The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague may well have a long time to wait before it can place the President of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity made against him in an arrest warrant issued today.
The ICC Prosecutor has stated that the crimes committed in the Darfur region of Sudan in which over 300,000 people have died and more than two million have been forced to flee their homes over the last five years were so broad as to have required "the mobilization of the whole state apparatus, including the armed forces, the intelligence services, the diplomatic and public information bureaucracies, and the justice system." It is therefore appropriate that Sudan's head of state should be held accountable for his part in planning and overseeing the devastation and carnage in the west of his country.
While the wheels of justice turn slowly, and the willingness of the Sudanese authorities to hand over high-ranking officials to face charges before an international court is slight, the arrest warrant is an important step forward in affirming the responsibility of the government of Sudan for the continuing slaughter in Darfur.
It is also increases the pressure on the more than 30 countries that transferred arms to Sudan since 2004, when an embargo designed to stop the flow of arms fueling the conflict in Darfur was first imposed by the U.N. Security Council. If they needed further reminding about the destination of their deadly exports, those who continue arm the government of Sudan now know that they are enabling the deeds of an indicted suspected war criminal.
As Jan Eliasson, the U.N. Special Envoy has noted, "the quest for peace will always be obstructed when there is an abundance of arms."
While we look forward to the day when President Bashir faces his charges in court, countries can make an immediate contribution to ending the crisis in Darfur by stopping all arms sales to Sudan. Countries not involved in arms sales should denounce those that continue to trade in tragedy. The U.N. Security Council should take steps to tighten the embargo so that violators of the sanctions regime are exposed and an effective block placed on arms transfers
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