Wanted: a non-African to indict

The slow-motion tussle between the International Criminal Court and Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir continues. In recent months, the head of state has traveled abroad several times in an apparent effort to break out of the isolation created by his 2008 indictment (which was recently broadened to include genocide). In the wake of this year’s reelection ...

The slow-motion tussle between the International Criminal Court and Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir continues. In recent months, the head of state has traveled abroad several times in an apparent effort to break out of the isolation created by his 2008 indictment (which was recently broadened to include genocide). In the wake of this year's reelection victory, Bashir traveled to Egypt. Last month, it was neighboring Chad. This month, he was in Libya.  Of these, Chad may have been the most significant. An ICC member, that country has a legal obligation to arrest indicted persons that it chose to ignore.

The backdrop to Bashir's peregrinations is strong African discontent with the court's direction and resentment that all those indicted have been African. In July, the African Union sharply criticized the court and rebuffed its offer to coordinate more closely. Launching a formal investigation somewhere outside of Africa may soon be a political imperative for the court. But there aren't many spots it could land without stepping on the toes of major powers. An investigation in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Colombia would anger Washington and revive somewhat dormant anti-ICC sentiment. Russia would go ballistic if the court brought charges related to the Georgia conflict (unless everyone indicted was Georgian). China—already miffed over the Bashir indictment—would be apoplectic if the ICC investigated Burma. Hard choices are ahead in the Hague.

 

The slow-motion tussle between the International Criminal Court and Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir continues. In recent months, the head of state has traveled abroad several times in an apparent effort to break out of the isolation created by his 2008 indictment (which was recently broadened to include genocide). In the wake of this year’s reelection victory, Bashir traveled to Egypt. Last month, it was neighboring Chad. This month, he was in Libya.  Of these, Chad may have been the most significant. An ICC member, that country has a legal obligation to arrest indicted persons that it chose to ignore.

The backdrop to Bashir’s peregrinations is strong African discontent with the court’s direction and resentment that all those indicted have been African. In July, the African Union sharply criticized the court and rebuffed its offer to coordinate more closely. Launching a formal investigation somewhere outside of Africa may soon be a political imperative for the court. But there aren’t many spots it could land without stepping on the toes of major powers. An investigation in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Colombia would anger Washington and revive somewhat dormant anti-ICC sentiment. Russia would go ballistic if the court brought charges related to the Georgia conflict (unless everyone indicted was Georgian). China—already miffed over the Bashir indictment—would be apoplectic if the ICC investigated Burma. Hard choices are ahead in the Hague.

 

David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of books on the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and is at work on a new book about governance of the oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist
Tag: Africa

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