A newly-formed high-level African Union panel has been assigned the task of developing a formula that would reconcile calls for justice in Darfur with the need to heal the wounds of war. Panel chairman Thabo Mbeki is looking for inspiration in the reconciliation process that brought an end to apartheid in his native South Africa.
Mr. Mbeki's panel has a daunting three-fold mandate. First, come up with a proposal for expediting the peace process in Darfur. Second, advise the African Union on how to face the challenge of dealing with war crimes and those who commit them. Third, to find a way to achieve reconciliation among the region's warring parties.
The eight-member panel has until the end of July to submit its report.
Even before it began work, the panel has been accused of being little more than a mask for efforts to delay the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) war crimes indictments against Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The African Union is on record as opposing the indictments, calling them an obstacle to peace.
But Mr. Mbeki says the panel's work will not include a critique of the ICC indictments. "There isn't any specific mandate from the African Union for us to assess the work of ICC. The African Union decided some time back and has reaffirmed that decision, that it would prefer the (UN) Security Council should defer the serving of warrants on President Bashir for 12 months... so the African Union itself, never mind the panel, is saying, can you take this matter and put it in abeyance so we can deal with this matter?," he said.
Mr. Mbeki told reporters he accepts the need for an end to impunity in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people are believed to have died in six years of war marked by ethnic cleansing. But he says while the ICC indictments may strike a blow against impunity, they will do little to soothe the hatreds that have spawned massacres and worse in the vast region of western Sudan.
Speaking of his own experience in South Africa, he recalled the decision not to prosecute leaders of the hated apartheid regime, even though they could have been brought to trial for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of black people.
"The African Union takes the position that we really need to do something to ensure we do achieve peace as a matter of urgency, that we do address the issue of war crimes, impunity, etcetera, and that we seriously have a look at how to reconcile the Sudanese people after all these terrible conflicts," he said.
African Union leaders authorized the Mbeki panel at their last summit in February, after it became clear the ICC would issue arrest warrants for President Bashir. The indictments handed down March fourth accuse the Sudanese leader of orchestrating atrocities against civilians in Darfur.