Sudan: FIDH letter to the Arab leaders in view of the Arab Summit to be held in Doha

To the attention of the Heads of Arab States

Excellencies,

We address you, and through you, the ordinary summit of the League of Arab States convening on
March 30, 2009, inDoha, Qatar, aware of the weight of the issues on your agenda and the important decisions awaited by the peoples of the Arab region, at the heart of which is the humanitarian situation in Darfur, particularly in light of the recent decision made by the International Criminal Court concerning Mr. Omar Al Bashir, President of Sudan.

The decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber (I) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue a warrant of arrest in the right of the Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity comes only after the judges have ascertained the existence of sufficient evidence to confirm the group of crimes said to be committed in Darfur, as presented by the Prosecutor General. These crimes, according to the statistics of the United Nations, have claimed the lives of 300,000 causalities and displaced over 2.5 million of the citizens of Darfur.
The issuance of the arrest warrant against the Sudanese president comes as a strong expression of solidarity with millions of victims who suffered the plight of systematic violations during the ravaging war in Darfur since 2003. The warrant also reflects the importance of combating the culture of impunity; a dire need in the Arab region. We have witnessed in this regard several positive instances promoting international justice, such as the request made by the Palestinian Authority to the ICC to investigate the crimes committed in Gaza. This opportunity is taken to encourage such positive steps towards justice and ask the member states of the Arab League to ratify the Rome Statute, the constitutive statute of the ICC.

As you convene your Summit, with the arrest warrant of the Sudanese President outstanding in your agenda, you are aware more than others that the recent decision made by the ICC did not come from vacuum, nor does it only reveal the principles, values and mechanisms of justice that humanity has achieved in order to prevent crimes that chill the hearts and bodies.

Your Excellencies, representatives of the Arab League, were among the first to ring the alarm bells concerning the humanitarian and human rights situation in Darfur by organizing the first fact-finding mission there in 2004. You will also not fail to note that the Sudanese government itself has not denied that wide-ranging crimes have in fact occurred in Darfur. Although it questions the alleged number of victims, the authorities have admitted on more than one occasion that 10,000 victims have fallen in Sudan- oblivious to the fact that the cited number surpasses the one recorded during the war in Bosnia, for which a tribunal of war crimes was convened. The recent ICC decision against the Sudanese President comes in a context and background specific to the pursuit of justice; the Sudanese government itself, from the earliest stages of the crisis, formed a national committee for collecting information about Darfur, as well as established a special court and appointed a Prosecutor General specifically for Darfur on more than one occasion. However, in all cases, this was not a genuine effort for justice as much as it was a means to gain time and from there, more victims.

The Sudanese government initially cooperated with the UN fact-finding mission in 2004 and dealt with Resolution 1593 about referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC. It cooperated with the court in 2005 by meeting its delegation and giving them a series of documents, even allowing for an interrogation of several officials. Sudan, your Excellencies, remained till a recent time, a member state of the ICC through its ratification of Rome Statutes on September 8th, 2000. Sudan also concluded international cooperation agreements pertaining to the implementation of these statutes and even participated in the General Assembly meetings for member states until 2006 when the case of Darfur was referred to the ICC.

Excellencies,
Your efforts for peace and justice in Darfur must come hand in hand. There is no peace without justice: they are inseparable. Inasmuch as the millions of victims of Darfur await stability and security and peace, their wounds cannot ever heal without seeing the perpetrators of these crimes submit to the law and justice. The decision of the ICC and what it champions from principles of justice and accountability is also an opportunity to break the cycle of violence and revenge; thus presenting an opportunity for social peace and transitional justice in the region. We therefore address you, fervently supporting international justice and the recent arrest warrant against the Sudanese president.
We believe in your faith in and solidarity with, the rights of the victims in facing such crimes and the importance of accountability. We call on your distinguished summit, your Excellencies; kings, princes and presidents, to support in all possible means the last decision of the ICC. The support of the League of Arab States for the work of the ICC in Darfur is an important message coming at a time where it is critical for Arab leaders to abide – morally before politically- to the necessity of investigating the serious crimes and holding those responsible accountable. Your support, your Excellencies, of the arrest warrant and restraint from suspending the court’s procedures is a historical and ethical stance that establishes and promotes the legitimacy of your work and ours towards ending violations and impunity and affirming the rule of law.

Your support and the support of the League of Arab States for international justice will be a clear expression of your commitment to putting a decisive end to the crises in Darfur and achieving peace. Your action urging Sudan to cooperate with the ICC will strengthen and increase the credibility of your current peace-making efforts. In this light we urge you to continue your efforts towards a real peace process in Darfur; one that focuses on recognizing the legitimate rights of the people of that region, in the heart of which of course is the issue of justice. The latest discussions that occurred in Doha between the Sudanese government and the Justice and Equality movement (JEM) can be seen as a chance to widen Arab participation in the peace process, including their readiness to communicate with the armed groups and work towards their unification and the unification of their negotiation perspectives in order to achieve peace. Considering that your initiatives would abide by principles of transparency, objectivity and comprehensiveness, as well as ensure the involvement of civil society and their reflection of cases of women survivors from Darfur.

Your Excellencies will need no reminder about the conditions in which million of Sudanese men and women in Darfur find themselves – living in displacements camps after being uprooted, finding themselves relying entirely on international humanitarian organizations to provide food, water and health care, for over five years.

Now, with the issuance of the arrest warrant in the right of Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, the humanitarian situation for those victims has become increasingly dangerous and complicated after the Sudanese authorities, in its attempt to evade justice and seek revenge from the international community, expelled 13 of the world’s most prominent international organizations providing humanitarian assistance. The expulsion of these organizations, your Excellencies, kings, princes and presidents, will leave over one million human beings with no access to regular food and almost 1.5 million persons with no health services, as well as over 250,000 children with no schools; most of whom have relied almost exclusively on these international organizations since their displacement.

We expect that your Excellencies, Arab leaders, will not only urge -but pressure-the Sudanese government to rescind its decision to expel these organizations and to respect international humanitarian law and its various agreements by allowing and facilitating the safe access of humanitarian aid to those who need it the most in Darfur.

We thus call on you, your Excellencies Arab kings, princes and leaders, to work towards putting a halt to the deteriorating humanitarian condition that has resulted from the decision to expel prominent organizations whose positive impact in the Arab region is renowned, and hope that you will work towards preventing any further complication of the living conditions of millions of displaced persons in Darfur as indicated in the lack of food, water and heath care. We therefore request you to place this issue at the core of your summit’s concerns, and draw your attention and encourage you to urge the Sudanese government to revoke its policy and practices which target civil society and human rights defenders and especially its decision to dissolve three local non-governmental organizations
We therefore draw your Excellencies’ attention to what Sudanese civil society organizations are currently suffering. We express our deep concern towards these acts of intimidation. They have constituted a genuine threat to the Sudanese peace process and its transitional constitution, especially relating to fundamental rights and freedoms and the creation of an environment that would foster democratic transformation; a condition at the heart of hope for peace in Sudan.

Excellencies Arab Leaders, Kings, Princes and President;
To conclude, inasmuch as the world – both, its peoples’ and leaders- follows this upcoming summit, observing your stances and decisions concerning the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, so too do millions of victims, women and children, old and young, in Darfur, waiting to see what action you will take on their behalf in this historic summit.

Souhayr Belhassen
President of FIDH.

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