A.U. Avoids Embarrassment of Sudan as Organization's Head in 2006, but Doubts About A.U.'s Capacity to Resolve Darfur Crisis Increase
NEW YORK – While Human Rights First welcomes the fact that Sudan’s President has not been elected as Chairperson of the African Union in 2006, we are concerned that the government of Sudan’s position as summit host and A.U. chairperson in 2007 is undermining the organization’s ability to contribute effectively to the resolution of Africa’s many human rights problems, especially to ending the crisis in Darfur. “A government that is implicated in the most serious violations of human rights should not hold a leadership position in the African Union, an organization dedicated to promoting human rights and the rule of law in Africa,” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First.
The African Union sponsors the peacekeeping force in the Darfur region and is taking the lead in diplomatic negotiations on Darfur. Over two million people have been displaced from their homes in that area. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of the conflict in which the Sudanese government is one of the main protagonists. “The A.U. cannot effectively sponsor the peacekeeping operations or credibly lead diplomatic negotiations while the government of Sudan plays a leading role within that organization” added Byrnes.
The contradiction of having a government like that of Sudan host an international meeting was illustrated on January 22. Human Rights First condemns the detention on Sunday of 35 representatives of human rights and other non-governmental organizations in Sudan. Those who were detained included representatives of major African and international non-governmental organizations who were meeting in an open civil society forum convened in connection with the African Union summit. Security officers stormed into the room, disrupting the meeting and seized papers and lap-top computers belonging to the participants. Security officials searched, threatened and abused human rights activists before releasing them. Documents and computers seized from the participants have still not been returned. “We condemn this harassment of independent activists seeking to participate peacefully and constructively in an international meeting,” said Byrnes. “Sadly, this type of intimidation and repression is typical of the way the Sudanese authorities often operate.”