An African Union team tasked with facilitating an end to the six-year conflict in Darfur announced this weekend that its members would meet with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). South African President Thabo Mbeki, who chairs the AU’s Darfur panel, did not give details about what the AU hopes to achieve, but said the meeting would focus on issues of “justice.”
This is a notable development given the AU’s strong condemnation of the ICC’s arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. On March 6, just two days after the ICC issued its arrest warrant for Bashir, who is accused of orchestrating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, the African Union expressed its “deep concern” over the ICC’s decision through a communique. The African Union maintains that the arrest warrant makes resolution of the conflict more elusive and stated that the “search for justice should be pursued in a way that does not impede or jeopardize the promotion of peace.” However, in light of the newly created legal arm of the AU, which explicitly says that it will not bring cases against individuals, it is difficult to not see the AU’s stance on the ICC as a poorly disguised attempt by leaders of some member states (think Libya’s Gaddafi or Zimbabwe’s Mugabe) to avoid setting a precedent that could haunt them as well.
Mbeki and members of the AU’s Darfur panel are currently visiting Sudan and neighboring countries on a “listening tour” that will help inform the group’s position on how to resolve the conflict. A few of the countries on their itinerary have also recently played host to Sudan’s wanted president, including Ethiopia, Egypt, and Libya.
Within this context, it will be interesting to see what comes of the AU’s meeting with the ICC, which will take place “as soon as possible,” according to President Mbeki. The AU has made it clear that it wants to see the warrant deferred, but it’s unclear what, if any, conditions the 53-member organization would expect the Sudanese regime to meet before rewarding President Bashir with this deal.