This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
It has become almost obligatory for policy-makers and pundits to talk about accountability and breaking the cycle of impunity. However, when it comes to specific action, it has been a long time since the United States has done anything to support real accountability and justice on the ground in Sudan. With the South Sudan and Abyei referenda scheduled for January 9–less than four months from now–and with the accompanying potential for renewed war and human rights violations, the U.S. must commit to doing all it can to prevent war and secure justice in Sudan. Holding Sudanese government officials accountable for the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes is crucial for preventing their recurrence in the short and long term.
The U.S. has a concrete opportunity to put the lofty principles of accountability and justice into practice by enforcing the arrest warrant for Ahmed Harun, the former Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior who was responsible for the "Darfur Security desk" during the height of the genocide. More than three years ago, the International Criminal Court charged him with committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur through his recruiting, arming and funding of the Janjaweed. He has also had a hand in massacres and human rights violations in the Nuba Mountains and Abyei. Now, as the governor of Southern Kordofan state, Harun is in a position to coordinate massive violence and human rights violations yet again in Sudan.
President Obama has a unique and critical opportunity to call for accountability in Sudan this Friday, when he will participate in the high-level meeting on Sudan at the United Nations. He can support a meaningful advance in the peace process, but any progress will only be sustainable if accountability is at the core of his words and actions.
Pressing for action on Harun provides an unparalleled opening for making real progress on accountability in Sudan for three reasons.
First, the U.N. Security Council has the power to secure the cooperation of the Sudanese government on enforcing the arrest warrant for Harun, and as a permanent member of the Council, the U.S. can and should take a strong leadership role on this issue. The Government of Sudan has refused to cooperate with the Court in enforcing the warrant for Harun. In June, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo reported to the Security Council on Khartoum’s continued lack of compliance. However, it has been since June 2008 that the Council issued a Presidential Statement urging the Government to cooperate with the ICC. It is crucial that the U.S. take the lead in ensuring that the Council speaks out in support of the arrest of Harun and his removal from the North-South border area before he is able to cause more damage to the people of Sudan.
Second, Harun connects Darfur to South Sudan. A chief architect of the crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, he is now the Governor of Southern Kordofan, a highly-militarized border state whose oil-rich region of Abyei has long been a source of volatility in Sudan and will face its own referendum in January. Targeting Harun would represent progress in bringing peace and justice to both Darfur and South Sudan.
Lastly, Harun provides a practical vehicle for governments to keep the issue of accountability alive in Sudan and on a larger scale. There must be more coordinated action by countries around the world demanding his removal and arrest, led by the United States.
With the upcoming referenda, today’s high-level Sudan meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly is an important opening for President Obama to personally promote peace and justice in Sudan. He should emphasize the necessity and centrality of accountability and work with other Security Council members to secure the cooperation of the Sudanese government.
It is time for real consequences for Khartoum’s actions. U.S. leadership on the issue of accountability is essential to bringing peace and justice to Sudan. Without it, however, we can be sure that many more lives will be at risk in the coming months and beyond.
Photo: Ahmed Harun (AP)