The National Post
10 March 2009
Irwin Cotler is the counsel on human rights and transitional justice for the Liberal Party, as well as the founder of the Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition.
The International Criminal Courts order last week for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity was nothing less than historic. Never before has the international community so clearly expressed the principle that obody stands above the law. Never before has the court intervened to bring to account the acting leader of a country besieged by destruction and impunity, with the aim not only of ending the injustice, but also human suffering.
And yet, while last weeks events are historic, it is not yet clear what judgment history will pass on them. International human rights jurists hope that al-Bashirs arrest warrant will serve as the harbinger of a new era of accountability, and perhaps even deterrence. However, this laudable outcome is far from guaranteed.Indeed, the International Criminal Courts recent history suggests otherwise.
In May, 2007, the court ordered the arrest of Ahmad Harun, Sudans former minister of state for the interior, based on clear evidence that he was responsible for horrific war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Then as now the court appeared to have the support of the international community while the Sudanese government stood adamantly opposed to the international justice process. In the end, not only was Harun not taken to the dock of the accused in the Hague, he was appointed Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs. Harun became responsible for hearing the complaints of the victims of the very atrocities he was accused of planning and perpetrating. ()
Relief organizations, which are working tirelessly in Darfur to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis, were expelled with ruthless vindictiveness. An estimated 4.7 million people receive aid in Darfur, but with some 6,500 staff affected by the governments expulsion, humanitarian capabilities are expected to be cut in half, if not worse. At least 13 groups in total were ordered to leave or curb their work, including Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children. ()
We cannot let this happen. The international community must ensure that the courts arrest warrant is enforced through joint support and action by the United Nations Security Council and the co-operation of the African Union and member states of the international community. Moreover, members within Sudans ruling National Congress Party must finally distance themselves from President al-Bashir, surrender him to the court and pursue a peace process both with respect to Darfur and the North-South comprehensive peace agreement.
Canada, one of the founders of the International Criminal Court treaty and the architect of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine which includes the responsibility to prosecute has an important role to play in promoting respect for the courts decision and ensuring that President al-Bashir is brought to justice. The International Criminal Court took a courageous step in calling for President al-Bashirs arrest. The responsibility now falls on the international community to ensure justice is served.