Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Letter to the Assembly of African Heads of State and Government On The Situation In Sudan and Chad by Peter Takirambudde
Human Rights Watch respectfully requests that the Assembly of African Heads of State and Government at the Eighth Summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa ensure that protection of civilians in Darfur, Sudan, and Chad is given utmost priority. In support of this objective, Human Rights Watch would like to draw the Assembly's attention to three concerns: the disastrous effects of Sudanese government policy in Darfur, the escalating crisis in Chad and Sudan's bid to become chair of the African Union.
Situation in Darfur, Sudan
Over the past year, the situation in Darfur has significantly worsened. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been newly or repeatedly displaced by violent attacks by all the warring parties in 2006, but particularly by attacks from the Sudanese Armed Forces and its armed militias. Thousands of civilians are victims of attacks including rape and sexual violence, killings, forced displacement and looting of civilian property. Reports of the African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS) and the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) confirm the Sudanese government's continuing responsibility for armed attacks on civilians, whether through indiscriminate aerial bombardment or targeted ground attacks. Despite the efforts of the AU mediators who brokered the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), there has been no improvement on any of the key benchmarks for progress in Darfur: accountability, protection of civilians and reversal of the ethnic cleansing that has taken place since 2003.
Instead, the Sudanese government renewed recruitment of, and logistical and financial support to, militias in late-2006. It continues to manipulate ethnic differences among communities in Darfur, stoking serious inter-communal tensions and violence. It has not made any serious effort to end the impunity of perpetrators of international crimes in Darfur. No senior or even mid-level officials or military commanders have been prosecuted or even investigated for serious crimes in Darfur. On the contrary, the Sudanese government maintains institutional impunity for those responsible for crimes by using legislation and presidential decrees to confer amnesties upon the perpetrators and by actively discouraging those who would seek judicial remedies.
In addition, Sudan has increased obstacles on international access to Darfur in 2006, despite the fact that Darfur remains one of the world's gravest human rights crises and several million people remain partly or wholly dependent on international humanitarian aid. Access for media and international human rights groups remains limited or non-existent and Sudanese officials are placing increasing bureaucratic restrictions on humanitarian agencies trying to operate in the region. These initiatives are clearly part of a policy of trying to limit the free flow of information from Darfur, particularly while Sudan continues to flout the numerous ceasefire agreements and other commitments it has made to refrain from attacks on civilians and their property.
Despite its utter failure to protect its citizens in Darfur, the Sudanese government continues to resist any international attempts to improve protection of civilians, including through the deployment of a UN force as requested by the UN in August 2006 and by the AU at several Peace and Security Council meetings in 2006. Even though the government agreed to the deployment of an AU-UN hybrid force in November 2006 in the Addis Ababa meeting, Sudanese officials are now obfuscating and reneging on earlier pledges.
Attacks on civilians in eastern Chad
The escalating armed conflict in eastern Chad—and its effects on hundreds of thousands of Chadian civilians—is a serious concern to Human Rights Watch. While there are clearly internal Chadian factors responsible for some of the violence, there are also links between the Chadian conflict and Darfur's crisis. Militias supported by the Sudanese government are active in the border area and some have been responsible for cross-border attacks on civilians. Sudanese support for Chadian rebel movements has also contributed to the cycle of proxy war unfolding along the Chad-Sudan border. In this regard it must be said that the Chadian government is equally responsible for support to Darfur rebel movements, some of whom have forcibly recruited refugees, including children, into their ranks.
The Chadian government's efforts to fill the security vacuum along its border with Sudan include arming select ethnic groups, a policy that is fuelling inter-communal tensions. These developments are having appalling effects on civilians living in the border zone, and the situation will only worsen if immediate action is not taken.
Sudan's candidacy for the presidency of the African Union
At the Khartoum Summit in January 2006, the states of the African Union agreed to postpone Sudan's presidency of the African Union and to reconsider the question at the 2007 Summit. Despite its record of international crimes in Darfur, its failure to take any genuine action to protect Sudanese civilians in Darfur and the grave deterioration of the situation in Darfur in 2006, Sudan continues to seek one of the African continent's highest honors.
African Union members should unequivocally reject Sudan's candidacy in view of the Sudanese government's responsibility for crimes against humanity, serious deterioration in Darfur in 2006 and its refusal to reverse or even alter any of the abusive policies that have caused such destruction and loss of life in the region. Sudan's chairmanship would not only undermine the ongoing and future role of the African Union as mediator and peacekeeper in Darfur, it would irrevocably damage the African Union's global credibility as an institution devoted to human rights.
Human Rights Watch urges the African Union to implement the following recommendations at the January 2007 Summit in Addis Ababa:
- Condemn the Sudanese government's continuing attacks on civilians and its obstruction of UN deployment, and call for Sudan's immediate and unconditional agreement to, and facilitation of, an enhanced international protection force in Darfur.
- Call on the government of Chad to immediately cease support for abusive Darfur rebel groups and other abusive armed groups, support the deployment of an international force along the border with Sudan to deter further attacks on civilians, monitor the existing UN arms embargo on Darfur and help implement the Tripoli Agreement of February 2006 between Sudan and Chad.
- Ensure that Sudan is not elected as chair of the African Union.
African Union Peace and Security Council
African Union Secretariat
Ambassadors to the African Union
Source: Human Rights Watch
Tuesday, January 30, 2007