July 4, 2009 / 8:37 AM / in 8 years

AU leaders vote to end Bashir cooperation with ICC

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - African Union heads of state voted on Friday not to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in its indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

<p>Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir attends the opening of the African Union (AU) summit in Sirte, about 600km (370 miles) east of Tripoli, July 1, 2009. REUTERS/Ismail Zetouny</p>

“(The African Union) decides that in view of the fact that a request of the African Union (to defer al Bashir’s indictment) has never been acted upon, the AU member states shall not cooperate pursuant to the provisions of Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the ICC relating to ... the arrest and surrender of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir to the ICC,” a text of the resolution obtained by Reuters said.

Two delegates told Reuters the resolution had been adopted by the AU heads of state summit on Friday.

The 53-member organisation wants a deferment of the indictment over war crimes carried out during fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region, saying the warrant for Bashir’s arrest compromises peace efforts in Darfur.

Reed Brody, legal counsel for New-York based Human Rights Watch, told reporters at the summit: ”This is going to give ... comfort to a man who is accused of some of the worst crimes of our time.

“The African people, who look to their leaders for justice and to put a halt to war crimes and atrocities, are the losers here today.”

However, he said it was not clear what practical effect the resolution would have because 30 African countries have signed up to the ICC and remain legally obliged to arrest Bashir if he visits.

In another politically charged prosecution, international rights groups have been pushing African leaders to put on trial Hissene Habre, the former president of Chad accused of thousands of cases of torture and political killing.

Senegal, where Habre has lived in exile since his overthrow in 1990, has agreed to try him but it has delayed the trial saying it lacks the funds to organise it.

The African Union on Friday did not press for a speedy trial, appealing only for donations from member states.

“This has become a political soap opera,” said Human Rights Watch’s Brody. “The African Union is stalling and stalling while the survivors of Habre’s regime, who have been fighting for 18 years to bring him to justice, continue to die.”

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