There has been a lot of anxiety, but little concrete action, from nation-states about the crimes committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. The powerful Security Council, in particular, has been woefully ineffective. While the U.S. Congress adopted a resolution in 2004 declaring the situation a “genocide,” China has played spoiler in the U.N. body, protecting Sudan from more concrete censure.
The one thing the Security Council could agree on was handing the problem off to the fledgling International Criminal Court (ICC). Even the United States, which for a time played arch enemy to the court, declined to veto the 2005 Security Council resolution referring the Darfur situation to the ICC. Given the hostility of the U.S. to the court, this failure to veto the resolution represented a major victory for the institution.
This referral, however, has had little effect on the crisis in Darfur. The long arm of international law has not yet reached far into the region. Although the ICC’s prosecutor has dutifully reported to the Security Council every six months about the progress of his investigation, he has thus far had fairly little to say.
To be fair, both the refusal of Sudanese authorities to allow the prosecutor to investigate in Darfur and the ongoing crisis in the region have made prosecuting potential perpetrators difficult. Nevertheless, there has been a growing sense of frustration with the desultory pace of the ICC’s investigation. The most visible manifestation of this discontent consists of documents requested by the ICC judge assigned to the investigation and submitted by Louise Arbour, the former prosecutor of the Yugoslav Tribunal (and now UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), and Antonio Cassese, the former president of the Yugoslav Tribunal and author of the UN’s report on Darfur. Each of these documents takes issue with the prosecutor’s conclusion that concerns over victim security precluded him from going forward with prosecutions. The prosecutor responded, disputing the conclusions of the Cassese and Arbour briefs and setting out his strategy on the Darfur investigation.
The ICC’s prosecutor finally has something to say beyond vague promises of future action. He announced this week that he plans to present his first case on Darfur to the ICC’s judges within a matter of days. This is an important step for the ICC. Whether the beginning of actual prosecutions for crimes committed in Darfur will help mitigate the human catastrophe occurring there is an open question. Certainly criminal prosecutions, standing alone, can do little in the short term. If they help galvanize political will to address the crisis, however, they may prove a critical step toward reaching the political solution that the inhabitants of Darfur desperately need.