The ICC’s WORTH

Jun 14, 2009 at 4:57 am Leave a comment

On June 11, Reuters reported that four aid agencies were allowed by Khartoum to reenter Sudan with new names and new logos. These aid agencies, along with nine others, had been expelled from the country by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir a day after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for his arrest for various war crimes and crimes against humanity. Essentially, al-Bashir and other officials in his government scoffed at the warrant and do not recognize its validity. International opinion is mixed. According to a report by Dr. Parveen Parmar, an International Emergency Medicine Fellow of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, most Western countries, including the United States, France and the U.K. all support the indictment. The African Union expressed some concerns that the indictment would further destablizie the region. Other African and Middle Eastern countries have condemned the decision as politically motivated and judgmental against Africa.

Saudi Arabia has called the indictment “a polit-
icized decision” that will “not lead to the stability of Sudan or
solve the Darfur issue.” The president of Senegal worried that
the ICC has become a body to “judge Africans.” Several Arab
and African governments accuse the ICC of a double stan-
dard, citing its failure to prosecute alleged war crimes by
Israel against Arabs, or by the United States in Iraq and
Afghanistan.

(Parmar, “Global Correspondent: Aid to Darfur Threatened After ICC Actions” in the AMA Journal, Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, March 23, 2009)

This particular circumstance raises a very legitimate and difficult question concerning aid groups and international humanitarian law. It is often extremely challenging for international aid groups to decide whether or not to speak up against war crimes and crimes against humanity. If they do, they risk being perceived as taking sides, which often leads to expulsion by or conflict from the “host” country where aid is badly needed. On the other hand, when grave and apprehensible crimes are taking place against civilians by their own governments, how can one sit idly by, especially if that information is not necessarily known by the international community?

The good thing about international aid agencies today, is their number. Independent aid agencies choose how they want to assess and respond to a conflict, and that includes whether or not they voice their opinion. It has always been a policy of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to speak up against governments or groups that are perpetrating war crimes or crimes against humanity. But MSF has done this often with the result of being expelled from countries. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the longest-existing international aid organization, does not speak up during any type of conflicts. The ICRC has the ability to say that they are the first to enter a conflict zone and the last to leave – and this is no exaggeration.

The fact that Sudan expelled aid agencies after the ICC issued a warrant for the president’s arrest, shows how difficult this situation can be. It’s important that Sudan is finally letting a few aid agencies return to the country. But the question of how important and effective the ICC can be is once again questioned. For the international community, do the lives and livelihoods of civilians or does holding the perpetrators accountable have more value? The short-term and long-term answers may not be the same. In addition, the future of the ICC rests on the outcome of al-Bashir’s warrant. As Parmar wrote, “If civilian lives will be put at risk, then there may be pressure to withhold [future ICC] indictments against leaders who may restrict the delivery of humanitarian aid.”

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