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AU Condones Bashir’s Criminal Acts

AU Condones Bashir’s Criminal Acts

The decision by the African Union (AU) not to co-operate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) after it ordered the arrest of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, has been heavily criticised by human rights groups. Amnesty International said on Saturday that the move showed “disdain” for the victims of violence in Sudan’s western Darfur region, where al-Bashir is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. “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,” Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty’s Africa director, said.

“By supporting a wanted person accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, it undermines the credibility of states who are party to the Rome statute and the AU as a whole.”

At a summit on Friday, the pan-African body adopted a motion effectively ruling out the arrest of al-Bashir on the territory of any of its members and urged the United Nations to intervene to delay the case.

‘Free to travel’

Ali al-Sadig, Sudan’s foreign minister, said: “The president is free to travel anywhere in Africa, including those countries that have ratified the ICC’s Rome statute.

“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.”

Thirty of the 54-member states of the AU signed the Rome statutes creating the court, and have treaty obligations to arrest al-Bashir if he steps on their territory.

In May, the Sudanese president stayed away from the inauguration of Jacob Zuma, his South African counterpart, amid reports that Pretoria had warned Khartoum that al-Bashir could be arrested.

“Maybe at one point, the new South African government expressed some negative views… As South Africa was part of the decision at [the summit in] Sirte, it implies that this means he would be able to travel there,” al-Sadig said

“As far as we are concerned, whenever there are meetings in the African continent, or in Arab countries, he will go there.”

AU frustrations

The text adopted at the summit voiced the frustration felt by many African nations who say that the UN Security Council ignored an earlier AU resolution calling for a one-year delay to the indictment.

“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,” Jean Ping, the AU commission chair, said.

The UN Security Council can ask the court, via a resolution, to suspend investigations or prosecutions for 12 months, under Article 16 of the Rome statute.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, told Al Jazeera that the African Union should be concerned with working with the court to stop “crimes in Darfur”.

“I think that the destiny of Omar al-Bashir is to face charges, whether it is in two years or in 20 years, he will face charges,” he said.

“The problem is the victims, the courts have time, but the victims do not.”

The ICC ordered the arrest of the Sudanese president in March.

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since the conflict between ethnic minority rebels and the Sudanese government began in 2003.

Sudan’s government says 10,000 have been killed.

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