African Union asks Security Council to delay genocide prosecution of Sudan’s president

By Edith M. Lederer, AP
Friday, September 24, 2010

Africans ask UN to delay al-Bashir prosecution

UNITED NATIONS — The African Union asked the U.N. Security Council in a letter circulated on Friday to delay for a year the prosecution of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide and other alleged crimes.

In a letter to the council circulated Friday, the continent-wide organization said it wants the delay because a trial of al-Bashir would interfere with efforts to end the seven-year conflict in western Darfur.

“The processes under way in the Sudan are too critical to the future of the country and the stability of the region and the continent as a whole to be allowed to fail,” the African Union’s U.N. observer, Tete Antonio, said.

His letter was made public hours before a high-level meeting on Sudan on the sideline of the U.N. General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting. President Barack Obama and other leaders were expected to focus on a crucial referendum on southern independence scheduled for January, but prospects for peace in Darfur were also likely to be raised.

Last year judges at the International Criminal Court issued a warrant against al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In July, the judges added three counts of genocide, the first time the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal has issued genocide charges.

The Rome statute that set up the court allows the U.N. Security Council, under Article 16, to pass a resolution to defer or suspend for a year the investigation or prosecution of a case. It also gives the council authority to renew such a resolution.

In the letter to the council dated Sept. 15, Antonio said the AU’s Assembly and Peace and Security Council have consistently noted “with regret” that al-Bashir’s indictment “came at a critical juncture in the process to promote lasting peace, reconciliation and democratic governance in the Sudan.”

“In making the request for the Security Council to make use of its powers under Article 16 of the Rome statute to defer the proceedings against him, the AU is in no way condoning impunity,” he said.

The AU has repeatedly said that to achieve lasting peace in Darfur, “it is imperative to uphold the principles of accountability and bring to justice the perpetrators of gross human rights violations in that region,” Antonio said.

“At the same time, the African Union continues to underscore that it is equally important to ensure that the search for justice is pursued in a way that does not impede or jeopardize efforts aimed at promoting lasting peace,” he said.

Antonio asked the U.N. Security Council for “positive consideration” of the AU request to approve a resolution delaying al-Bashir’s prosecution.

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