Monday, October 19, 2009

The Obama Administration and the International Criminal Court

I don't have time to do this justice right now--and should probably let it sink in first anyway--but isn't off-the-cuff pontificating the essence of blogging?

It seems to me that Obama's just-released policy statement about Darfur is significant, and for reasons that are only tangentially related to Darfur. If nothing else, it's nice to see an American administration paying attention to Darfur, although at this point the policy statement is just lip service--the proof will be in what actions the Obama administration takes. Many of the policy positions taken in the statement about how to rein in violence and promote stability in Sudan seem to my non-expert eye to be judicious and helpful, but what interests me is a fairly offhand comment. Within a list of actions taken by the international community that "demonstrate[] its commitment to the Sudanese people," the statement includes: "Most recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Bashir in early 2009, charging him with having perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur."

At one level, this is merely a statement of fact: the ICC did issue an arrest warrant for Bashir charging him with crimes against humanity. However, elsewhere in the statement it says that the US will support "international efforts to bring those responsible for genocide and war crimes in Darfur to justice." Taken together, these are the most supportive things a US official policy has ever said about the International Criminal Court. Before this, as far as I know the US has made no definitive statement about the Bashir indictment whatsoever, let alone implied that it might do anything to support Bashir's prosecution. Toward the ICC generally, the US has been cold at best. Under the Bush administration, the U.S. took active steps to undermine the ICC, pressuring countries not to ratify the treaty which created it or to include reservations in their ratification that would have the effect of immunizing Americans from risk of prosecution in The Hague. Obama has not indicated that the US will join the ICC, nor do I expect it to, but this new statement on Darfur may signal the end of active US opposition to the ICC.

Definitely something worth keeping an eye on.

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