On December 15th, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court briefed the UN Security Council for the twenty-second time, expressing continued deep frustration, but also a refreshing reminder that the pursuit of justice in Darfur has not been abandoned.
Last year, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, presumably seeking to spur long-sought action, announced that lack of Security Council support was forcing her to “hibernate” further investigations into crimes in Darfur. This prompted worry among victims in Darfur and gloating by the accused perpetrators of their crimes. But this year Bensouda was clear that the courts efforts have never stopped.
As she told the Security Council:
“Victims of atrocity crimes in Darfur should rest assured that the cases against the Sudan suspects are far from over. Contrary to the misinformed belief that investigations in Darfur have been closed, a team of committed lawyers and investigators from my Office is continuing with its work of interviewing witnesses, collecting documentary evidence and seeking information from relevant sources.”
To be sure, Sudanese President Bashir and others wanted by the court continue to enjoy impunity. Despite arrest warrants on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, Bashir has traveled to several countries this year including China, India, and South Africa. The ICC has appealed for action on numerous occasions, with little to no support from the UN Security Council.
But Bashir’s travels have not been unfettered. His visit to South Africa ended unceremoniously with a rapid and secretive exit as an intense constitutional battle broke out over the country’s obligation to arrest him. Bashir canceled plans to attend the Africa-China summit in South Africa this month, reportedly after South Africa asked him not to attend.
Efforts to highlight Bashir’s intransigence and to spur action for his arrest have continued around the globe, from the Southern African Litigation Centre that began legal proceedings for Bashir’s arrest to the continued monitoring by the Bashir Watch coalition. United to End Genocide has ensured the message is heard in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and made clear in the New York Times that any visit to the United States would mean arrest. We also joined the International Justice Project and Diaspora from Darfur to bring the message to the United Nations.
The United States mission to the UN has strongly welcomed the Prosecutor’s announcement, pledging that “the United States will continue to urge governments, whether or not they are States Parties to the Rome Statute [ICC members], not to invite, facilitate, or support travel by those who face arrest warrants for alleged crimes committed in Darfur.” Such statements must be backed by real pressure on countries that would consider inviting Bashir and others wanted by the ICC.
Justice may be delayed but it is far from forgotten. We join Prosecutor Bensouda in her frustration but also in her resolve, echoing her call before the Security Council, “Today, my message to the victims in Darfur is clear and unequivocal: we shall not stop our work and we shall not despair.”