Letter to African Union Chairman HE Jean Ping and League of Arab States Secretary General HE Amr Moussa
March 29, 2009

HE Dr. Jean Ping
Chairperson of the African Union

HE Mr. Amr Moussa
Secretary General of the League of Arab States

Via facsimile

Your Excellencies,

We write to you with regard to the grave and urgent situation in Darfur following the Sudanese government's decision to expel 13 international aid organizations providing food, water, and medical care to over one million people.  We urge the African Union and the Arab League to take every opportunity to work toward reversal of this decision, which is endangering so many lives.

On March 4, 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the massive atrocities in Darfur.  Within hours, the Sudanese government responded by issuing notices to key humanitarian agencies working in Darfur suspending their operating licenses, closing their operations immediately, and ordering international staff to leave Sudan.  By March 6, the government ordered out 13 international agencies and closed three Sudanese organizations.

Sharply curtailing humanitarian assistance in Darfur in this way threatens to have catastrophic consequences.  According to the United Nations, the 16 organizations account for almost half the humanitarian assistance in north Sudan. The agencies that the government has expelled so far were supplying food and water to 1.1 million people and medical care to 1.5 million.  The organizations that remain, including UN agencies, are trying to cover some of this critical work, but have warned that important gaps will persist.  Even where other organizations can provide additional capacity, the manner in which the government closed the programs makes effective handover impossible.  Government officials have removed assets from the offices of humanitarian organizations, including computers, communications equipment, and vehicles, as well as ordered organizations to dismiss national staff.

In some places the effects of the expulsion of humanitarian organizations are already being felt.  In Kalma camp, the largest displaced person camp in Darfur and home to 97,000 people, the organizations responsible for both medical care and water supply have been forced to leave.  The order came when the camp was suffering a serious meningitis outbreak.  Sadly, the camp's residents are likely to be the first of many victims of the Sudanese government's decision.

As you know, members of the African Union and the Arab League have raised a possible deferral of the ICC's investigation and prosecution of President al-Bashir.  Under article 16 of the ICC statute, the UN Security Council can request the court to defer an investigation or prosecution for 12 months after adopting a resolution in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter.  Chapter VII of the UN Charter empowers the Security Council to take measures to "maintain or restore international peace and security."

Human Rights Watch believes that a deferral would be wholly inappropriate in the current context.  It would reward the denial of vital assistance to vulnerable populations-thereby encouraging further abuses-and would risk impunity for widespread atrocities without identifiable benefits for international peace and security. 

The peace process for Darfur has long been stalled, as you know, because of lack of political will to end the conflict that is unrelated to the ICC.  Although the Sudanese government and one rebel group, JEM, signed a "declaration of intent" in February 2009, it did not include any significant concessions or a commitment to a ceasefire.  Moreover, as a suspension under article 16 is limited to 12-month periods, once a deferral takes effect, the Sudanese government can be expected to use annual threats of violence and empty promises to secure renewals.

While some have expressed concerns that the ICC is unjustly targeting African leaders, this gives a misleading picture.  Governments in the affected countries requested the court's help in three out of the court's four investigations.  This reflected a recognition by the relevant governments that the ICC has an important role to play in promoting justice for the worst crimes and in ending impunity.  The fourth situation, Darfur, was referred by the Security Council.

Some of the worst crimes perpetrated since 2002 have been committed in states that are not parties to the court and thus, regrettably, have fallen outside the court's jurisdiction.  We believe that justice should not be denied for some, however, simply because it is impossible to ensure justice for all; rather, it is necessary to work to see the reach of accountability extended to wherever serious crimes in violation of international law occur.  Along these lines, Human Rights Watch is actively pressing for an international impartial investigation into serious crimes committed in the recent conflict in Gaza as a first step toward justice for abuses there.

Accordingly, Human Rights Watch hopes that you will use your position in the region and your influence on the Sudanese government to prioritize the immediate reinstatement of the full scope of humanitarian assistance in Darfur.  This would show your solidarity with victims in Darfur and would avoid their further victimization. 

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these important issues with you.

Sincerely,

Georgette Gagnon                                                        Richard Dicker
Executive Director                                                         Director
Africa Division                                                              International Justice Program