By Brian Itami, HLS 2012 NSJ Staff Writer
The Obama Administration’s Sudan policy, unveiled on Monday, October 19, 2009, maintains support for the prosecution of President Omar al-Bashir in the International Criminal Court (ICC) despite seeking greater engagement with the Sudanese government. The three major policy objectives include bringing about an end to the “conflict, gross human rights abuses, and genocide” in Darfur, assisting the upcoming referendum on the status of South Sudan, and preventing terrorist groups from establishing themselves in Sudan. As part of the first objective, the policy lists as an imperative “sustained and broad” talks with both the ruling National Congress Party and rebel groups. However, it does reaffirm the stance that the events in Darfur have amounted to genocide. Furthermore, according to anonymous State Department officials, Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration will not be able to talk to President Bashir, and the U.S. government’s unofficial stance is that, “We firmly believe [Bashir] should get a good lawyer, present himself to the ICC, and face the charges that have been leveled against him.” While not specifically mentioning Bashir or his ICC indictment, the US policy calls for “supporting international efforts to bring those responsible for genocide and war crimes in Darfur to justice,” but also stresses “locally-owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms that can make peace more sustainable.”
This strategy reflects a compromise position between Gration, who strongly supported easing sanctions on Sudan and removing the country from the State Department’s sponsors of terrorism list, and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who labeled Bush Administration efforts towards engaging Sudan in 2008 as “major concessions in exchange for minor steps.” Although not the “cookies and gold stars” approach promoted by Gration, the policy contains neither increased sanctions nor a no-fly zone over Darfur. The shift in the Obama Administration’s tone from the tougher line espoused during the campaign based on pressuring the Bashir regime is likely a telling sign of the influence of Gration, who has assisted Obama’s Africa policy since 2006. As for the ongoing prosecution efforts, the extent to which the administration will support bringing Bashir before the ICC versus any local tribunals that may replace any international prosecutory effort remains unclear. Given the Bashir indictment and the complications that it may present in engaging the Sudanese government, this presents an early opportunity for President Obama to shape how his administration will approach the ICC.
For the Sudan strategy, see the State Department’s official release. The remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rice, and Gration accompanying the policy release are available here. For more commentary on Special Envoy Gration and the Sudan policy, see the New York Times.