Displaced DarfuriYesterday at the United Nations, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy held out the carrot of immunity for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir if he implements “radical and immediate change in Sudanese policies.” Britain is reportedly in agreement with staying the International Criminal Court’s war crimes investigation. (China, Russia, the Arab League, and the African Union were already on board with the immunity deal.)

And so the organ of blind international justice is being reduced to just another political bargaining chip in a disastrously long conflict that’s proven immune to such wheeling and dealing. Just as bad, the approach could be completely misguided by removing what might prove to be one of the few effective pressure tactics on Sudan to date. An interesting piece in Britain’s new Standpoint magazine argues that ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s much-maligned campaign for war crime charges against al-Bashir may actually be rattling Khartoum toward change.

Here’s Justin Marozzi, who spent the summer as a communications adviser for the joint U.N.-African Union force in Darfur, writing for Standpoint:

Many commentators fear [Moreno-Ocampo’s] decision will wreck any chances of peace, failing to note that there is no peace process to spoil. With his back to the wall, there is no accounting what Bashir might do, they argue, ignoring the fact that he has had carte blanche to do what he likes in Darfur since 2003. In fact, although it is early days, the fallout from the ICC’s landmark move towards the indictment of Bashir looks positive. A friend with access to the highest levels of the regime reports unprecedented conversations at the presidential palace.

“The government’s in meltdown,” he reports. “They just didn’t think it would ever happen. They can’t believe it. The four or five people who run Sudan are now saying to Bashir, look where your policies have got us. They’re telling him, you can go to your rallies and demonstrations, you can shake your fist and rattle your walking stick, but you shut the hell up.” ... 

Now a national cross-party committee has been created to address the Darfur issue and end the conflict. Bashir has suddenly rediscovered an interest in Darfur, promising security, schools, roads and water. Window-dressing while the ICC judges ponder Moreno Ocampo’s evidence? Quite possibly, but these are suddenly interesting times. “There’s going to be a real push now for peace,” my palace mole reports. “Bashir’s got nothing to lose.”

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