The chief attorney of the International Criminal Court on Friday called for the indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir at a Yale Law School conference on Darfur, sparking heated debate within panels stocked with international law heavyweights.
ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s keynote address at the all-day conference titled “The Pursuit of International Criminal Justice: The Case of Darfur” was followed by panel discussions on peace, justice and progress moderated by Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh. Over 300 policymakers, students and other guests — including an estimated 60 Darfuris — attended the conference, which conference organizers hoped would bridge the gap between the judicial and peacemaking processes in Darfur.
“The timing could not be better,” Moreno-Ocampo said of the conference. “The time to do something in Darfur is now.”
International officials involved in the Darfur peace process have skirmished over what role — if any — international criminal prosecution should play in curbing Darfur violence since Moreno-Ocampo charged al-Bashir with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in July 2008.
Moreno-Ocampo, elected in April 2003 to a nine-year term as ICC prosecutor, focused his address on the question of whether al-Bashir’s indictment would expedite the peace-making process in Darfur. Moren0-Ocampo argued that an ICC indictment would clearly show all parties in Darfur the repercussions of violating the law.
“Peace and justice have to work hand in hand,” he said. “Mr. Al-Bashir will face justice.”
Akec Achiew Khoc, the Sudanese Ambassador to the U.S., disagreed with Moreno-Ocampo’s assertion that al-Bashir’s indictment would lead to peace. Addressing the conference as a guest after the first panel discussion, Khoc argued the move would exacerbate conflict.
Michael O’Neill, the United Kingdom’s Special Representative for Sudan, agreed. He said al-Bashir’s indictment could destroy Sudanese unity and derail the peace process in Darfur.
Audience members were split over whether to indict al-Bashir. Darfuri refugee Abdelbagy Abushanab, a founding member of the Darfur Rehabilitation Project, said the prospect of al-Bashir’s indictment lends hope for justice to millions of Darfuris.
“Without justice, there can be no peace,” Abushanab said in response to Khoc. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Panels following Moreno-Ocampo’s Friday keynote featured Jean-Marie Guéhenno, former Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations; Jerry Fowler, President of the Save Darfur Coalition; John Bellinger, former Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State; and Richard Dicker, the director of International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch.
The roster of panelists for the conference did not include any refugees from Darfur, noted Adeeb Yousif, a human rights advocate for Sudan Social Development Organization.
“It is very important to include a Darfuri on the panel,” he said. “Because they have important information about the problems that exist and the solutions that could be possible.”
The audience also included a handful of Yale students, including 26 members of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.