A special court for Darfur crimes?
The African Union's 15-member Peace and Security Council has endorsed the idea of a special hybrid court for Darfur crime suspects - a proposal that could be a solution to the ICC-Khartoum quarrel.
The 15-member African Union Peace and Security Council's endorsement of the idea of a special hybrid court for Darfur crime suspects could be a solution for the ICC-Khartoum quarrel.
The summit that has been held in the Nigerian capital Abuja stressed the need for both a solution to the conflict in Darfur and justice for the victims of the crimes committed during the war. The idea of a hybrid court has been proposed by a special AU panel on Darfur headed by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
After all, the hybrid idea seems to have worked in Darfur with regard to peacekeeping. Not that peace in Darfur has been successfully maintained. But at least, after serious and protracted discords between Sudan and western nations over how to deal with the situation, a combined force of UN and African Union troops has been deployed and an end has been put to the row.
The proposed court will, if endorsed by the UN security council, be an alternative to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. Sudan is not a member of that international body and says it's not bound by its decisions. The proposed court will be comprised of both Sudanese and international judges. Necessary measures will be taken to ensure its independence and its efficacy. Where it will be headquartered is not decided yet but it's a very important point once the idea is accepted in principle.
Worth noting is that the African summit's communiqué, according to the Nigerian press, has clearly stated that:
"the AU endorsed the introduction of legislation to remove all immunities of state actors suspected [of] committing crimes in Darfur, establishment of a Trust, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to promote truth telling and appropriate acts of reconciliation and to grant pardons as considered suitable."
But for some observers, the AU decision is once again a remarkable victory for the Sudanese government - a sleight of hand, in fact, for Khartoum's active diplomacy in the African sphere. Previous similar situations abound. For instance, the AU's total and unanimous rejection of the ICC's indictment for the Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir. Also, the AU has been supportive of Sudan in its previous row with the West over the replacement of AU troops with a UN force. The result has been the UN-AU hybrid force in Darfur.
Will the same thing happen now regarding the really vexed issue of the ICC's arrest warrant for high ranking Sudanese officials including President Bashir?
While reactions from the UNSC members are still unclear, the Sudanese government has voiced a reserved welcome to the AU project. Sudan's vice president Ali Othman Taha said there are positive aspects to the AU proposal in general but the court's idea in particular should be discussed by his government to make sure it doesn't contradict Sudan's national laws.
But it's not unlikely that deep inside the Khartoum government's mind, the idea is not so bad at all. At least, it's much better for them than The Hague's alternative. Whether this new court - if it materializes - will have the power to bring the Sudanese president to trial is not clear. But Khartoum may pin its hopes on a total revision of the suspect list itself by the potential court as well as a consideration of the factor of presidential immunity.
In the worst case scenario, this hybrid thing can buy the Sudanese government more time and provide them with a point of argument in their pitched battle against the ICC and its staunch supporters in the UN Security Council.