March 4, 2009

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review—released early because of developing news—Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, reacts to the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to charge Sudanese President Umar Hassan al-Bashir with five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for his role in the humanitarian disaster that is Darfur.

While, even without the genocide counts originally sought by the prosecutor, the charges authorized by the ICC and the accompanying arrest warrant represent “ a significant milestone in the historic global campaign against impunity for high-ranking perpetrators of the most serious violations of international humanitarian law and other human rights abuses,” the essay suggests that “what happens next will be less a legal matter than a geopolitical question since there is no chance that the Sudanese ruler will be appearing voluntarily at The Hague anytime soon to answer the charges pending against him.”

Dr. Pham discounts fears of reprisals against the two international peacekeeping forces currently deployed in Sudan, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) force watching the fragile peace between Khartoum and South Sudan and the hybrid African Union/United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID), noting that the majority of the peacekeepers are Africans from some thirty African countries and that the African Union continues to lobby for a suspension of the ICC proceedings renders it “highly unlikely that Bashir and members of his regime would want to turn other African governments against themselves by targeting the mainly African UN personnel.” Instead, he argues that it is “more likely, in fact, is the possibility that the indictment might serve as a pretense for other leaders in Khartoum’s ruling National Congress Party…and the military to consider a move against the Bashir” and that such an internal coup, backed perhaps by the People’s Republic of China and various Arab countries which have invested heavily in Sudan, might even accelerate the forces already at work dissolving the Sudanese state.

Observing that he “need not belabor here where the national interests of the United States not only in ending the various conflicts in Sudan, but also in helping bring about a sustainable security balance in the critical Horn of Africa subregion, are to be discerned as such a scenario to unfolds,” Dr. Pham concludes:

While it is far too early to know whether and how long Bashir will manage to avoid answering for his crimes before an earthly tribunal, in many ways the charges brought against him mean that he is no longer master of his own fate, to say nothing of his continuing to play a dominant lead in the ongoing drama of Sudan. On the global stage, the ICC indictment may be a judicial action carried out in conformity with international law, but its enforcement will depend on the political will of the UN Security Council which referred the Darfur case to the Court in the first place. However within Sudan the indictment will take on its own inexorable momentum as other actors acquire considerable say, not just over what role Bashir is allotted, but over the shape of the future Sudan—all in an accelerating dynamic process that is likelier to be ultimately determined by geostrategic realities and Machtpolitik rather than by jurisprudential norms. Consequently, while the short-term outlook is unclear, the contours of the end state are already discernible.

To read the full text of the article, “Beyond Bashir: Sudan After the Indictment,” click here.