African Union refuses to arrest Sudan's President for war crimes

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The African Union (AU) has decided it will not act on an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly perpetrating war crimes in Darfur.

Jean Ping, the AU's current chairperson, said of the decision by the 53 member states "They are showing to the world community that if you don't want to listen to the continent, if you don't want to take into account our proposals... if you don't want to listen to the continent, as usual, we also are going to act unilaterally."

Thirty African states have ratified the ICC treaty. Libya in particular had pressed for the decision, with leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who hosted the summit, going so far as to invite controversial Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address the summit; the Iranians agreed but later canceled the visit.

A Human Rights Watch spokesman said "This resolution, the result of unprecedented bullying by Libya, puts the AU on the side of a dictator accused of mass murder rather than on the side of his victims, but it cannot erase the legal obligations undertaken by the 30 African countries which have ratified the ICC treaty."

This treaty requires signatory states — which al-Beshir has avoided since the March issuing of the arrant — to arrest any suspects within their borders. Sudan's foreign ministry commented that now "The president is free to travel anywhere in Africa, including those countries that have ratified the ICC's Rome statute."

Amnesty International also criticised the new resolution, with Amnesty Africa's director Erwin van der Borght saying "This decision by the African Union member states shows a disdain for those in Darfur who suffered gross human rights violation and makes a mockery of the AU as an international body. By supporting a wanted person accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, it undermines the credibility of states which are party to the Rome Statute and the AU as a whole."

The Sudanese foreign ministry said that "We think that Africa is now one front against the ICC ... Most Africans believe it is a court that has been set up against Africa and the third world."

Sudan's government has estimated 10,000 people have died as a result of violence in Darfur since February 2003, while the United Nations (UN) puts the figures as 300,000 dead with 2.7 million having fled their homes. The UN Security Council was criticised by the AU for its refusal to consider suspending al-Beshir's warrant for one year, which Africa said could have helped efforts seeking peace in Darfur.