The UN Security Council voted last August to send a 20,000-strong international peacekeeping force to Darfur before the end of 2006. But Mr Bashir, President of Sudan, continues to resist the deployment of any troops under a UN hat (although UN peacekeepers have been for years in southern Sudan without any objection from Khartoum). One reason for this may be his fear that UN soldiers could be used to arrest ICC suspects and transfer them to the The Hague.

There are nevertheless worries in some quarters that, as in northern Uganda, the ICC is again putting justice before peace. Issuing indictments against those responsible for the Darfur atrocities could have “unintended consequences”, Andrew Natsios, America’s special envoy to Sudan, warned earlier this month. War-crimes trials were not going to help the people in the refugee camps, he insisted. Others, however, argue that holding perpetrators to account is essential to deter future atrocities.

A successful prosecution on Darfur could provide a big boost to the fledgling international court’s credibility. It is the first time that it has had a case referred to it by the Security Council rather than by one of its own member states. Sudan is not a member. It is also the first time it has managed to get all the evidence it needs to bring charges without either the co-operation of the host government or being able to go into the area where the atrocities were committed. This should serve as a warning to other countries who have decided not to sign up to the court in the belief that it would protect them from prosecution.