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Peace before justice in Darfur

The UN must suspend an indictment of Sudan's leader if it will bring a peace settlement.

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Four years ago, the US declared the conflict in Darfur to be genocide. Later the UN found "serious" human rights violations by Sudan. Now an international court is ready to finger Sudan's leader for genocide and war crimes. Do such edicts on behalf of justice help stop mass killings by a ruthless government? That's not likely in Darfur.

Human rights activists say an indictment of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a moral necessity. It will assert a legal principle of universal values in the face of mass atrocities, even if the court can't bring him to trial. A threat of arrest and trial may even be a way to revive a stalled peace process.

Others, who seek a negotiated peace with Sudan to save Darfur refugees, say pursuit of court justice with slim ability to act on it will only harden Sudan's position. It may push Sudan to retaliate with more violence. They point to a previous ICC indictment of two lesser Sudanese officials which has had no effect.

These reactions to the ICC's move point to a problem for a permanent global war-crimes court: It has no independent "hard power" of enforcement. The 106 nations behind its creation are obligated to turn over indicted suspects to the Hague-based tribunal. But if Mr. Bashir doesn't travel, he's safe.

The US hasn't joined the ICC, fearing the body may someday become anti-American and bring charges against US soldiers serving overseas. But without the added might of the US to pressure or snag the world's worst criminals, the ICC might end up being a paper tiger.

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