Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

SUDAN: African Union Against Indictment of Al-Bashir

ADDIS ABABA, Jan 30 2009 (IPS) - African governments have rallied behind Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in rejecting a possible international arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court on charges of orchestrating genocide in Sudan’s volatile western region of Darfur.

African peacekeepers in Darfur - the AU regards the Sudanese president as vital to achieving peace in the region; the ICC alleges he's a war criminal. Credit:  Derk Segaar/IRIN

African peacekeepers in Darfur - the AU regards the Sudanese president as vital to achieving peace in the region; the ICC alleges he's a war criminal. Credit: Derk Segaar/IRIN

“The continent, through the African Union, has requested the UN Peace and Security Council to suspend the indictment of President Omar Al-Bashir,” chairperson of the African Union Commission Jean Ping told IPS on the sidelines of a high-level meeting of African foreign ministers in Addis Ababa on Jan. 29.

Following a three-year investigation at the behest of the U.N. Security Council, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo concluded there are reasonable grounds to believe that Bashir bears criminal responsibility in relation to 10 counts of Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Moreno-Ocampo alleges that Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantive part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups in Sudan, on account of their ethnicity.

“His motives were largely political. His alibi was a ‘counterinsurgency.’ His intent was genocide,” the prosecutor said the prosecutor in its evidence presented to Pre-Trial Chamber on Jul. 14, 2008.

The UN estimates the Darfur conflict has cost 300,000 lives in five years while over 2.7 million people have been displaced.

Deployment of a joint U.N./AU peace-making force has not gone according to plan. Little more than half of the authorized 26,000-member African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is in Sudan at present. By March, more troops are expected to arrive by March from Egypt, South Africa, Senegal, Bangladesh and other U.N. member states.

Chairperson Ping says things are moving in the right direction regarding UNAMID. Eighty percent of the full troop deployment target will be reached in the next three months, he said.

An analysis published by Foreign Policy in Focus, a U.S. based think tank on Jan. 27 is not so optimistic.

“This will be a critical year for Sudan’s future. The crisis in Darfur has grown and now affects the entire region’s stability. The joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) authorised in July 2007 remains too understaffed and under-equipped to be effective,” reads the report. “Civilian displacements and killings in Darfur continued throughout 2008 as UNAMID was reduced to bystanders because of acute shortages of troops, road transport, and helicopters.”

Khartoum says the West is exaggerating the severity of the situation, putting the total death toll at around 10,000. The country’s authorities are pleased by the backing of the AU.

“The move by the ICC distracts [from] the peace process. We are glad that the African Union Commission reflected the united stand of Africa against the court,” Molieldin Salim, Sudanese ambassador to Ethiopia, told IPS in Addis Ababa.

Human Rights Watch’s London director, Tom Porteous, rejects the assertion that Bashir’s indictment would harm the peace process.

“There hasn’t been much progress on Darfur in terms of a peace process. In our view, sustainable peace in Darfur and the region can only be achieved if those responsible for human rights abuses are brought to justice. We don’t think that any peace process that depends on people against whom there is credible evidence of responsibilty for serious crimes is going to be a fruitful peace process in the long term.”

Speaking to IPS on the phone from London, he said HRW hoped the pre-trial judges at the ICC will issue the arrest warrant in the next few weeks.

“Obviously, Human Rights Watch was one of the first to document human rights abuses in Darfur, and we have been consistently calling for accountability for those who bear the greatest responsibility to be brought to justice. We hope that a warrant for the arrest of al-Bashir will be issued as we feel this would be an important step forward for justice for the victims of Darfur and accountability for the perpetrator of the crimes that have been committed.”

Sudan is just one of many urgent issues tabled for discussion at the AU summit of heads of state beginning Feb. 1. The summit’s theme is “Infrastructure Development in Africa”, but other matters of concern include continued conflict in Somalia and the DRC, coups in Mauritania and Guinea-Conakry within the last six months and the humanitarian crisis and political deadlock in Zimbabwe.

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