Global law claims new turf in Sudan
PARIS AND JOHANNESBURG
Thrust this week into its highest-profile case to date, the fledgling International Criminal Court (ICC) faces both enormous opportunities and risks as Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo launches an investigation into possible war crimes in the Sudanese region of Darfur.Skip to next paragraph
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At stake is not only the provision of justice to the victims of violence there, which has left at least 180,000 dead and nearly two million homeless, but the very future of international justice. The case, analysts say, crosses a new threshold, since for the first time investigators will be working uninvited by the local government and against its will.
"It is going to be very difficult," says Princeton Lyman, a former US ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa who now works at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "The Sudanese government will not cooperate."
That resistance is putting into sharp relief the sometimes competing interests of international justice and state sovereignty.
"This is a crucial test" for the ICC, says Richard Goldstone, the first man to prosecute such crimes from the Balkan wars.
Supporters of the court, which was founded three years ago as the world's first permanent, independent judicial body to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, welcome its role in one of the world's most troubling crises.
"It shows that the court is ... firmly part of the international scene," says Christopher Hall, a legal analyst with Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization.
Human rights groups blame most of the atrocities over the past two years in Darfur on Janjaweed militiamen supported by Sudanese government troops, though antigovernment rebel forces have also been accused of war crimes.
Darfur is the third case that investigators with the ICC prosecutor's office have taken on. In Uganda and Congo, however, they are acting at the request of those countries' governments, which have accused rebel groups of atrocities. In Darfur, they will be working at the request of the United Nations Security Council.
"This is a historic development" for international justice, says Yves Sorokobi, spokesman for Mr. Moreno-Ocampo.
Announcing the launch of the investigation Monday, Moreno-Ocampo called for "sustained cooperation from national and international authorities."
That is unlikely to be forthcoming from Sudan, whose government has said it will not hand over any of its citizens for trial in the ICC. Sudan has signed, but not ratified, the ICC treaty. Thus it is not party to the court, but is subject to its jurisdiction because the UN Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the court.
Some top Sudanese government officials, along with rebel and militia leaders, are believed to be on the secret list of 51 people suspected of "grave international crimes" by a UN commission of inquiry that reported last October.
That will pose a challenge to the ICC investigators gathering evidence in Sudan to support any indictments, since most suspects and victims are under the Khartoum government's control.
And the regime has ways of making things difficult. After UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recent visit to Darfur, the government harassed his interpreter, who had helped him speak to rape victims.
Investigators will also face a very dangerous security situation in Darfur, where aid convoys are regularly attacked. Unlikely to want to rely for protection on the very Sudanese forces they are investigating, they will not be able to turn either to the African Union (AU) troops in Darfur, because their mission is to monitor a cease-fire, not to protect foreign nationals.
The Sudanese government says its own courts are capable of trying war crimes, and has recently begun to overhaul its justice system.
A recent Amnesty International report, however, found "no evidence that Sudanese courts are able to investigate and try these crimes by both sides independently and fairly," says Mr. Hall.