Africans ask UN to delay Al-Bashir prosecution

2010-09-25 10:13

The African Union (AU) has asked the UN Security Council to delay for a year the prosecution of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan on charges of genocide and other alleged crimes.

The 53-nation organisation said in a letter circulated yesterday that it wanted the delay because the trial would interfere with efforts to end the seven-year conflict in western Darfur.

“The processes under way in Sudan are too critical to the future of the country, and the stability of the region and the continent as a whole, to be allowed to fail,” said the AU’s UN observer, Tete Antonio.

His letter was made public hours before a high-level meeting on Sudan on the sideline of the UN general assembly’s annual ministerial meeting.

President Barack Obama and other leaders focused mostly on a crucial referendum on southern independence scheduled for January, but prospects for peace in Darfur were also raised.

Last year judges at the International Criminal Court issued a warrant against al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In July, the judges added three counts of genocide, the first time the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal has issued genocide charges.

The Rome statute that set up the court allows the UN Security Council, under Article 16, to pass a resolution to defer or suspend for a year the investigation or prosecution of a case. It also gives the council authority to renew such a resolution.

But Al-Bashir’s prosecution at this time could hinder attempts to resolve the Darfur crisis as well as issues stemming from the 2005 north-south peace agreement that ended a 21-year civil war and authorised an independence referendum next year, said President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi, who chairs the AU.

In the letter to the council dated September 15, Antonio said the AU’s Assembly and Peace and Security Council had consistently noted “with regret” that Al-Bashir’s indictment “came at a critical juncture in the process to promote lasting peace, reconciliation and democratic governance in Sudan”.

“In making the request for the Security Council to make use of its powers under Article 16 of the Rome statute to defer the proceedings against him, the AU is in no way condoning impunity,” he said, stressing that “it is imperative ... to bring to justice the perpetrators of gross human rights violations in that region.”

Antonio asked the UN Security Council for “positive consideration” of the AU request to approve a resolution delaying Al-Bashir’s prosecution.

How the UN’s most powerful body reacts remains to be seen.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an interview with Associated Press that he had not seen the letter.

“We have supported the International Criminal Court indictment and will continue to do so. And, of course, we will always look at what the AU said,” Hague said.

Richard Dicker, head of the international justice programme at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the AU statement’s that by seeking the delay it did not intend to condone impunity, “but for that commitment to have meaning, words have to be translated into policy, and to date, specifically in regard to the AU’s own recommendations to end impunity in Darfur, there’s been no result and very little sign of effort.”

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