reasons -- particularly the strong military objection to having
soldiers tried by foreign courts -- the United States has not joined the ICC
and is not likely to do so during the Obama administration. The focus of
American policy has been on negotiating a positive outcome in Darfur with
Sudan's government, not defending the institutional health of the ICC.
But progress in Darfur now requires the ICC warrant to mean something.
Granting a deferral in exchange for another round of worthless Sudanese
pledges and promises would be the surrender of international seriousness.
Bashir's only hope of self-preservation should be the achievement of large
changes on the ground in Sudan -- a verified cease-fire mechanism in Darfur
supported by the international community; the implementation of resettlement
and compensation; an end to all harassment of humanitarian groups; full
compliance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Sudan's north and
south and with all other international commitments.
Until this type of cooperation is demonstrated, Bashir should be treated as
an international pariah -- a designation he has fully earned. The Obama
administration should quietly make clear to China, the African Union and
others that a premature deferral is unacceptable and that direct diplomatic
contacts with Bashir himself will be limited to peace negotiations.
Reprisals against aid groups and civilians in Darfur by Bashir's army and
intelligence forces should result in serious consequences -- including the
grounding of Sudan's air force, which both Vice President Biden and
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have favored in the past.
In the absence of Bashir's compliance, strong, consistent international
isolation might slowly raise the internal pressure on the regime. Sudan has
a collective leadership -- more like a criminal gang than a totalitarian
dictatorship. If the Sudanese army eventually decides that Bashir has become
an international leper and liability, he might be replaced by someone who
better understands the new rules of the game -- which do not include
impunity for genocide. This is a distant prospect but perhaps the best
Change in Darfur will not arrive with the delivery of an arrest warrant. It
will require the construction of a broad coalition to isolate and
marginalize Bashir. And if he is offered a negotiated way out, it must be
costly and comprehensive.
These complex challenges now fall to the Obama administration -- ready or
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