AU panel submits Darfur report

Friday, October 9, 2009

Addis Ababa - An African Union Panel on Darfur (AUPD), headed by South Africa's former President, Thabo Mbeki, has officially submitted its report to the Pan-African body.

Mbeki delivered the findings to the AU Commissioner Jean Ping, yesterday, saying that the Darfur conflict can only be resolved by the Sudanese people.

"The resolution of the conflict in Darfur has to be brought about by the Sudanese people themselves and cannot be imposed from outside," said Mbeki at the hand over.

The panel was created in February as the International Criminal Court (ICC) was about to prosecute Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was charged with two counts of war crimes - intentionally directing attacks against civilians and pillaging.

Mbeki said the panel's research turned up no desire among Darfuris for independence from Sudan.

He noted that while Darfuris don't want to secede from Sudan, their feelings of marginalization and underdevelopment should be recognized.

"That root cause is the marginalization and underdevelopment of Darfur as a result of policies and practices implemented throughout Sudan during both the colonial and post-colonial periods," said Mbeki.

Mbeki disclosed that while their mandate was confined to Darfur they had "no choice but to consider the wider Sudan setting as it relates to the resolution of the conflict in Darfur, precisely to ensure that it discharges its mission."

He further said all parties in the region agree that Sudan's judicial system must take the lead role in Darfur war crime prosecutions.

"Whatever the ICC might have done does not absolve Sudan from acting on crimes that might have been committed. So it is still the responsibility of the Sudanese state to act on those matters," he said.

But he argued that for justice to be effective, it must be accompanied by peace and reconciliation.

"Our interlocutors also recognized the reality that the objectives of peace, justice and reconciliation in Darfur are interconnected, mutually independent, equally desirable and cannot be achieved separate from one another," he said.

But the contents of the hefty document were being kept secret pending a special Darfur Summit to be attended by African Heads of State in Abuja, Nigeria, at a date yet to be announced.

In their last meeting in Libya, the African leaders angered by the UN Security Council's (UNSC) dismissal of its request, announced that it would not cooperate with the ICC in apprehending the Sudanese president.

However, the UNSC refused to heed to the AU's request to defer the warrant for 12 months under Article 16 of the Rome Statute.

Ping said the international community should be a "facilitator not a complicator" in the Darfur conflict that has raged since early 2003.

"The legal quest for justice should be undertaken in a way that does not block or compromise the search of peace," he added.

The AU was wary of the warrant since the ICC prosecutor presented his case to the judges in July 2008, cautioning that it would throw Sudan into chaos.

UN officials estimate that up to 300 000 people had died and 2.7 million fled their homes since February 2003, when ethnic minority rebels in Darfur rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.