Decision on AU Presidency: credibility of the African Union at stake

(NAIROBI, 22 January 2007) As preparations for the African Union (AU) summit get underway in Addis Ababa this week, a coalition of African non-governmental organisations (NGOs), has issued an urgent appeal to African Heads of State to consider the dire situation of millions of war affected civilians in Darfur before making a decision on the Presidency of the AU.

Further to the postponement of its appointment as President of the AU last year, the Government of Sudan is believed to be once again pressing heavily for its accession to the Presidency of the 53 member body.

In letters sent to African Heads of State this weekend, the Darfur Consortium, a coalition of over 40 African and Africa-focused NGOs, expressed “deep concern with respect to plans agreed last year by the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Khartoum, Sudan, to confer the AU Presidency for 2007-2008 on the Government of Sudan”. Such a decision, the group stated, had the potential to “seriously undermine the AU’s credibility and compromise the authority of its institutions”.

“We urge that African Heads of State examine carefully the role and function of the AU Presidency – both with respect to the vital responsibilities with which the AU is tasked in Darfur but also in order to maintain the credibility and effectiveness of the AU institution as a whole as guardian of peace and security on the continent,” said Dismas Nkunda, a spokesperson for the Consortium.
The Consortium’s letter, sent Saturday, pointed out that the situation for civilians in Darfur had significantly worsened since last year, particularly since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). Not only have attacks by Government forces on civilian areas increased, but credible reports also indicate that the Janjaweed militia are being rearmed rather than disbanded as required by numerous agreements. The splintering of the opposition and the proliferation of new armed groups has also contributed to an upsurge in violence.

In setting out the background to its opposition to the Sudanese Presidential bid, the Consortium drew attention to the vital role of the AU in stewarding the structures set up under the DPA and ensuring its fair implementation. The impartiality of the AU in monitoring the DPA would “be called into question should one of the parties to the conflict preside over the most important organ of the African Union,” the letter said. With revitalization of the faltering peace process essential to halting the conflict, any capacity for the AU to facilitate rapprochement “would be thrown in jeopardy should Khartoum assume the presidency of the African Union.” 

“The people of Darfur are suffering a crisis of confidence in the AU mission on the ground—what little trust remains will be destroyed if the very force charged with protecting them is seen to be directed from Khartoum”, said Dismas Nkunda today speaking from Nairobi. The neutral character of the AMIS mission must be preserved.

Nkunda also pointed out pointed out that the inter-state character of the Darfur conflict – with Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan all alleging mutual aggression – made the independent mediation role of the AU even more critical. “Where the AU must arbitrate in inter-state conflict we believe that is imprudent for such States to be considered for the Presidency”, said Dismas Nkunda. “The AU President must be free to act vigorously and impartially faced with threats to African regional peace and security”.

Decision on AU Presidency: African NGOs petition African governments to protect Darfur

Contact: Oladapo Awosokanre at + 251 912 129 331

Decision on AU Presidency: African NGOs petition African governments to protect Darfur

(ADDIS ABBABA, 26 January 2007): At a press conference in Addis Ababa today a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from across the continent presented a signed petition urging African leaders to consider the dire situation of millions of war affected civilians in Darfur.

African Heads of State will meet next Monday in Addis Ababa as part of the 8th African Union Summit.

Introducing the petition, which carrys the signatures of over five hundred representatives and delegates of non-governmental organisations attending the World Social Forum in Nairobi earlier this week, Achieng Akena, a spokesperson for the Darfur Consortium, described the “deep concern” felt by African and international civil society about the ongoing crisis in Darfur.

Mr Awosokoanre, of the Centre for Research Education and Development of Rights in Africa (CREDO-Africa), a member of the Consortium and one of those who led the Nairobi events, pointed out that the situation for civilians in Darfur had massively deteriorated in recent months. “All indications are that Darfur is on the brink of an even greater disaster than we have witnessed to date”.

It was essential, he said, that African States made renewed efforts to protect the people of Darfur. “The fate of millions of Africans hangs in the balance.”

The petition urges the African Union to compel the Government of Sudan to comply with its obligations to protect its population through:

* Halting the military scale up in Darfur and disarming the janjaweed militias responsible for a large part of the violence;
* Urgently agreeing and implementing a timetable of deployment of a hybrid protection force to Darfur by the United Nations and the African Union;
* Ensuring adequate access to Darfur by humanitarian personnel and the media;
* Reopening meaningful political negotiations with all parties, including the non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement.

The petition also calls upon African leaders to facilitate the deployment of peacekeepers to Chad where over a half a million displaced are desperately in need of security. It also suggests that African states need to send more African troops to Darfur.

The petition in particular highlighted the fact that the AU was faced with an organisational decision in the coming week which would critically impact the possibility of peace in Darfur.

“A decision on the AU Presidency in Addis must not comprise the neutrality and independence of the AU’s operation in Darfur” said Mr Alioune Tine, the Secretary General of the Senegalese organisation Rencontre Africaine Des Droits de l’Homme. He urged African States not to elect Sudan as the President of the 53 member regional organisation. It would, he said, create a dangerous conflict of interest.

He pointed out that the inter-state character of the Darfur conflict – with Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan all alleging mutual aggression – made the independent mediation role of the AU at this time even more critical: “Sudan cannot be the judge of conflicts in which it is involved” he said.

Finally Mr Tine declared his belief that, “African opinion will never accept a choice of Mr Bashir as President of the African Union. Such a move will discredit the institution and diminish the image of the African Union as an independent arbitrator in the eyes of the world”.