Should the president of Sudan, the notorious Omar al-Bashir, go to jail? This week the International Criminal Court at The Hague issued a warrant to arrest the Sudanese president for his role in the death of 300,000 people and the displacement of millions more during the six-year conflict in Darfur. It is the first time the court has charged a sitting head of state, and given the vile crimes committed in Darfur, a conviction would at last give the victims and their families some measure of justice.
But policymakers ought to think twice before following through on the ICC's decision. While the warrant sends a clear signal to Bashir and others with blood on their hands that justice will be served, it has already halted further progress at the Darfur peace talks that have been underway in Qatar between Khartoum and the most powerful rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement. While these talks have to date yielded little more than a good-will agreement to end the conflict, it appears that thearrest warrant for Bashir has shattered even these fragile gains, as the rebel group announced in the wake of the ICC warrant that it is pulling back from further negotiations. Bashir too may now see little to gain from them.
The warrant could also endanger the United Nations peacekeepers and humanitarian workers who have done so much to reduce the suffering in the region.