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Letter to Member States of the African Union

November 17, 2005  
 
Member States of the African Union  
 
Your Excellencies:  
 
Human Rights Watch is writing to express its concern at the current proposal to hold the next African Union summit in Khartoum in January 2006. Furthermore, if the presidency of the African Union is transferred from Nigeria to Sudan in 2006 as a result of a vote held at the Summit, we believe that the credibility of the African Union will be seriously damaged. We believe that it is inappropriate for a government complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity such as the government of Sudan to be able to host an AU summit or to have the option of presiding over the African Union.

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Holding the Summit in Khartoum would contradict the African Union commitment to human rights as expressed in article 3 of its constitution and would be an unfortunate signal to African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) troops, to the people of Darfur where the AU has been playing a particularly important role and to the people of Africa. Human Rights Watch believes that the African Union should strive not only for propriety, but for the appearance of propriety in choosing its president and the location of its Summit. Leadership matters: it sets a tone for the way the African Union functions and is perceived within Africa and beyond.  
 
We are particularly concerned that the role of the African Union in Darfur in providing mediation of the conflict and forces on the ground to monitor the ceasefire and protect civilians may be undermined by the holding of the Summit in Khartoum and even more so if Sudan were to assume the presidency.  
 
Human Rights Watch welcomes the efforts of the African Unionís Peace and Security Council in seeking a peaceful solution to the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Darfur, Sudan. We greatly appreciate the Peace and Security Councilís extension of the mandate of the African Union mission in Sudan in its session on October 20, 2005. We note that it has increased the numbers of AMIS troops in Darfur from a small presence of some 300 a year ago to almost 7,000 today.  
 
We have supported the efforts of the African Union to protect civilians in Darfur, and the enormous resources it has devoted to this difficult task and to monitoring the humanitarian ceasefire signed in NíDjamena, Chad on April 7, 2004. The African Union has undertaken an extremely challenging task in Darfur. While AMIS has succeeded in bringing some measure of security to the areas in which it is deployed, its objectives are still not fulfilled. The warring parties, including the government of Sudan, continue to violate the ceasefire with impunity, and a peace agreement is yet to be achieved. It is vital that the African Union, which has such a large stake in the success of AMISóand in the restoration of peace and security in Darfur and the regionóbe able to continue its important intervention in Darfur.  
 
The Sudanese government has not been cooperative with AMIS, leading AMISí highest officer in Sudan, Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe, to publicly denounce several problems with the Sudanese government a month ago, including the government painting its military vehicles to look just like the white AMIS vehicles, government refusal to allow 105 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) to be imported by AMIS for use in Darfur, the Sudanese governmentís continued participation in coordinated attacks on civilians in Darfur with its militia allies, and other issues. The Sudanese government has ignored outstanding AU Peace and Security Council and UN Security Council resolutions to control these Janjaweed militias with the result that the African Unionís work in Darfur has steadily mounted and more than two million civilians continue to suffer without protection, justice or any hope of redress. While it appears that the Sudanese government has finally permitted the APCs to be brought to Sudan, the other issues remain unresolved.  
 
Appearances are important, and the holding of the Summit in Khartoum while there are still serious open issues between the AU and the Sudanese government would make it appear that any country can thumb its nose at the African Union yet will be permitted the prestige of hosting its Summit. The Sudanese government will no doubt read the continued AU acquiescence in Summit plans made before these difficulties developed as a sign that the AU member states do not support Ambassador Kingibe nor the AMIS troops.  
 
As to the upcoming selection of the president of the African Union, we understand that the presidency of the African Union is not linked to the sponsorship or hosting of the Summit, and that the next president will be chosen by vote taken at the Summit. We fear that if the AU leadership does not take action at this time to seek an acceptable candidate for the presidency, President Omar El Bashir might be elected AU president in January 2006.  
 
If that were to happen, the credibility of the African Union as a neutral mediating entity in Darfur would be irreparably damaged. For instance, last monthís meeting of the Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa was chaired by the government of Sudan. Despite the rising violence in Darfur, that government succeeded in keeping the issue of its western region of Darfur off of the Peace and Security Councilís agenda. If President El Bashir were to become AU president, the Sudanese government would no doubt take a similar approach and obstruct any efforts to further discuss or intervene in Darfur. It would be inappropriate and undesirable for a party to a ceasefire to lead the group responsible for monitoring that ceasefire. The conflict of interest presented is enormous and insurmountable. The appearance of propriety and objectivity the African Union wishes to project to the world would be fundamentally compromised.  
 
According to the January 2005 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Darfur, the Sudanese government, because of its conduct of the war in Darfur, is implicated in serious crimes that might include crimes against humanity and war crimes. These allegations are so serious that the Security Council has referred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court. Our own research, and that of other non-government groups, has found that the entire crisis that the African Union is attempting to resolve is the result of pernicious Sudanese government policies enflaming ethnic hatred and deliberately using one ethnic group against others in a scorched earth campaign that has resulted in the deaths of more than 180,000 and the violent robbery and displacement of another two million people. It would besmirch the credibility of the African Union as an institution founded on the principles of human rights and the rule of law for Sudanese President Omar El Bashir to assume the presidency of the African Union in January 2006 under these circumstances.  
 
We believe that the African Union is committed to respect for human rights and that it supports justice and accountability. We remain convinced that the African Union Mission in Sudan has been a worthy one and that international support for this mission was and is deserved. We urge you to act quickly, however, to assure that the credibility of the African Union and that support and approval the mission has enjoyed are not destroyed by the act of holding the Summit in Khartoum in January 2006 and by the act of making the Sudanese president the president of the African Union.  
 
Sincerely,  
 
Peter Takirambudde  
Executive Director  
Human Rights Watch Africa Division

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