This article explores the conditions that led to the referral of the crisis in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the arrest warrant against Sudan’s President Bashir in 2009. It is argued that a judicial reading of the situation gained prominence, both because of activist mobilization outside Sudan and because the UN Security Council failed to agree on a more robust “responsibility to protect” approach”. The externalization of the issue of accountability for crimes in Darfur had several consequences. In addition to contributing to a lack of local ownership of justice, the recasting of complex local patterns of conflict in the moral vocabulary of a Western judicial system simplified complexities on the ground. The arrest warrant was also issued at a time when international actors were pursuing a number of policy objectives in Sudan, including the implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Combining a confrontational approach with a cooperative one has turned out to be extremely difficult, and the arrest warrant has exposed growing divisions among members of the international community, both regarding the response to atrocities in Darfur and regarding the purpose and priorities of the ICC.