Wednesday, August 06, 2008

AU Recruiting Top Lawyers Over Sudan War Crimes Probe

KHARTOUM 5 August 2008 Sapa-AFP


The African Union said it is drawing up a list of top lawyers to probe the situation in Sudan after the International Criminal Court prosecutor accused President Omar al-Beshir of genocide in Darfur.

"We have decided to create a panel of eminent lawyers which would come to work in Sudan. This has been fully accepted by Sudan," AU commission chairman Jean Ping told AFP in an interview on Monday.

Ping has warned that a request from the ICC prosecutor to arrest Beshir for alleged genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over the conflict in Darfur had thrown "more oil in the fire."

On July 21, the African Union called on the UN Security Council to delay a decision by the ICC on whether to indict Beshir and urged the Sudanese government to investigate human rights violations in Darfur without delay.

The Rome Statute allows the 15-member body to defer any ICC
investigation or prosecution by a renewable period of 12 months.

Ping said a team of "respected Africans" would come to Sudan "as soon as possible... to examine the situation, investigate themselves.

He said the lawyers would conduct a similar investigation to that of The Hague-based court in order to show "what the ICC did or did not do."

"We are going ourselves to investigate and work closely with the Sudanese government," he said. "Some of them may come from Africa, some of them may come from universities in England, in America, everywhere.

AU officials said the team would number seven to 10.

Last Saturday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who took power through a military coup three years before Beshir seized power in 1989, said the AU should itself probe war crimes allegations against the Sudanese ruler.

On July 14, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo accused Beshir of ordering his forces to annihilate three non-Arab groups in Darfur, masterminding murder, torture, pillaging and using rape to commit genocide.

If approved, the ICC indictment would be the first issued by the ICC against a sitting head of state.

Despite past promises, credible trials in Sudan for alleged rights abuses in Darfur - which would see the ICC drop its charges-have failed to emerge.

According to the United Nations, up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum in February 2003. Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.

Far from the angry reprisals that some predicted against UN
peacekeepers in Darfur or mass demonstrations, Sudan has been pressing ahead with a diplomatic campaign, harnessing chiefly Arab and African support, to freeze possible proceedings.

In renewing the joint AU-UN Darfur peacekeeping force's mandate last week, the Security Council noted concern that any indictment of Beshir might jeopardise peace efforts.

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