Last week, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, on charges of war crimes in Darfur. Many were pleased by the news, within Sudan’s borders and abroad, but a remarkably large number of organizations were angered by the decision. The most notable of these was the African Union, which has peacekeepers deployed in Darfur and which to date has been the organization most involved in protecting stability in the region.

This action, while sure to be celebrated by shortsighted activists, will backfire on the very individuals it is intended to protect. Weary of additional foreign interference in its affairs, the Sudanese government scaled back the activities of several non-governmental organizations which it fears may have ties to foreign governments. It may seem like paranoia, but in a place where the Central Intelligence Agency has been confirmed to be active as recently as 1996 — funneling millions of dollars to anti-government rebel groups — such fears are not unfounded.

In addition to the harm the warrant’s aftermath will cause the Darfur civilians caught in the civil war, it will also strain ties between the United States and its allies in the African Union and Arab League.

At a time when the U.S. is losing ground in Africa to China, which in recent years has increased ties to a number of African nations, supporting this decision is not in the U.S.’s interest. Unlike the nations of South America, Asia and Europe, the majority of African countries secured their independence within the last 60 years. As such, they remain weary of foreign interference. Supporting the issuance of an arrest warrant for the active president of an African nation will be taken as an assault on national sovereignty and a throwback to a colonialist era that has not yet faded from minds of many Africans.

What’s more, a coalition of nations represented by the A.U., the Arab League, the Non-Aligned Movement, China and Russia have all called for a suspension of the arrest warrant. Together, these countries represent a majority of the nations in the United Nations.

Unfortunately, the Security Council is expected to veto any resolutions calling for the warrant’s suspension. It seems that the Western governments, which have sat idle since the beginning of the conflict, will now intervene and impose their will against the wishes of the majority of the developing world and a large percentage of the Sudanese people.

But in the more immediate sense, the warrant will be little more than symbolic. Bashir has to leave Sudan to be arrested, and he has to go to a country that is willing to arrest him. Given the dismal support for the warrant, such countries are few and far between. And it’s not like the Sudanese people are trying to get rid of him, either — he enjoys widespread support across much of the country, and on a recent visit to northern Darfur, he was enthusiastically greeted by thousands of supporters.

What is particularly worrisome is that Sudan is not a member of the ICC. If the ICC can charge the acting president of a non-signatory country, then it sets a precedent that would allow the issuance of warrants against officials of other countries that are not a part of the Rome Statute, and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the ICC. Such countries not under the ICC’s jurisdiction include the United States and Israel.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the ICC chose to only charge Bashir. The leaders of one of the country’s largest rebel groups, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army — which also stands accused of human rights abuses by Amnesty International — have escaped litigation. In fact its leader, Salva Mayardit, spent this week in Japan on the invitation of the Japanese government.

It is understandable that the A.U., the Arab League and a host of other nations would stand against the ICC’s actions. The fact that Sudan’s president was charged for pursuing a civil war against armed rebels when those responsible for illegal war in Iraq have met no personal legal challenges, could easily be seen as bias in much of the non-Western world.

What little influence the U.S. has in Sudan is already starting to decrease. On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement calling for all nonessential personnel to leave the country, citing increased security concerns. If we act against the will of the A.U., the ability of the U.S. and other Western governments to exert influence on other African nations will be diminished in the future, whether this influence would be used to promote peace or economic ties.

Ibrahim Kakwan can be reached at ijameel@umich.edu.

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