African States Object to International Prosecution of Sudan's War Criminals

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - A push by the United Nations Security Council for an international tribunal to punish the perpetrators of atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region is being resisted by the African Union, which says the matter should be handled internally.

Prodded by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Security Council on Monday held a session to discuss the possible strengthening of peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, the question of sanctions, and ways to hold accountable those accused of crimes against humanity.

Annan expressed satisfaction that a Council resolution expected soon "will include agreement on a mechanism for holding individuals accountable for these dreadful crimes."

"That is good," Annan said. "We must send a clear message that the world is not going to tolerate them."

Most members of the Security Council are understood to support calls to have suspected Darfur war criminals prosecuted at the new International Criminal Court in The Hague. The United States, which does not recognize the ICC's authority, wants an ad hoc tribunal set up using the infrastructure of an existing tribunal for Rwanda, in Tanzania.

But the AU opposition could cause new problems.

The 53-member pan-African body issued a statement urging the Security Council "to relinquish the issue of the trial of persons involved in Darfur incidents."

AU Chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, said the issue was "an African-Sudanese affair" and that the AU was still looking for an "acceptable means of bringing the culprits in violation of human rights in Darfur to book."

A U.N. Commission of Inquiry said in February it had found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by government-backed militia and rebels who took up arms against Khartoum two years ago. It recommended that suspects should be tried by the ICC.

Apart from its objections to court action, Sudanese Foreign Minister Naguib al-Khair Abdel Wahab said his government also rejected any action by the Security Council that would affect mediation efforts in Darfur, or impact on the implementation of a peace agreement signed in January to end a two-decade civil war in southern Sudan - a conflict not directly related to Darfur.

A 1,900-strong AU force is carrying out a peacekeeping mission in the troubled region, where at least 70,000 people have been killed and another two million displaced in two years of fighting.

Annan, who has proposed a 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force, said Tuesday that an AU-led assessment team will visit Darfur to establish what was needed to strengthen security there.

"The European Union and the U.S. will also have members on the team and after that mission we will do a serious re-assessment of what needs to be done," Annan told reporters.

Meanwhile an urgent call for increased international aid for southern Sudan was made by Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, who said that only five percent of $500 million needed for reconstruction and repatriation of 4.5 million refugees and displaced people in the south was in hand.

"Either the world comes up with the investment or we lose the historic opportunity to put right one of the worst wars of our generation," Egeland said after a four-day visit to Sudan.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington the U.S. had raised the issue of donor commitments to Sudan in various international forums, and noted that a donor's reconstruction conference for southern Sudan would be held in April.

"We do continue to urge other donors to contribute to consolidating peace," Boucher said.

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