THE INTERNATIONAL Criminal Court affirmed its reason for being when it issued an arrest warrant on Wednesday for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, charging him with crimes against humanity in Darfur. The charges include murder, rape, torture, the forcible transfer and extermination of targeted groups, and the pillaging of their property. These are war crimes that too often escaped punishment in the past - acts perpetrated by a merciless criminal endowed with political power.
Well-meaning critics of the arrest warrant worry that its issuance now could interfere with efforts to reach a negotiated peace agreement between Bashir's regime and rebel groups in Darfur. They also warn about the repercussions on a fragile power-sharing arrangement between Bashir's ruling group and representatives of southern Sudan. A tenuous north-south peace accord in 2005 ended a two-decades-long war that took 2 million lives.
Humane as the intentions behind these reservations may be, they are outweighed by the need for justice.
Bashir has gotten away with mass murder in Darfur for more than six years, in large part because he and his cronies have had nothing to fear from any legal authority. In that time, their soldiers and their proxy militias known as Janjaweed killed between 300,000 and 450,000 members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa tribes. While the rest of the world looked on, expressing futile outrage, Bashir's Arab regime drove 2.7 million black African villagers of Darfur into desolate refugee camps where they depend on international relief agencies for their survival.
The judges at the Hague have now spoken for everyone around the world who watched in horror as these crimes against humanity were being committed. The warrant for Bashir's arrest tells him - and any other ruthless ruler with similar inclinations, in Sudan or elsewhere - that a serving head of state will no longer enjoy legal impunity for a massacre of innocents.
There is also a chance that the court's arrest warrant for Bashir could have a transforming political effect. If members of his regime become sufficiently nervous about serving with a wanted criminal, and if they come under the right kind of pressure from other African Union and Arab League governments, they might decide it is in their interest to remove Bashir, make peace with resistance movements in Darfur, and enable the 2.7 million displaced people of Darfur to return to their villages.
The Obama administration should exert its influence in the United Nations Security Council and with African nations to help bring about this outcome. It would be acting on the adage that says without justice there is no peace.