Justice or Peace in Darfur?

A UN-AU hybrid patrol sets off for Siliea in West Darfur. The helmets have been painted blue but no-one has got around to removing the old Amis logo

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, set the cat among the pigeons last month by accusing the entire Khartoum government of committing war crimes in Darfur.
His typically inflammatory statement sparked off a whole new round of the justice vs peace debate about resolving conflicts in Africa. Should we set aside justice and postpone bringing perpetrators of horrendous crimes to court in order to coax them to the negotiating table, in the sort of utilitarian analysis of which Bentham and Mill would have been proud? Or is justice the most important moral principle, without which no meaningful peace can be achieved?
It’s a debate that we are about to hear a lot more of, particularly with regard to Sudan. Khartoum is getting very nervous about a round of fresh indictments, which I’m told could include President Omar al Bashir himself.
The first salvo is fired by Alex de Waal and Julie Flint, co-authors of Darfur: A New History of a Long War, in a letter to The Guardian and later fleshed out in a longer piece in The Washington Post.
Their concern is that at a crucial time for the deployment of UN-AU peacekeepers and for talks between north and south Sudan, criminalising the entire Khartoum regime by accusing it of genocidal activity risks sabotaging any hopes of peace.

Evidence for such a plan is purely circumstantial. There are daily crimes of violence in Darfur and the government has failed to provide security for the camps. But when the prosecutor alleges there is a centralised conspiracy to destroy the social fabric of Darfur, describes the whole region as a crime scene, and makes a comparison with the Nazis, we feel he is going beyond the facts and risks jeopardising the credibility of the prosecution.

A response come from Wasil Ali in the Sudan Tribune, who argues that the prosecutor is only doing his job.

He was asked by the UNSC to investigate the war crimes in Darfur and he is carrying out his mandate accordingly. The responsibility for the deployment of UNAMID and the political process in Darfur lies with the UNSC and not with the ICC. If Khartoum was to retaliate against indictment of senior government officials by blocking peacekeepers and restricting humanitarian access then the international community must stand up to Sudan.

Eric Reeves, one of the key thinkers behind the Save Darfur coalition, comes to a similar conclusion and doesn’t fail to miss an opportunity to characterise Flint and De Waal as apologists for Khartoum.

What we see here—and in the argument de Waal and Flint offer—is not a serious pressuring of Khartoum, but rather forms of accommodation. In the sixth year of unfathomable violence, destruction, and displacement, “urging” Khartoum to “cooperate” seems little more than a cruel sop thrown to the people of Darfur. In the case of de Waal and Flint, such accommodation of Khartoum extends to an expedient abandonment of justice in the interest of rendering Darfur somehow manageable, a situation requiring certain forms of acquiescence—at the very least not the site of ongoing genocidal destruction.

The anger of the debate is astonishing when you remember that all sides want to end the killing in Darfur. For my money, it is worth remembering the lessons of the Gillian Gibbons case. The English teacher jailed after her class named a teddy bear Mohamed was eventually freed after the intervention of two British muslims who met with President Bashir over cups of sweet tea. Softly, softly works much better with Sudan than gunboats and indictments.