Tuesday, October 20, 2009



19th October, 2009

By Cyprian Musoke
and Milton Olupot

THE Sudanese government has dispatched two junior ministers to attend the AU heads of state summit on refugees, returnees and internally-displaced persons, Sudan state media reported yesterday.

Sudan’s official news agency, SUNA, said state minister at the interior ministry, Abbas Goma’a, and the refugee commissioner, Mohamed Ahmed Al-Agbash, will represent Sudan at the summit.

A new controversy erupted last week after President Yoweri Museveni said he had invited Sudanese president Omar el-Bashir to attend the summit.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity he allegedly committed in the western Darfur region.

“We invited him. He is a head of state of an Africa country and we invited him,” Museveni told the media last week.

He reiterated his position that the African Union had appointed its own probe team, led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, to look into the allegations.

“When the ICC warrant came out, our position in the African Security Committee was: let us not condemn Bashir and let us not condone him. But let us do our own investigation.”

Museveni assured Bashir that he would be safe from arrest if he visited Uganda.
Amnesty International criticised the remarks and called on Uganda to respect its international obligations under the Rome Statute.

“Uganda as a state party to the treaty establishing the ICC is obliged to cooperate with the court and “arrest and surrender anyone named in an arrest warrant to the ICC,” said the human rights group in a statement on Friday.

“If it fails to do so, the ICC can refer this clear violation of Uganda’s obligations to the Assembly of States Parties, the ICC oversight body.”

Since the ICC issued the arrest warrant on March 4, Bashir has visited seven states - Eritrea, Egypt, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe - none of which are parties to the ICC treaty.

This was the second time Uganda extended an invitation to the Sudanese president to take a part in a conference held on its territory.

In July, Uganda backtracked on an invitation it sent to Bashir for the Smart Partnership Dialogue conference and asked Sudan to send another official instead to avoid a ‘diplomatic incident’.

State minister for international affairs Henry Okello Oryem was quoted saying Bashir would be arrested if he came. Despite a phone call from Museveni to Bashir apologising for the statement, Khartoum expressed fury at Kampala.

It demanded the sacking of Okello Oryem and accused Uganda of breaching the AU resolution made in July which urged African countries not to cooperate with the ICC in enforcing the arrest warrant.

Despite the AU resolution, several states, including Botswana and South Africa, have said they would arrest Bashir if he entered their countries.

Meanwhile, the summit opened yesterday in Munyonyo, Kampala with a call on African leaders to address the causes of refugees. Addressing the executive council, political affairs commissioner Julia Dolly Joiner said displacement of people cannot be resolved by humanitarian aid alone.

“Improvements in governance, rapid economic development, more appropriate food security strategies and a whole range of actions will ensure that many of the root causes of displacement are addressed.”

Premier Apolo Nsibambi, who opened the session, said more than half a century after independence, the continent was still home to the largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons, amounting to 17 million.

“The inability to protect, assist and find timely resolutions to the problems that created these displacement situations is posing a major threat to Africa’s development.”

He said more than 2.5 million Ugandans fled their homes at the peak of the LRA rebellion in 2002, of whom 2.1 million have returned home.

“There is need to redouble efforts towards making conditions of places where IDPs return conducive and attractive as Uganda has done through the development of an IDP policy, a Refugees Act and a recovery framework.”

AU commission deputy chair Zainab Bangora said being a refugee is one of the most humiliating experiences in life.

“It takes out the very dignity you have as a human being. Africa cannot address the millennium development goals without taking into consideration its human resource problem,” he said.