PUBLISHED:April 02, 2009

Conference examines role of international law in Sudan

April 2, 2009 — Scholars and policy experts with experience in the Darfur crisis gathered at Duke Law School March 26-27 to discuss the troubled Sudanese region. The student-organized event highlighted such issues as the International Criminal Court’s warrant for the arrest of Sudan’s president and the possible role of the U.S. in the region.

Speakers included Roger Winter, former special representative of the deputy secretary of state for Sudan, Rod Rastan, legal adviser in the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Marie Besancon, founder of American Sudanese Partnerships for Peace and Development.

Rastan outlined the factors that led the ICC to issue its March 4 warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s arrest on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

An ICC investigation launched in 2005 at the request of the United National Security Council indicated a death toll far beyond the 20,000-30,000 people killed by actual fighting in Darfur, he said. “A very large number of people have died as a result of the violence, through displacement, through starvation, through disease. … Crimes involve massive killings, forcible displacement, rape, pillage, [and] destruction of property.”

The three-judge ICC panel that reviewed the investigatory material turned down prosecutors’ request that Bashir be charged with genocide. Rastan said his office is still considering an appeal, but noted that the genocide charge also could be pursued at a later date.

Besancon outlined the complex political situation in Sudan, which involves shifting alliances between groups divided by geography, ethnicity and religion, and influence from regional players like Libya and Chad. The outcome of any effort to unseat Bashir cannot be predicted, she said. “These guys are all making deals with each other, and there are no permanent deals,” Besancon said, who also called U.S. and international policy toward Sudan “incredibly disjointed” and too-easily influenced by activists who don’t understand the ramifications of their actions.

Winter, who has worked in Sudan for more than 25 years, recounted his role in helping broker a peace agreement in 2005 between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and rebels in the South. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended a 21-year civil war in Sudan, and was considered one of the Bush administration’s most prominent foreign policy achievements. However, rebel groups in Darfur immediately sparked new violence and the Sudanese government responded with the extreme measures that led to the ICC charges against Bashir.

The situation in Darfur poses unique diplomatic challenges, said Winter, because the various rebel groups in Darfur are poorly organized and have no political platform to speak of.

“Whereas the [rebels in Southern Sudan] were capable of a viable movement, the rebel leadership in Darfur doesn’t talk to each other,” Winter said.

The conference was organized by the Student Organization for Legal Issues in the Middle East and North Africa (SOLIMENA). James Pearce JD/LLM ’11, who served as a UN rule of law officer in Darfur in 2007, says the event accomplished its goal of advancing dialogue and understanding of the crisis in Darfur.

“The speakers and panelists did not always agree, but the picture that emerged from the talks and panel discussions provided a nuanced starting point for those interested in Darfur in the context of international criminal law, U.S. policy responses to mass atrocity, and the future of the Sudanese state,” Pearce said.

SOLIMENA hopes to hold another conference on Darfur next year, Pearce said.

Conference panels can be viewed at

“Looking Deeper: What Darfur Tells Us about Genocide, International Criminal Law and the Future of a Country” was sponsored by the Center for International and Comparative Law, Duke Islamic Studies Center, the AB Duke Endowment, the Department of Political Science, the Department of Asian and Middle East Studies, the Career and Professional Development Center, the Duke Law JD/LLM Program in International and Comparative Law, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy/Triangle Institute for Security Studies.