On March 2, the New York Times published two op-ed pieces by Franklin Graham and Desmond Tutu on the wisdom of this week's issuance of an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan by the International Criminal Court. Both opinions are well-written and worth reading.
Graham suggests that "arresting Mr. Bashir now will likely only create further chaos in Sudan, which in recent years has been convulsed by separate conflicts in the south and in the Darfur region in the west."
In 16 years of relief work in Sudan, I have witnessed much of the violence that his government has inflicted. An estimated 300,000 people in Darfur have died and 2.5 million people have fled their homes in the wake of fighting among rebels, government forces and their allied Janjaweed militias. Nor does the destruction stop there: Our organization has identified nearly 500 churches that were destroyed by Mr. Bashir’s forces. But arresting Mr. Bashir now threatens to undo the progress his country has made. In 2005, Sudan’s government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement signed an accord ending the civil war in the south. The agreement paved the way for elections in the south later this year, as well as for a referendum on southern independence scheduled for 2011. The accord has brought benefits to Sudan, but it isn’t clear that they will last. Mr. Bashir, who fought members of his own party to approve the deal, is critical to the peace process. I want to see justice served, but my desire for peace in Sudan is stronger. Mr. Bashir, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, is hardly an ideal peacemaker. But given all the warring factions in Sudan, there is no guarantee that his replacement would be better.
Desmond Tutu, however, takes the opposite position.
African leaders argue that the court’s action will impede efforts to promote peace in Darfur. However, there can be no real peace and security until justice is enjoyed by the inhabitants of the land. There is no peace precisely because there has been no justice. As painful and inconvenient as justice may be, we have seen that the alternative — allowing accountability to fall by the wayside — is worse.
The issuance of an arrest warrant for President Bashir would be an extraordinary moment for the people of Sudan — and for those around the world who have come to doubt that powerful people and governments can be called to account for inhumane acts. African leaders should support this historic occasion, not work to subvert it.
Personally, I am inclined to agree with the former archbishop on this one. Graham's position sounds just too (how shall I word it?)... pragmatic. One cannot have peace without justice, as Christ's work on the cross illustrated overwhelmingly. Tutu also knows this from his years of seeking to bring reconciliation to South Africa. Perhaps Graham should listen to someone who has greater interests at stake than just his expressed sentiment, "I have been able to deal with him." Yes, ultimately, justice will be served by a higher power than the International Criminal Court. But justice is still worth pursuing now when the opportunity arises. Indeed, peace in Sudan is unlikely without at least an attempt at justice.