A coalition of 180 faith-based and human rights activist organizations in the United States is asking the Obama administration to be prepared to respond to this week's judgment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The Sudanese leader has been under investigation since July for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and the court in the Hague is scheduled to hand down its ruling on Wednesday. President of the Save Darfur Coalition, Jerry Fowler, says there is a good possibility that the court will prosecute President Bashir on some, if not all counts.
"I would be very, very surprised if the judges, after reviewing the evidence, did not issue arrest warrants on at least some of the charges. It may not be all of the charges. But I think there's a strong case against the president. One thing that we have to keep in mind is that the prosecutor was operating under very difficult circumstances. He could not go to Darfur to do his investigation. So it is somewhat difficult to put together a case when you can't visit the crime scene. But he talked to many, many refugees who had left Darfur, and collected evidence that way," he noted.
Fowler says that last week's word from the White House of plans to appoint a special US envoy for Sudan needs to be acted on as soon as possible so the Obama administration will be in a position to focus its efforts on the consequences of this week's ICC decision.
"We've been trying to get the administration focused on Sudan. They have, obviously, a lot on their plate, and our first and foremost objective is to have the president identify who is going to be the owner of Sudan policy. It will probably be a special envoy, and I understand that the decision has been taken that they will appoint a special envoy. They haven't identified who that individual will be. And I think that's good. What we're emphasizing is that this person needs to have the stature, mandate, and authority to drive all aspects of US Sudan policy," he noted.
The Save Darfur Coalition chief says it is essential that Washington tell Sudan's government it will not tolerate violence against aid officials, international peacekeepers, or Darfur civilians in the aftermath of the decision.
"We will be urging, first and foremost, in the immediate response to the announcement by the International Criminal Court that the United States and other countries not tolerate any violence against civilians or the United Nations personnel on the ground or the international aid operation that is keeping millions of people alive. That's very, very important. More broadly, one thing that I hope we'll see from the media is listening to Darfuri voices. What do Darfuri voices have to say about this? And I know that every time I talk to Darfuris from the communities that have been the targets of this violence, they think it's very important that these arrest warrants come out and that the ICC investigation not be suspended, " he said.
Fowler cautioned that there has been some talk that the UN Security Council might derail the investigation. He also acknowledged that Sudan enjoys considerable support within the African Union, resisting the unseating of the Sudanese leader. However, he advises that that opposition may be halfhearted while several African leaders are known to feel deeply embarrassed by the massive scale of the violence targeting Sudan's civilian population. He adds that the west's earlier diplomatic practice of employing a carrot and stick approach with Khartoum can only be effective to a point if the ICC issues its arrest warrant, and that it would be wise for the international community to remain steadfast in its pursuit of prosecution.
"One of the things that the Sudanese government has just generally done whenever pressure builds up is to figure out what is just enough to get the pressure to be relieved. And they've been particularly doing this since July, when the prosecutor asked for the arrest warrant. And I think one of the things that has stunned the Sudanese government is that unlike in previous cases where they could sidestep sanctions or whatever other pressure by doing just a little bit, they haven't been able to derail this ICC investigation. And they haven't been able to short-circuit the arrest warrants. And it looks like the arrest warrants are going to come out," he noted.
The lesson that can be learned from
this, says Fowler, is to "keep the pressure on." He also praised actor George Clooney, who just
returned from a visit to Sudan and presented President Bashir with a petition
with 250-thousand American signatures, imploring the Sudanese leader to keep
his word to western diplomats on ending the violence in Darfur.