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African Union: Don’t Trade Away Justice in Darfur

(New York) - The African Union Peace and Security Council should reconsider its call for the UN Security Council to suspend the International Criminal Court investigation of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and serious crimes in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today. On September 22, 2008, the African Union Peace and Security Council will meet in New York.

Following a request by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 14 for an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, the African Union Peace and Security Council asked the UN Security Council to defer the proceedings under article 16 of the Rome Statute of the ICC. This provision empowers the Security Council to suspend court proceedings for up to 12 months if required to maintain international peace and security. 

"A suspension of the investigation would deny justice to the thousands of victims in Darfur," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The African Union should reaffirm its commitment to seeing justice done for atrocities and support for the ICC in Darfur."

The AU Peace and Security Council stated that the search for justice in Darfur should be pursued in a way that does not impede or jeopardize efforts aimed at promoting lasting peace. However, there is no plausible connection between the continuing failure of Darfur peace talks and the request for an arrest warrant. The deadlock is rooted in a lack of political will on all sides to achieve an agreement that has nothing to do with the ICC. The deadlock is being entrenched daily by Khartoum's continuing pursuit of a military solution in Darfur that includes ongoing indiscriminate bombing and ground attacks on civilians resulting in further death and displacement.

In addition, the AU Peace and Security Council urged the Sudanese government to take immediate steps to investigate human rights violations in Darfur and bring to justice their perpetrators. Since that call in July, the Sudanese government has announced the creation of special courts for Darfur. These courts were in fact established in 2005, immediately after the ICC prosecutor announced he was opening an investigation. To date, the court has tried only a few cases of ordinary crimes, and no cases involving a major atrocity in Darfur or any high-level official.

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