9 March 2009
The African Union (AU) has appointed former South African president Thabo Mbeki to chair a committee to investigate human rights violations in Darfur, as well as to mediate between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Sudan.
Mbeki’s appointment follows the ICC’s decision last week to issue a warrant of arrest for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Bashir has rejected the arrest warrant.
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in Pretoria this week that Mbeki, who brokered the deal for Zimbabwe’s political rivals to share power following last year’s disputed elections, would have the role of mediating between the ICC and Sudan.
AU special session
The AU had hoped the ICC would delay the charges against Bashir for a year, fearing his indictment would destabilise the situation in Darfur, and has since held a special session to find ways to halt the issuing of the warrant.
During the session, the AU’s Sudanese ambassador, Mohieldin Ahmed Salim, called on all AU members to withdraw from the ICC, by pulling out of the Rome Statute that established the world’s first permanent war crimes court, in protest against the warrant.
Many African leaders have expressed fear that Bashir’s indictment will destabilise the fragile Darfur region.
Arrest warrant ‘regrettable’
Dlamini-Zuma said the ICC’s decision to issue the warrant was regrettable, and that South Africa has accepted the AU’s initial response to the ICC’s decision.
“South Africa has never countenanced any acts of impunity,” Dlamini-Zuma told journalists. “However, South Africa supported the decision of the AU to defer the issuing of the warrant of arrest against President Bashir by a year to give the peace processes in the Sudan a chance.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has meanwhile appealed to Sudan to reconsider its decision, taken in response to last week’s arrest warrant announcement, to fire 13 international aid groups aiding an estimated 4.7-million people in Darfur.
According to the UN, the decision will, if implemented, cause irrevocable damage to humanitarian operations there.
The Darfur conflict started in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government, complaining of discrimination and neglect in the Darfur region. The six-year conflict in Sudan has killed more than 300 000 people.