The Impotence of International Law


While Kenya has recently issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, it is hardly reason for optimism that it will actually be carried out. This serves as a further reminder that international law, in its current state, is impotent to truly bring justice.

Wanted on the charges of crimes against humanity and possible genocide in Darfur, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Bashir. Discontent with the ruling, the African Union (AU) urged its members not to act on the warrant, arguing that the court was unjustly targeting African nations. As such, numerous ICC member states blatantly refused to arrest the Sudanese president on trips he made to their countries.

Further illustrating the systematic impotence of international law, the warrant is really only applicable if Bashir travels to ICC member states. As such, he has been careful not to make any official trips to member states declaring an intention to carry out the warrant. He has even canceled planned trips if this revelation came to light after official trips had been announced.

Kenya, in defiance of the ICC, refused to arrest Bashir on his recent trip to the country. In the wake of his visit, the supreme court of Kenya reneged the agreement with the AU and issued their own arrest warrant for the African leader. Angered by the decision, Bashir has recalled his ambassador to Kenya and expelled Kenya’s ambassador in Khartoum.

This is only heightening already existent tensions between the two nations. Since South Sudan’s independence, Kenya has supported the development of South Sudan’s economy and trading partners, helping South Sudan to bring oil to port in Kenya, bypassing Port Sudan (in Sudan), their traditional export location. This has served to further diminish Sudan’s income since the independence of South Sudan in July and exacerbated by a lengthy stalemate on export terms.

If international institutions, and their member states, are serious about the duties and goals they are tasked with, then serious reform is needed to allow them to be effective in their mandates. Enforcing sanctions or other penalties for member states who fail to adhere to institution decisions will not only prove that agencies such as the ICC are serious about their missions but will help to ensure compliance by member states.

Photo credit: UN Multimedia