I Bravely Disagree With Angelina Jolie

I Bravely Disagree With Angelina Jolie

Actress and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has a useful and intelligent op-ed in today’s Washington Post arguing in favor of international criminal justice in Darfur. But she’s wrong or at least misguided. And she is not alone.

Here is her argument:

Until the killers and their sponsors are prosecuted and punished, violence will continue on a massive scale. Ending it may well require military action. But accountability can also come from international tribunals, measuring the perpetrators against international standards of justice.

Accountability is a powerful force. It has the potential to change behavior — to check aggression by those who are used to acting with impunity. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), has said that genocide is not a crime of passion; it is a calculated offense. He’s right. When crimes against humanity are punished consistently and severely, the killers’ calculus will change.

Jolie is no doubt right that consistent and severe punishment of crimes against humanity would indeed change the calculus for would-be genocidal perpetrators. But what she (and I think many ICC supporters) are missing here is that there is no prospect of such consistent and severe punishment of perpetrators without the intervention of outside military powers. Because outside military intervention is not going to happen here, then the only serious prospect for relieving the suffering in Darfur is to end the war through some sort of domestic peace settlement.

The ICC is not really helping here in three ways. First, the ICC itself makes the intervention of outside military powers less likely because, of course, such interventions themselves would be subject to ICC jurisdiction and potential prosecutions. I would say that the prospect of U.S. military intervention in Darfur is now approaching zero and although the ICC is not the decisive factor in preventing such an intervention, it is (at the margins) a disincentive.

Second, the indictments have pretty much allowed the U.S. and other powers to dump off responsibility for Darfur on international institutions – institutions that have almost no leverage over the Sudan government.

Finally, and most importantly, the indictments or possible indictments of Sudanese government officials are not only unlikely to deter their past and future behavior (see the article Prof. Jide Nzelibe and I wrote here making this point), but they may actually deter them from acceding to a peace settlement since they now face potential prosecution. What incentives do they have to make a deal now?

Jolie is right that something needs to be done about Darfur. But, given our options here, it looks like what needs to be done is some sort of domestic peace settlement. It is ironic that those same groups that call for talks with North Korea or talks with Iran and Syria appear to support indictments that make talks about Darfur closer to impossible.

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