Friday is a defining moment in the history of justice. The members of the United Nations Security Council will be presented with the results of the International Criminal Court’s Darfur investigation an investigation that they requested. Their response will determine whether there is going to be an international standard of justice that holds perpetrators accountable for the worst crimes in the world.
The evidence the prosecutor has presented is clear and compelling. Millions of people have been displaced; hundreds of thousands have been killed and, at the center of it all stands Sudanese President Omar al Bashir who has been indicted on seven counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity.
Bashir’s response to the indictments was an insult to the international community and hundreds of thousands who have died in Darfur. He kicked 16 international aid groups who were desperately trying to save his citizens out of his country. He even appointed one of the suspects, Ahmed Haroun, to a committee supposedly investigating human rights abuses in Darfur. You’ll struggle to find a better illustration of the culture of impunity that reigns in Khartoum.
Darfur has almost disappeared from the news, and experts now call it a “low intensity” conflict. But the intensity of the crisis has not lessened for those who are struggling to survive. More than 250,000 people from Darfur have lived destitute lives in refugee camps in Chad for six years now. Camps with more than two million internally displaced persons inside Darfur are even worse. Thirty percent of those displaced are school-age children. Girls leaving the camps are raped; boys leaving the camps are killed. They want an education; they want to go back to their villages, to their land; they want peace. But they also want justice.
I first went to Chad to visit refugees from Darfur in 2004. On that trip-more than five years ago-the refugees I met told me that the government was organizing the violence. About a year later, the international community came to the same conclusion. Some began to call the violence “mass atrocities.” Others ramped up the rhetoric and called it “crimes against humanity.” Nothing changed, so as the death toll mounted activists pushed the Bush administration to label it “genocide” hoping somehow that term would arouse fear and horror.
But none of those words compelled us to intervene.
Today the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will stand in front of the UN Security Council. With painstaking detail he will report that Omar al Bashir a man who should protect his citizens, has attacked Darfuris relentlessly and methodically for five years, and continues to do so.
According to the UN Charter, the Security Council exists “to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security.” If the results of the Darfur investigation which they ordered don’t merit their active engagement, what does
Today the Security Council member states will be faced with a simple decision to embrace impunity or to end it.
As they are considering Bashir’s fate they are also considering their own.
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