Home | News    Saturday 4 July 2009

AU agree to protect Sudanese president from arrest

July 3, 2009 (WASHINGTON) — The African Union (AU) leaders agreed today to shield Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir from any possibility of arrest within the continent members of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi delivers a statement after the conclusion of the closing session at the third day of the 13th African Union summit of heads of state and government in Sirte, Libya Friday, July 3, 2009 (AP)

The ICC judges issued an arrest warrant for Bashir last March at the request of the prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo who accused the Sudanese head of state of targeting the African tribes of Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit.

The warrant included counts of seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity but dropped the genocide charges requested by the prosecutor.

Ocampo is expected to submit an appeal for the inclusion of crime of genocide next week before the appeals chamber.

The marathonic talks on the text relating to the ICC lasted until late Friday night following divisions with the countries that ratified the Rome Statute.

Libya has introduced the draft text to the surprise of the African delegates and was endorsed late Thursday night by the foreign ministers despite resistance from countries including Chad, Botswana and Ghana.

The text was changed from refusing to arrest any African individual to specifying that it was only Bashir who would be afforded immunity.

The decision at the African Union summit says AU members “shall not cooperate” with the court in The Hague "in the arrest and transfer of the president of Sudan to the ICC”.

The text agreed by consensus though it appears some countries objected up until the last minute including Chad.

“Consensus usually means unanimity, but in this case there was some dissent," said Benin Foreign Minister Jean-Marie Ehouzou, who said objections by Chad or others would likely be added as caveats to the final summit declaration.

Prime Minister Bernard Makuza of Rwanda, whose country is not an ICC member, conceded the resolution had been "a hot spot" in the leaders’ three-day summit that ended Friday, but that countries finally approved the Libyan-led decision because they don’t feel fairly treated by the ICC.

“We’re not promoting impunity, but we’re saying that Westerners who don’t understand anything about Africa should stop trying to import their solutions,” Makuza told the Associated Press (AP) on the sidelines of the summit.

Earlier today the officials from the Western Sahara, a contested desert territory with Morocco, criticized the draft decision.

“We need more international justice, not less, otherwise it’s a jungle,” Sayed told The Associated Press on Friday morning.

Bachir Mustapha Sayed, Western Sahara’s deputy leader, said the draft decision was “very worrying”.

“We need more international justice, not less, otherwise it’s a jungle,” Sayed told The Associated Press on Friday morning as the 30 AU members who are party to the ICC met behind closed doors to see how to handle the draft.

Sayed and others downplayed the decision in advance. “It’s a political statement of solidarity: it has no legal powers,” he said.

The Sudanese government hailed the decision by the AU.

“It’s the confirmation of what we always said: The indictment is a political thing, not a legal thing,” deputy Foreign Minister Al-Samani Al-Wasila told The Associated Press just after the decision was made public.

However, he would not say whether Bashir would travel freely to any of the thirty countries that are ICC members.

This year Botswana and South Africa have publicly announced that they will apprehend the Sudanese head of state if he visits. However Djibouti and Comoros Island announced that they will not honor their obligations under the Rome Statute.