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African Misrule on Trial

THE HAGUE – As the world focuses on the inauguration of America’s first black president and celebrates an important milestone in the ongoing struggle for racial equality, recent developments across the Atlantic represent significant progress in a related global campaign to end impunity for mass crimes.

In the coming days, judges sitting on the International Criminal Court in The Hague will decide whether to issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for the crime of genocide. And on January 26, the ICC will begin its first trial – that of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a former Congolese warlord.

Neither event is earth shattering, but, taken together, these two steps mean that a new system of international justice is working. Government and rebel leaders around the globe have been put on notice that criminal conduct will no longer be given a free pass.

Although the threatened indictment of al-Bashir has prompted protest in Khartoum, no one expects him to appear in court soon. As for Lubanga, he is one of many in the Congo who has used civilians as pawns in a war that has cost more than five million lives in the past decade. Though serious, the charges against him – recruiting child soldiers – do not pretend to encompass the range of abuses committed.