Justice is the key to peace in Darfur

The arrest of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic last week demonstrates that justice is possible. Far from being the political leader he styled himself as, Karadzic, who has been indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, is now just a criminal.

Karadzic's arrest makes the case for the pursuit of justice when it comes to Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor, recently accused Bashir of committing genocide and other crimes in Darfur. In the next few months, the court's judges are likely to issue an international arrest warrant for him. Some worry that this will interfere with peace talks and humanitarian operations inside Sudan -- but the fact is that past experience proves that the pursuit of justice can help bring about peace.

In April 1999, as NATO and Yugoslavia warred over Kosovo, the chief United Nations prosecutor visited then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and asked if the U.S. would support an indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. As the secretary's advisor and a veteran of every Balkan peace negotiation for the preceding five years, my advice was simple: If you have the evidence, indict him, soon and publicly.

That became the United States' position. Milosevic was indicted and a peace agreement was reached soon after. Nearly 18 months later, Milosevic's own people removed him from office and thereafter transferred him to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague.

There are, of course, clear differences between the situation in the Balkans and the crisis in Sudan, and there are pressing concerns that we must consider: Sudan has oil money and close ties to important powers; Sudan's north-south peace agreement may be threatened by instability in Khartoum; and international peacekeepers, humanitarian workers, and civilians may face violent reprisals. Critics claim that Ocampo has imperiled peace negotiations -- but those negotiations were not progressing even before the ICC prosecutor named Bashir. In order to make progress, we need a clear view of both the challenges and opportunities.

The challenges are obvious. Since 2004, Darfur has descended into a cycle of human misery. There is little hope for a sustainable peace agreement in Darfur itself. Moreover, Bashir has presided over a succession of conflicts from the Nuba Mountains in the heart of the country, to the south, to Darfur in the east. This was Milosevic's pattern, from Slovenia to Croatia to Bosnia to Kosovo.

An indictment can create possibilities for negotiation. Milosevic's indictment encouraged local opponents and coincided with protests that were instrumental in his decision to accept a peace on NATO's terms a few weeks later. In Bosnia and in western Africa, international indictments led to the replacement of obstinate leaders in negotiations, allowing the talks to succeed. Popular outcry or Bashir's replacement are unlikely in Sudan, but Bashir -- who will remain president even if a warrant is issued -- may either face new domestic pressure or decide to take a more constructive approach to peace talks.

An indictment also changes the international context. Countries may distance themselves from Sudan's government. For example, the U.N. Security Council has imposed an embargo on arms shipments to Darfur -- an embargo that is violated regularly. States may come under pressure to suspend or delay arms shipments to Sudan while the council considers stronger measures.

Justice does not happen in a political vacuum. While the ICC is considering whether to issue a warrant, the U.N. Security Council will be reviewing policy toward Sudan. Even if a warrant is issued, the council would have the authority to suspend prosecutions for up to a year. The council has already endorsed the prosecutor's investigation, and it is unlikely to defer the prosecution unless either the prosecutor asks for more time or there is a clear and compelling humanitarian reason for doing so.

Within the council itself, an arrest warrant reverses power relationships. Until now, the states opposing strong action against Sudan have been able to hold the council hostage. Now, these states will find themselves supporting a potentially genocidal regime. This gives the U.S. and its allies a new chance to help improve humanitarian access, to press Khartoum to end its military support to the Janjaweed, and to further the peace process. It may also enable the council to strengthen the arms embargo, by extending it beyond just Darfur to all of Sudan.

The implications of an arrest warrant must be connected to the broader discussion of policy toward Sudan. In Serbia, under Milosevic, an array of economic sanctions -- crude and too broad -- were in place but were coupled with extensive humanitarian assistance, aid to ordinary citizens through nongovernmental organizations or local governments, and outreach to potential political rivals. Many of these elements played key roles in Milosevic's eventual fall from power. Sudan's trade with the world should continue, and there should be more contact with others in the government and in society.

For all these concerns, decision-making should begin and end with an acknowledgment that victims of the conflict deserve justice. This recognition does not end debate but does shape it. We cannot know the right step to take at every stage, and honest people will have to remain open to possibilities as events unfold. We should recall our experience in the Balkans and remember that the voices of the victims, heard in court, can help bring peace to a land that has been without it for far too long.

James C. O'Brien, a principal at the Albright Group LLC, was presidential envoy for the Balkans in the Clinton administration.

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