Argument: ICC can balance need for justice and practical peace

Issue Report: International Criminal Court


“A middle way for justice in Sudan”. The Economist. 11 Dec. 2008 – EVER since July, when the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague sought the indictment of the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, on charges of genocide and war crimes, foreign diplomats, regional leaders and many Sudanese, including much of the political opposition, have been scrambling for a way out of a seemingly impossible dilemma. Most support the idea of prosecuting Mr Bashir and others for the carnage they are alleged to have inflicted on Sudan’s western province of Darfur. But they also dread what could happen in Sudan as a result of the indictment of a serving president by an international court.

A vindictive Mr Bashir could stymie the national elections planned for next year, end a very fragile peace process in Darfur, expel UN troops from the region or retard the already slow implementation of a peace agreement between his government and the former rebels in south Sudan. He could do one of these things or all of them together. Surely there must be some better mechanism, many argue, for holding those responsible for the atrocities in Darfur to account without reversing some of the hard-fought and precarious political and humanitarian gains of the past few years?
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Now Sudan’s most prominent opposition politician, Sadiq al-Mahdi, thinks he has an answer: what he calls a “third way” between hauling Mr Bashir to The Hague and doing nothing about crimes in Darfur. He suggests setting up an independent “hybrid” court for Darfur, which would have both Sudanese judges and international ones and sit in Sudan.

It is an intriguing proposal. The idea of mixing national and international procedure has been accepted in Sierra Leone and Cambodia. And Mr Mahdi has huge weight, as head of the Umma party, Sudan’s main opposition. He was the last prime minister to be democratically elected, back in 1986. He is also the spiritual leader of the powerful Ansar sect. Like many others, he says an ICC indictment of Mr Bashir would lead to “chaos” in Sudan; he hopes that his third way would “reconcile stability with accountability”.