Home | News    Wednesday 3 November 2010

HRW criticizes lack of action on Mbeki’s justice proposals for Darfur

November 2, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report last week accusing Sudan of failing to act on the recommendations of the African Union panel on Darfur (AUPD) which was headed by the former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

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Former South African president Thabo Mbeki (AFP)

“A year is far too long to wait for the government to get serious about the panel’s recommendations for justice for the horrific crimes in Darfur,” said Elise Keppler, senior counsel in the international justice program at HRW.

“And with attention now focused on the referendum for the future of southern Sudan, the panel’s work risks being forgotten” Keppler added.

A year ago, the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) summit in Abuja endorsed a report prepared by AUPD which was tasked with crafting a formula to resolve the conflict in Darfur that would take into consideration peace, justice and reconciliation.

The panel was formed weeks before the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Bashir prompting skepticism from Darfur rebels and other critics who say that the AU wants to circumvent the indictment, something which Mbeki has denied in meetings with Darfur IDP’s.

The former Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher who was on the panel revealed after recommendations were released that their goal "was to find a way out" for Bashir from the ICC row. Mbeki was reportedly outraged on the remarks but did not issue a formal response.

The AU has been opposed to Bashir’s indictment and instructed its members through two resolutions not to cooperate with the Hague-based tribunal in apprehending the Sudanese president even if they are legally obliged to do so under the Rome Statute to which they are signatories.

AUPD called for establishing hybrid courts to try war crimes suspects and changes to Sudanese laws. It took no position on the ICC warrant except to say that the Hague-based tribunal cannot try all the suspects, effectively supporting its work.

However, the Sudanese government and its officials including Bashir expressed rejection to the idea of the hybrid court.

Last month, the Sudanese justice minister Mohamed Bushara Dousa fired the Darfur special prosecutor Nimr Ibrahim Mohamed and replaced him with his Undersecretary Abdel-Dayem Zumrawi. During the two years Mohamed exercised his functions as special prosecutor he has not announced any indictments in connection with human right violations committed in Darfur since 2003.

HRW said that Sudan recent history casts doubts over its willingness to prosecute war crimes suspects.

“Given Sudan’s long record of inaction on justice for victims in Darfur, the new promises for domestic prosecutions are woefully insufficient,” Keppler said. “Stonewalling by Khartoum on justice is what led the Security Council to refer Darfur to the ICC in the first place.”

"In Sudan, longstanding impunity for the state’s use of brutal ethnic militias to attack civilians in the south set a precedent for similar atrocities elsewhere. This likely factored into Khartoum’s decision to use the same strategy again with devastating results for civilians in Darfur and continues to fuel abuses on a daily basis. Intensified fighting between government and rebel forces, and between other armed groups in 2010, has killed hundreds of civilians" said a briefing paper by the HRW on the one year anniversary of the Mbeki’s panel.

The rights watchdog said that Sudan has to show political will for the hybrid court to see the light and urged Khartoum to accept international involvement in prosecutions and implement reforms to its judicial system.

"A number of well-documented flaws in the domestic criminal justice system—such as lack of adequate fair trial protections, broad immunities for certain categories of individuals, use of the death penalty, and lack of witness protection programs—are likely to prevent a hybrid court situated in the domestic system, or other domestic prosecutions, from meeting benchmarks for fair, effective prosecutions consistent with international law and practice".

“The high-level panel has made clear that Darfuris deserve justice,” Keppler said. “The AU and other key international actors should press Khartoum to cooperate with the ICC and to act on the panel’s justice recommendations.”

But it is unlikely that any action will follow soon on the recommendations of the panel relating to Darfur particularly as Mbeki’s focus has now shifted towards the South Sudan and Abyei referendum scheduled for January 9, 2011.

Preparations for the key votes in South Sudan and Abyei have proceeded haltingly amid political and logistical obstacles, and the southerners have accused the northerners of stalling, warning of violence if the referendum is delayed.
Furthermore, it is all but certain that the Abyei referendum will be delayed as the commission to oversee it has not been established yet. Northern officials have publicly asserted that the disputed border area will not have its vote held as scheduled as issues of border demarcation and eligibility of voters have yet to be resolved.

Mbeki is trying to break a stalemate after talks collapsed last month between north and south Sudan over who will be eligible to vote in Abyei which is inhabited by the Dinka Ngok and the Arab Misseriya who migrate each year to Abyei looking for pasture for their cattle.

Last Friday, US president Barack Obama spoke with Mbeki on the phone to discuss the referendum with both sides affirming that it should not be delayed.