Since the International Criminal Court’s announcement on Monday of its decision to issue a second arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide, the usual international and Sudanese actors have weighed in on the news.
As expected, members of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party decried the genocide charge, saying the ICC’s decision will undermine peace efforts in Darfur, according to the Sudan Vision. President Bashir himself said of the ICC: “The colonial powers are using judicial organs to undermine unity and to divide the African continent.” Unsurprisingly, the Arab League offered its disapproval of the decision as well.
The White House, too, maintained its position in support of the arrest warrants against Bashir, issuing a statement Tuesday on its commitment to international efforts toward accountability and justice in Darfur:
The United States strongly supports international efforts to bring those responsible for genocide and war crimes in Darfur to justice and believes that there cannot be a lasting peace in Darfur without accountability. We continue to call on the Government of Sudan and all other parties to the conflict to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court.
The only unexpected reaction was that of U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration. At a public event in Washington, D.C., earlier this week, Gration—who is the White House point person on the Sudan portfolio—was quoted by the Sudan Tribune as indelicately complaining about how the Court’s decision will make his job more difficult:
The decision by the ICC to accuse Sudanese president Omer Al-Bashir of genocide will make my mission more difficult and challenging especially if we realize that resolving the crisis in Darfur and South, issues of oil and combating terrorism at a 100%, we need Bashir.
Though the quote attributed to Gration is not wholly accurate—Enough was also present at the event—it does capture the sentiment the special envoy expressed. Appearing displeased when acknowledging the ICC’s second arrest warrant, Gration then asked the audience to “think about my challenges” and noted that “100 percent” of the issues that needed to be addressed, including Darfur and counterterrorism, are in Bashir’s hands. He said, “How do we exercise influence when we have waning influence?”
Setting aside issues of accountability and justice and debates about justice versus peace, the special envoy’s public statement was, simply put, alarmingly off-message. This divergence of views, between the Obama administration and its appointed special envoy, has made depressingly clear—once again—the degree of divisiveness and lack of coordination among the actors entrusted with implementing U.S. policy on Sudan.
Gration is known for having the view that the U.S. has little to no leverage with the Sudanese government. Ironically, he is making this belief a reality by contributing to the public image of a fractious and incoherent U.S. Sudan strategy, one that diminishes the weight of U.S. rhetoric and weakens the U.S. position vis-à-vis Khartoum. At this critical juncture, with less than six months left before the referendum, that’s the last thing the U.S. should be doing.
Photo: Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration