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The Justice for Aid Tradeoff

April 9, 2013

I read this article by a former prosecutor at the ICC and I found the argument very interesting and timely. The author discusses whether the quest for justice and accountability should be put on hold if this can improve the humanitarian conditions of the affected population; in other words should one settle for a political deal through concessions (e.g. promise to prosecute in any international tribunals) if this deal facilitates the access of humanitarian aid to certain areas. Even if the author recognizes that the justice for aid tradeoff might be an option in some contexts he argues that in Darfur the prolonged inaction approximates to condonance of impunity and therefore justice should always be prioritized. He makes two points to substantiate his position:

1. 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, long-term change towards peace to take place in Darfur.
2. international spotlight and pressure have important implications on the protection of civilians, as many commentators have noted that this pressure correlates positively with a refrain fron massacres of civilians, at least in the case of Sudan.

I am curious to find out what readers out there think about these positions. As for the first statement under what circumstances one can confidently expect that accountability is conducive to peace and under what circumstances this pressure could be instead counter-productive? To translate this position in another context, why a president such as Assad should be incentivized to engage in peace talks while he stands the risk of being prosecuted at the ICC?

As per the second statement, what is the mechanism by which international spotlight can lead to the protection of civilians? Syria has been continuously under the international spotlight and the massacre of civilians has not abated. How can one isolate the impact of the international community (particularly US) pressure in Sudan and affirm with confidence that it is positively correlated with increased protection of civilians ( in the sense that the government retreated from its more destructive practice)? If this was the case in Sudan, as the author argues, why then this does not happen in Syria? Other commentators have observed that fighting groups step up the atrocities committed in order to draw the attention of the international community (this was the case in Sierra Leone): from this angle then the spike in atrocities is caused by the intent to be in the spotlight and the subsequent drop of violence cannot be attribute to the international pressure. If this is the case how one can disentangle the effects of international spotlight (i.e. increase or decrease of massacres)?

Lastly, when the author phrases the question in terms of “humanitarian or accountability first?”, one finds difficult to understand who has the power to answer the question. If a country is not a signatory of the Rome Statute then it is the Security Council to refer the case to the ICC. Now let’s say the majority of a population at a very specific point in time might prefer to prioritize the stability of a country (let’s say a transitional government with Assad, despite him having committed atrocities) who is to decide what is the priority? Could one say that there is a shortfall in accountability in the sense that other states are left to decide what comes first, humanitarian, stability or justice?

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