Aid v. Justice? The Complexities of Victims’ Needs in Darfur

There is no shortage of victims’ appeals for accountability in Darfur. With continuing unrest in Darfur, these appeals grow ever more strident and unrelenting. The desire to see justice served speaks to fundamental human needs in ways no less compelling than do humanitarian concerns – the need for water, food and shelter.  In considering the relative importance victims attribute to accountability versus humanitarian concerns, it is easy to lose sight of victims’ overarching desires for genuine peace; a desire that diminishes not even with victims’ preoccupation with the need to survive, and that is achievable only where there is accountability.
What then of the pursuit of justice at the price of peace and stability? Ideally, peace and justice efforts are complementary and mutually-reinforcing; which indeed they have been shown to be in Northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But when unfolding events, such as in the case of Darfur, make for difficult reconciliation of accountability efforts with humanitarian ones, doubts arise as to the wisdom of pursuing justice where humanitarian gains made are at risk of jeopardy. While an inverse correlation between accountability efforts and humanitarian ones is arguable, pre-occupation with this does nothing for an ethical consideration of the politicization of the interests of justice. This stems from the view that interests of peace and interests of justice are distinct considerations to be treated separately on an ethical basis that rejects a perversion of justice by political considerations.Such an ethical basis would for example highlight that a granting of amnesty which could result from political concessions made in the interests of peace, is antithetical to the notion of accountability. In any case, it is arguable that victims can appreciate the difference betweena state of affairs making possible access to humanitarian relief, and one which is peaceful.
Under circumstances such as those in Darfur, prolonged inaction approximates condonance of impunity – justice delayed being justice denied.What remains a viable way forward in securing accountability is a reinvigoration of international prosecutions. There are many strong reasons for this.  Without addressing the root issue of impunity, there is no real impetus for the Sudanese government to genuinely engage in peace talks. Accountability is thus necessary for real change to take place in Darfur. Secondly, prosecution at the international level is important because it is likely the only way to reach those most responsible, who may otherwise be de facto beyond the reach of local law. Thirdly, the gravitas of international legal proceedings would serve to deter further violations of international law in the Darfurian context. Fourthly, international spotlight and pressure has important implications on the protection of civilians. Political observers have noted that the Sudanese government has retreated from its most destructive war strategies when international pressure has been well coordinated and at its crests. Lastly, action taken at the international level may also have a positive spin-off effect at the domestic level. Indeed the issuance of the arrest warrant for Al Bashir spurred domestic action in Sudan on both sides. Civil society groups stepped up pressure on the government in denouncing violent oppression, while the government launched the Sudan People’s Initiative (SPI), advertised as a broad-based national consultation to come up with Darfur solutions, notwithstanding tight control of its proceedings and failure to implement recommendations.
It is paramount that international prosecutions are guided by considering the complex needs of affected populations. In this regard, even where international action is called for, it may be worthwhile exploring international-national hybrid accountability mechanisms; such mechanisms calling and providing for the intimate participation of the local populace. Additionally, strong efforts need be advanced on the victim participation front.  Outreach efforts also play a vital role in establishing sustainable, two-way communication between courts and the affected communities.

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