Last week the African Union Commission (AUC) issued a communiqué to express its reservations on the decision of the Appeals Chamber International Criminal Court (ICC) directing the ICC pre-trial Chamber to reconsider whether the indictment of President Omar Hassan Al Bashir should not be extended to cover the charge of genocide. In its communiqué, the AUC claims that it has been actively involved in efforts aimed at assisting the Sudanese people to meet the challenges of three interlocking issues: peace, justice and reconciliation. The AUC reminds us of its Comprehensive Peace Agreement Initiative which entails a two tier-process. This year in April, Sudan is expected to organise national elections. This democratic process will be followed by a self-determination referendum on southern Sudan and the Government of Qatar is expected to act as facilitator.
But there is a catch to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement since the referendum will depend largely on the participation of the Darfurians in the national elections. Should this happen the newly-elected Sudanese government will claim legitimacy of its mandate and is unlikely to change its policy of ethnic cleansing in Darfur. In the meantime, the AUC has urged the UN Security Council to defer the process initiated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) making use of the provisions of Article 16 of the ICC Rome Statute. The Security Council has not acceded to the request of the AUC so far.The Darfur region of Sudan is home to racially mixed tribes of settled peasants, some who identify as African, and nomadic herders, and others who identify as Arab. The UN is in presence of evidence of how African farmers and others in Darfur are being systematically displaced and murdered by the Janjaweed, a government-supported militia recruited from local Arab tribes. So far it is suspected that the genocide in Darfur has claimed 400,000 lives and displaced over 2,500,000 people. More than one hundred people continue to die each day; five thousand die every month.
Since February 2003, the Sudanese government in Khartoum and the government-sponsored Janjaweed militia have used all the methods imaginable against the Darfurians, including rape, displacement, organized starvation, threats against aid workers and mass murder. Violence, disease and displacement continue to kill thousands of innocent Darfurians every month.
Mauritius should, instead of blindly endorsing the AUC position, proactively denounce what is happening in Darfur. Mauritius should in fact be the obvious dissenting voice. In May 2006 the international community succeeded in brokering a peace deal, but violence in Darfur did not stop. The African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Darfur has proved its total inefficiency to ensure compliance with the peace agreement. And it has been the same kind of inefficiency that has permeated in respect of every single conflict on the African soil.
Two Mauritians are presently subject to arbitrary arrest in Congo Brazzaville. There is no charge laid against them and the reasons for their arrest remain obscure. It would be a total waste of time to have recourse to the AUC as any attempt of intervention on their part would be swiftly turned down by the Congolese government with impunity.
In relation to a future request by the Mauritian government to have the Chagos Archipelagos issue on the agenda of the UN General Council, there is no guarantee that directives issued by the AUC to support the Mauritian contention will ever be followed. Mr Jayen Cuttarree who stood as a candidate to the post of Director of the WTO knows something about the promises of the AUC. Its word is certainly not its bond.
There is every reason for Mauritius to support the decision of the ICC. Mauritius is a signatory to the Rome Statute and it would be complying with its international obligation. The only realistic recourse available against a war criminal is the law and the international community should make abundant use of the law as a weapon as is presently being used against the former Liberian leader Charles Taylor for crime against humanity.
In London lawyers acting for the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign Group had obtained a warrant of arrest under the Geneva Conventions Act for the arrest of Doron Almog, a former general in the Israeli army, for war crimes against the Palestinians. Almog never left the plane that brought him to London. But it illustrates how important the law has now become to track down and punish war criminals.
Mauritius should speak up in favour of Darfur and make sure that Africa gets to know that there is a dissenting voice in Africa scandalized by the genocide in Darfur.