African Union leaders have approved a decision not to cooperate with the International Criminal Court over its indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur.
AFP - The African Union has decided not to cooperate with a war crimes warrant against Sudan President Omar al-Beshir and again appealed to the United Nations to delay the case, delegates said Friday.
Two delegates from different countries said the African Union summit had agreed to a text reading: "The AU member states shall not cooperate... for the arrest and surrender of Sudan President Omar al-Beshir."
The summit was expected later Friday to formally announce its decision, which effectively allows Beshir to travel across Africa without fear of arrest under the warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court.
The text was backed by Libyan leader and current AU chief Moamer Kadhafi, who has said the ICC represents a "new world terrorism," and won support from many countries who felt the court was unfairly targeting Africans.
Thirty African states have signed the Rome statutes creating the court, and have treaty obligations to arrest Beshir if he travels on their territory.
But the text adopted at the summit voices frustration felt by many African nations who say the UN Security Council ignored an early AU resolution calling for a one-year delay to the indictment.
The UN Security Council can ask the court, via a resolution, to suspend investigations or prosecutions for 12 months, under Article 16 of the Rome Statute. The stay can be renewed.
"We have been a little unhappy about the whole process, how this matter came before the ICC," Ghana's Foreign Minister Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni said before the final decision was taken.
"The AU actually addressed a resolution to the security council asking the SC to defer the warrant for one year, and it was virtually ignored. That we thought was a slap," he said.
"We thought that as Africans, and having a clear understanding and a clear interest in the interest of peace in the Sudan and in Darfur, we thought that was a matter (where) the Security Council should have listened to Africa, at the very minimum," he said.
The decision to effectively ignore the ICC warrant had strong support from Libya and other repressive countries that sympathise with Sudan, but even advocates of the court have worried that arresting Beshir could create a power vaccuum in Khartoum that would hinder the country's peace process.
A 22-year civil war in southern Sudan only ended in 2005, in what had been Africa's longest civil war. Elections are now planned in February and a historic independence referendum is due in 2011.
Under the peace deal, the south has a six-year transitional period of regional autonomy and takes part in a unity government until a 2011 referendum on self-determination.
A recent increase in ethnic clashes has raised concern about the future of the peace process in the south, while the violence in Darfur still rages.
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur rose up against the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum in February 2003.
Sudan's government says 10,000 have been killed.
Rights activists said the AU decision ignored the plight of the victims of the violence.
"This resolution, the result of unprecedented bullying by Libya, puts the AU on the side of a dictator accused of mass murder rather than on the side of his victims," said Reed Brody, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch.
"But it cannot erase the legal obligations undertaken by the 30 African countries which have ratified the ICC treaty," he added.
Date created : 2009-07-03