February 2, 2009 (ADDIS ABABA) — The African Union (AU) has issued a statement calling on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to defer an indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.
- Sudanese President Omer Al-Bashir arrives at the UN compound for a consultative meeting on February 1, 2009 before the opening of the 12th African Union summit in Addis Ababa (AFP)
The regional body has also vowed to lobby the UNSC for a resolution under Article 16 of the ICC Statute which allows the council to suspend the ICC prosecutions in any case for a period of 12 months that can be renewed indefinitely.
“The AU is seeking to mobilize support from the international community to suspend for 12 months the process launched against President al-Bashir, to give a greater chance to the peace process” AU Commission chief Jean Ping said during the summit meeting in Addis Ababa.
“At the same time, we encourage the Sudanese authorities to continue their efforts to find a definitive solution to the problem of impunity” he added.
The judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) are expected to issue a decision soon on charges made last year by prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo against president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir that include three counts of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder.
The move worried many observers who fear a chaotic situation if an arrest warrant is issued for Al-Bashir.
African countries have taken the lead in criticizing the court with some accusing it of applying double standards.
“We think there is a problem with ICC targeting only Africans, as if Africa has been a place to experiment with their ideas” Ping told reporters.
“A judge should be impartial” he said. “The law should apply to everyone and not only the weak”.
The ICC is currently handling 4 cases consisting of Uganda, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Darfur.
With the exception of Darfur all other cases have been referred voluntarily by their respective governments to the ICC for investigation.
The UNSC issued resolution 1593 under chapter VII in March 2005 referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC. At the time Tanzania and Benin voted in support of the resolution while Algeria abstained.
The African continent makes up the majority of the ICC members with 30 countries ratifying the Rome Statute which forms the basis of the court.
Ping said that the international community often denounces African leaders for failing to pursue justice at home, but questioned why similar action was not demanded for conflicts in Gaza, Iraq or Sri Lanka.
“We are raising this type of question because we don’t want a double standard. But we are not against fighting impunity. We have to judge our criminals ourselves” he said.
A senior Sudanese official hailed the position of the AU with regard to the ICC issue.
“Whatever decision the AU is going to take, we are definitely going to back it. As they have showed solid support to the Sudan in the past, we are expecting their backing to resume this time as well” Sudan’s presidential adviser Mustafa Ismail said.
But the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who was present at the AU summit took a different tone and warned that Sudan must adhere to any decision made by the ICC.
“He should fully cooperate with the decision of the ICC” Ban told a press conference on the sidelines of the summit.
African countries have last week endorsed what appears to be an alternative to the ICC for investigating the Darfur crimes.
Last week the AU asked former South African leader Thabo Mbeki to head a panel on how to reconcile the need for accountability in Darfur with opposition to calls for Sudan’s president to be prosecuted.
“I have written to President Mbeki to ask him to chair a high level panel to submit recommendations on how best to reconcile the fight against impunity (in Darfur) while also dealing with reconciliation and forgiveness” Ping said.
The deputy Sudanese ambassador to Ethiopia Akoy Bona Malwal told reporters that a committee formed by the African Union (AU) will evaluate the ability of Sudanese courts to look into crimes committed in the Sudan’s western region since 2003.
Malwal said that if the panel is not satisfied with the performance of Sudanese court then a hybrid court could be setup to conduct trials.
But today a senior official at the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan rejected any idea of hybrid court.
“Having non-Sudanese judges will undermine the credibility of Sudanese judiciary and its pride. However these [foreign] judges could be witnesses and we will not refuse that” the NCP political officer Mandoor Al-Mahdi told the Qatar based Al-Jazeera TV.
It is not clear if Mbeki’s panel will conduct actual investigations or simply observe judicial proceedings as Sudanese officials have implied.
In 2004 the UNSC formed a UN commission of inquiry to look into Darfur abuses headed by former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Italian Antonio Cassese.
The commission concluded that the government did not pursue a policy of genocide in the Darfur region but that Khartoum and government-sponsored Arab militias known as the Janjaweed engaged in “widespread and systematic” abuse that may constitute crimes against humanity.
They further said that Sudanese judiciary is “is unable or unwilling” to prosecute those crimes and thus recommended referring the situation to the ICC.