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”.