Home | News    Friday 9 October 2009

AU panel submits report on Darfur but kept confidential

October 8, 2009 (WASHINGTON) – The African Union (AU) panel on Darfur (AUPD) headed by the former South African president Thabo Mbeki has officially submitted its report to the Pan-African body but its content will not be released until a special AU summit later this month.

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Former South African President Thabo Mbeki (R) hands to the chairperson of African Union Commission Jean Ping, the report compiled by the high level panel on the Darfur crisis, at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, October 8, 2009 (Reuters)

At a ceremony at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa Mbeki handed the lengthy report to the Chairperson of the AU Commission Jean Ping, eight month after its establishment.

The fact finding mission was formed in the wake of the imminent arrest warrant that was to be issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.

The AU was wary of the warrant since the ICC prosecutor presented his case to the judges in July 2008, cautioning that it would throw Sudan into chaos.

However, the UN Security Council (UNSC) refused to heed to the AU request to defer the warrant for 12 months under Article 16 of the Rime Statute.

Last July the African leaders angered by the UNSC dismissal of its request announced that it will not cooperate with the ICC in apprehending the Sudanese president.

Mbeki has reportedly lobbied to prevent the resolution from passing arguing that it will undermine the work of his panel.

The move led critics to downplay the AUPD work suggesting that it seeks to further assert that Bashir should be spared prosecution for the sake of peace.

Some Darfur rebels refused to meet with Mbeki for that reason including Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

In a speech at the ceremony, the former South African president gave no indication as to what recommendations he made on the ICC row.

Mbeki said that everybody concerned, from President Bashir on down, agree that justice must be done and must be seen to be done, Voice of America (VOA) reported.

In his delivered remarks, the former South African president stressed that peace, justice and reconciliation should be approached at the same time warning that neither should have precedence over the other.

“The Panel is therefore firmly of the view that any attempt to present any of these issues as taking precedence over any other would be counter-productive, and would militate against the speedy achievement of the just and lasting peace for which the people of Darfur yearn,” Mbeki said.

He noted that while Darfuris don’t want to secede from Sudan, their feelings of marginalization and underdevelopment should be recognized.

“That root cause is the marginalization and underdevelopment of Darfur as a result of policies and practices implemented throughout Sudan during both the colonial and post-colonial periods,” the AUPD chair said.

“This is represented as a gross imbalance between a strong centre and a marginalized periphery, which resulted in political power and wealth being concentrated in the centre, with the consequent negative consequences on the periphery” he added.

Mbeki disclosed that while their mandate was confined to Darfur they had “no choice but to consider the wider Sudan setting as it relates to the resolution of the conflict in Darfur, precisely to ensure that it discharges its mission,”.

He further said all parties in the region agree that Sudan’s judicial system must take the lead role in Darfur war crimes prosecutions.

“Whatever the ICC might have done does not absolve Sudan from acting on crimes that might have been committed. So it is still the responsibility of the Sudanese state to act on those matters,” he said.

It is not clear if that indicates that the panel will suggest that the ICC should let to prosecute Bashir and other individuals charged by The Hague based court while allowing local tribunals to try the rest.

Last month a senior official at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in New York, who asked not to be named, told Sudan Tribune that he expects the panel to make a finding that the Sudanese judiciary “is unable and unwilling to carry out credible and genuine prosecutions in Darfur”.

“Based on what I know it is likely that the panel will recommend hybrid courts with the participation of Arab and African judges that conforms with international standards to try those not already charged by the ICC which means that Bashir and others will still have to answer at the Hague. Neither the panel nor the AU have the power to strip the ICC from its mandate particularly when Sudan has done little in that department,” the official said.

“I also expect them to call for a truth and reconciliation commission in Darfur,” he added.

Ping, who has been a fervent critic of the ICC, said the international community should be a "facilitator not a complicator" in the Darfur conflict that has raged since early 2003.

"The legal quest for justice should be undertaken in a way that does not block or compromise the search of peace," he added.

It remains to be seen if the AU will press Khartoum to implement the recommendations. Sudanese officials in the past have said that they respect the AUPD and will abide by its suggestions.

Some observers say that the AU, which historically supported Khartoum positions, will be reluctant to put any pressure to execute the findings of the commission.

Mbeki stressed that only Sudanese can resolve their problems and not other countries warning of “forum shopping” for solutions.