FIDH and SOAT Urge Discussions on Darfur and Express Concern at Reports that Sudan Will Run for Presidency

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation the Sudan Organisation Against Torture (SOAT) urge African Union member states to show greater commitment to addressing the urgent situation in Darfur when they meet for the AU summit in Addis Ababa from January 25 to February 2.

Background information

With peace negotiations faltering, the deployment of a joint AU-United Nations peacekeeping force facing ongoing delays, cross-border tensions between Sudan and Chad mounting, and the security situation on the ground in Darfur becoming increasingly complex, events are at a critical stage. The conflict, which has already created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and poses a grave threat to regional security, is a crucial test of the ability of the AU to respond effectively to such crises. Yet draft agendas released in advance of the summit set aside no specific time for discussion of these pressing matters.

Given its complicity in the appalling abuses witnessed in Darfur, and also taking into account the entrenched patterns of human rights violations seen across Sudan as a whole, concern is expressed at Khartoum’s intention to submit a formal request to run for the AU presidency in 2008.

FIDH and SOAT call upon the AU and its member states to:

- Ensure that the Darfur crisis is on the agenda at this month’s summit and strongly criticize for failing to protect human rights;
- Firmly and publicly urge Sudan to cooperate in ensuring the unhindered deployment of UNAMID;
- Facilitate the peace process in Darfur and publicly urge to commit to peace negotiations and respect ceasefire;
- Ensure that the process of selecting the country to hold the AU presidency in 2008 takes into account the government of Sudan’s appalling human rights record, its complicity in atrocities in Darfur, and its defiance of decisions and resolutions of the AU, the ACHPR and other international bodies, including those calling for Khartoum to respect ceasefire agreements, end violence against civilians and cooperate fully with the ICC.

FIDH and SOAT urge the AU, its member states, in particular the government of Sudan to:

- Cooperate fully with the ICC, including by the adoption of an ICC-AU Cooperation Agreement, and to enforce the arrest warrants in order to ensure that justice will be done for the victims of Darfur.


Background information

Since 2003 the government of Sudan has been responsible for atrocities in Darfur including widespread murders, rapes, forced disappearances, torture and the destruction of countless villages and towns. In 2007 alone over a quarter of a million people were forced from their homes, driving the number of internally displaced persons to well over two million. Many are now living in camps that have recently been the scene of violent clashes, as well as armed raids and incidents of forced displacement carried out by the Sudanese authorities. With a total of more than four million people dependent on aid, humanitarian agencies are prevented from accessing large parts of the region by insecurity and ongoing fighting. This violence has stepped up in recent weeks, with cross-border bombing raids by the Chadian air force and intensified clashes between rebels and government forces in West Darfur.

In the meantime, deployment of the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is being hampered both by the failure of the international community to provide crucial equipment like helicopters and by concerted obstruction on the part of Khartoum. Of the projected total of 26,000 personnel, only 9,000 are currently on the ground. What is more, just days after UNAMID took over from the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) on December 31, one of its convoys was attacked by Sudanese government troops. Thanks in large part to Sudan’s efforts, the failure of UNAMID as an effective peacekeeping force currently seems a very real possibility.

While it is currently limited largely to North, West and South Darfur, the conflict continues to threaten to escalate far beyond its current boundaries. The recent Chadian bombing raids are a symptom of mounting tensions, with Khartoum and N’Djamena accusing each other of backing various rebel factions on either side of the border. Deployment of a UN-mandated European Union peacekeeping presence in eastern Chad and the Central African Republic, intended in part to protect and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Darfur who have sought safety across the border, is also facing delays. Furthermore, there are signs that the conflict could also spread eastwards into the Sudanese provinces of North and South Kordofan, which would amount to a significant deterioration.

Besides the crimes that continue in Darfur to this day, some of which are under investigation by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Sudanese government has continued to foster a culture of impunity for past abuses. No serious efforts have been made to ensure that the widespread human rights violations are addressed by the Sudanese judicial system. And rather than hand over the two men wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC – militia leader Ali Kushayb and former interior minister Ahmed Harun – the authorities have instead released the former from custody in Sudan and have made the latter responsible for dealing with the distribution of humanitarian aid and investigating human rights abuses in Darfur. Just last week, another senior government post was granted to Musa Hilal, a man widely considered to be a top commander of Janjaweed militias responsible for numerous atrocities in the region.

It must also not be forgotten that human rights violations in Sudan are not limited to its war-torn western region. Throughout the country, SOAT and other human rights organisations regularly report instances of abuses including arbitrary detention for lengthy periods, torture in custody, severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association, and concerted efforts to intimidate and obstruct the work of human rights defenders. When the Sixth AU Summit was convened in Khartoum in January 2006, the Sudanese authorities refused to allow a forum of non-governmental organisations to take place in the run-up to the meeting, a move that directly contradicted the AU’s recognition of the essential role played by such organisations in promoting and protecting human rights abuses.

In signing the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, AU member states affirmed their commitment to principles of liberty, justice, equality and human dignity. The Lisbon Declaration that emerged out of the European Union-Africa Summit, which was attended by dozens of AU members in Portugal last month, also underlined a shared concern for good governance, human rights and regional peace and security. In relation to Darfur in particular the AU has been active in efforts to facilitate peace talks between Khartoum and rebel groups, and in efforts to maintain a peacekeeping presence on the ground, both in the form of UNAMID and its predecessor the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). It has also spoken out strongly in the past against attacks on civilian populations in the region, and has urged the parties to the conflict to abide by ceasefire agreements and enter into peace talks.

Events in Darfur are at a critical stage and it is crucial that they should remain a key priority for African states and the international community as a whole. The handling of the appalling situation in the region is a key test case of the ability of the AU to respond effectively to crises and promote peace and security on the continent. At this moment in time, the reputation of the AU hangs in the balance, along with the futures of millions of Darfuris.

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