(New York) - Sudan has failed to act on recommendations made a year ago by the African Union High-Level Panel on Darfur, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today. Key international actors - including the African Union (AU), United Nations Security Council, United States, and European Union - should press Sudan to carry out the panel's recommendations and to cooperate with the International Criminal Court's (ICC) prosecution of Darfur cases, Human Rights Watch said.
On October 29, 2009, the AU endorsed the report and recommendations by the high-level panel, headed by the former South African President Thabo Mbeki. The AU had asked the panel to explore ways to secure peace, justice and reconciliation in Darfur.
"A year is far too long to wait for the government to get serious about the panel's recommendations for justice for the horrific crimes in Darfur," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel in the international justice program at Human Rights Watch. "And with attention now focused on the referendum for the future of southern Sudan, the panel's work risks being forgotten."
The Mbeki report found that the people of Darfur "suffered extreme violence and gross violations of human rights" and that Sudan had failed to ensure justice for the crimes. The panel recommended a hybrid court for Darfur, with Sudanese and non-Sudanese legal experts, a truth and reconciliation panel, and wide-ranging reforms of the country's criminal justice system.
Some Sudanese officials publicly rejected the hybrid court proposal, although the government reportedly set up a task force earlier this year to discuss the panel's justice recommendations with the AU. In September 2010, the government adopted a new political and security strategy for Darfur that did not address justice. But in October, government officials announced that they were committed to justice in Darfur and appointed a new higher-ranking special prosecutor to investigate crimes there.
"Given Sudan's long record of inaction on justice for victims in Darfur, the new promises for domestic prosecutions are woefully insufficient," Keppler said. "Stonewalling by Khartoum on justice is what led the Security Council to refer Darfur to the ICC in the first place."
The Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC in 2005. Since then, the court has issued arrest warrants for three suspects, including for President Omar al-Bashir, as well as three summons to appear for crimes committed in Darfur.
While the panel's recommendations could help ensure wider accountability for crimes committed in Darfur, these should not be seen as a substitute for ICC proceedings, Human Rights Watch said. National efforts should instead complement and enhance ICC prosecutions, which will likely target only a few individuals. The Mbeki report acknowledged that many people in Sudan opposed any suspension of the ICC proceedings and that displaced Darfuris in particular "welcomed the prospect of ICC prosecutions."
Carrying out the panel's recommendations would not be easy, Human Rights Watch said. For example, Sudan would need to accept meaningful international involvement and enact wide-ranging criminal justice reforms for the hybrid court proposal to function in line with international law and practice.
Some officials contend that the pursuit of justice should take a back seat to ongoing Darfur peace negotiations and the implementation of Sudan's 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the agreement between the ruling National Congress Party and southern Sudan People's Liberation Army that ended Sudan's 22-year civil war. However, the panel report is clear that justice should not be delayed as other objectives are pursued. In addition, experience has shown that allowing abuses to go unpunished only risks fueling further abuses.
"The high-level panel has made clear that Darfuris deserve justice," Keppler said. "The AU and other key international actors should press Khartoum to cooperate with the ICC and to act on the panel's justice recommendations."