For a split second, a recent essay on The Root called "Sudan on the Rebound?" allowed me to feel a bit hopeful. The images of commerce, opportunity and multiculturalism in a bustling East African town—in Sudan, no less—conjured fond memories of my own travels. Those memories abruptly faded with Zachariah Mampilly's suggestion that seeking justice in Sudan at this time is too great of a price to pay for much needed peace. I respectfully disagree.
Peace or justice? A simple enough question, right? Let's consider the case of Sudan.
The Sudanese bear the crushing weight of a 22-year civil war that has resulted in 2.5 million deaths in Darfur and southern Sudan, 7 million people displaced, and over 1,500 villages burned.
In March 2005, the United Nation's Security Council, under the authority of the U.N. Charter, referred the Darfur case to the office of Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The prosecutor has brought two cases before the ICC for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes in Darfur. The most recent case, presented on July 14, sought a warrant to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir for the said crimes.
During a Council on Foreign Relations Symposium on International Justice in last month, the prosecutor explained the evidence collected over the past three years from victims and over 100 witnesses around the world. He stated the conclusion matter of factly:
"the Sudanese armed forces, acting in concert with militia Janjaweed, attacked hundreds of villages…Helicopters and aircraft dropped bombs. Ground forces killed, tortured and raped thousands of civilians. At the start of the attacks at least 35,000—this is the most conservative number—35,000 people have been killed. The UN says 300,000 of those who fled the attacks died of starvation and disease."
Saying pointedly that President Bashir ordered the crimes, the prosecutor then stated what most here have finally come to accept, "It's genocide, and it's happening now."
Of course, this is the grossly abridged version of the situation in Darfur. Some of us have seen the documentaries, read news reports and have even personally heard the stories told by women and children who endured horrific acts that one could not begin to imagine.
The international community must absolutely pursue justice. Why are the ICC's efforts to seek truth and hold perpetrators accountable—as "noble" as they are in their "aspirations," as Mampilly argues—being maligned with mischaracterizations ("charades in Uganda") of their mandate? Why should the international community jettison principles to strike a grand bargain with a leader who has presided over mass atrocities? Haven't we paid President Bashir enough for his country's contributions to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts?
The notion that Mampilly advances in his essay, that the international community hinges its hopes on the ICC to deliver peace to Sudan, is indeed misguided. This is not the job of the ICC. Its responsibility is the enforcement of international justice, to enforce the law. The U.S. and other nations helped to broker the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement; now it's time for the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army to muster the political will and good faith to uphold the agreement's objectives.
President Bashir changed his tune slightly on Nov. 12 by announcing an immediate cease-fire in the Darfur region, a principal recommendation under the government's peace initiative. A reduction in hostilities is certainly welcomed. But let's be clear, President Bashir's gesture should have no bearing on the charges against him.
Angelina Jolie, in her role as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has met refugees in over 20 countries over the past seven years. In recent remarks, she said "no mother who had her children killed in front of her, no young girl sold into slavery, no boy kidnapped and forced to be a child solider, and no young girl…who had her limbs cut off should be expected to simply forget. No one should have to choose between peace or justice."
This is not an either/or proposition. There is no lasting peace in Sudan without justice—no matter what the flowing beers, bustling markets and zooming motorcycles in the war-torn country's southern region seem to imply.
Sundaa Bridgett Jones is a regular contributor to The Root.