By allowing Khartoum to host its summit in January, the African Union would tarnish its credibility and condone the Sudanese government’s complicity in crimes against humanity in Darfur, Human Rights Watch warned today in a letter to African heads of state.
The African Union has played an important role in Darfur, sending a ceasefire-monitoring force, the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which now numbers almost 7,000 personnel and includes civilian protection among its tasks. The African Union has also taken the lead in mediating between the Sudanese government and two Darfur rebel groups. A seventh round of peace negotiations is scheduled to resume in the Nigerian capital Abuja later this month, with Sudan’s international donors pushing for a peace settlement before the end of the year.
“The African Union’s efforts in Darfur have been met with constant obstruction by a government that refuses to change its abusive policies,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The African Union should not reward the sponsors of crimes against humanity with the honor of hosting the AU summit or ascending to its presidency.”
Sudanese President Omar El Bashir is apparently one of the candidates for the African Union presidency, which this year will rotate to East Africa. Although Sudan is also scheduled to host the AU summit, the two are no longer linked. Previously, Sudan had been slated to host the AU summit in July and take over the presidency at that time. But the African Union changed the venue to Libya due to concern over the Sudanese government’s continuing human rights abuses and ceasefire violations in Darfur. Since then, Nigeria has continued to hold the AU presidency. Under the African Union’s new procedure, the president will be elected by the member countries at the summit on January 23-24.
AMIS continues to encounter obstacles from the Sudanese government as it attempts to reach its full and effective deployment. Only recently, after months of delay, did the Sudanese government allow AMIS to import 105 armored personnel carriers necessary to protect civilians as well as AMIS forces. In October, five AMIS soldiers from Nigeria were killed in an hours-long shootout with government-backed militias in South Darfur.
“How can the African Union be seen as a credible mediator in Darfur if one of the warring parties hosts its summit and becomes the head of the organization as well?” asked Takirambudde. “It’s not too late for the African Union to hold its summit elsewhere or for African leaders to encourage a better candidate to run for the presidency.”
While hostilities in Darfur lessened earlier in the year, violence against civilians has surged again in the past two months. The government-backed Janjaweed militias continue to operate with impunity from prosecution—despite demands from the United Nations Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council that the Sudanese government disarm these groups.
The representative of the African Union mission in Sudan, Baba Gana Kingibe, in early October condemned the increased violence and denounced the Sudanese government for continuing to support attacks on civilians with its Janjaweed allies. He also denounced the Sudanese government’s use of white cars resembling AMIS vehicles.
Human Rights Watch called on the Sudanese government and all rebel factions to immediately cease attacks on civilians, aid workers and AMIS forces. The warring parties should also cooperate with all independent investigations of the attacks.
Since 2003, the Sudanese government has pursued a policy of targeting civilians of the same ethnicity as rebel insurgents in Darfur. More than 180,000 people have died and more than two million people have been violently robbed and burned out of their homes and villages, according to U.N. figures. Coordinated government-militia attacks on civilians have been the primary cause for the massive displacement and crimes against humanity committed since mid-2003.
The African Union sent a military observer force into the region in June 2004 to monitor an April 2004 ceasefire agreement signed by the Sudanese government and two Darfur rebel groups. Since July 2004, the number of AU observers, troops and other personnel has expanded to almost 7,000, and the mandate has broadened to include protection of civilians under “imminent threat and in the immediate vicinity.” But AMIS has been subjected to attacks by all sides in the conflict. In early October a splinter faction of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement temporarily took an AMIS delegation hostage on the Chadian border, and government-sponsored militia killed five AMIS soldiers around the same time.