The 18th African Union Summit, scheduled from January 28 to the 30, is expected to focus on trade and resolving the violent conflicts that continue to destabilize the continent. But the list of urgent priorities is long and the Union’s ability to meet the multiple challenges is questionable.

The African Union Executive Council meets on January 26, 2012 in advance of the 18th African Union Summit (AU photo)

African Union: Successes and Failures

Over the past year, the African Union (AU) has seen both successes and failures in its efforts to protect human rights in the region. The unexpectedly peaceful referendum for South Sudan’s independence, for which the AU provided a monitoring team, marked a victory for the region after decades of protracted war between the Sudanese government and Southern rebels. However, the AU’s continued efforts to diffuse the escalating tension between Sudan and South Sudan have been largely unsuccessful.  Unresolved post-referendum issues, including border demarcation, have led to a breakdown in relations between the two states. The failure to demarcate the border has led to an escalation in aggression between the two nations over the past two months.  These incidents came to a head on December 4th  the armies of the two countries battled for the first time since the civil war over Jau, a town claimed by both countries.

Lack of Agreement over Oil Revenue Hinders Sudan-South Sudan Relations

Relations between the two countries have rapidly deteriorated making compromise on other unresolved issues increasingly untenable. Beginning in December, Sudan began siphoning off oil in the pipelines as back-payment for the still unresolved transit fee issue.  South Sudan claims this theft has amounted to $815 million in revenue lost. In retaliation, South Sudan announced it would begin shutting down all oil production, a move that could damage the oil pipelines and threatens to spark a confrontation between the two nations. The African Union responded quickly announcing its High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan has drafted an oil revenue sharing proposal that has already gained the support of member states, the United Nations, China, and the United States. Whether the proposal will be effective in diffusing tensions remains to be seen but the high level of engagement by the African Union on this issue is heartening.

Justice and Accountability in Sudan and the Role of the African Union

Unfortunately, the African Union’s progress on human rights protection and conflict resolution continues to be hindered by the organization’s disdain for the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Member states have repeatedly allowed Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to travel in their territories despite a year-old warrant issued for his arrest on charges of genocide and war crimes.  In October 2011, Bashir was allowed to travel to Malawi for a regional conference by the government in violation of Malawi’s obligations as a signatory of the Rome Statute.  The African Union defended Malawi’s decision and ordered member states not to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in arresting the Sudanese president.

Most recently, President Omar Al-Bashir traveled to Libya on January 7th, to strengthen ties with its new government. The same National Transitional Council (NTC), that hailed the ICC’s decision to issue an arrest warrant against President Muammar Gaddafi for crimes against humanity, has shown a shocking willingness to overlook the ICC’s warrant against the Sudanese President accused of the same crimes.

United to End Genocide released a statement denouncing the NTC’s acceptance of Bashir’s visit and called for international condemnation. The National Transitional Council’s indifference to international justice and the rule of law, despite being one of its principal beneficiaries, is an affront to the organizations that were instrumental in the protection of Libya’s civilians.

Opportunity to Stand against Impunity and Atrocities

The African Union will have its work cut out for it in the 18th Summit.  The volatile situation between Sudan and South Sudan must be resolved through an agreement on border demarcation and oil revenue sharing or the region risks having to deal with an international oil war. If the African Union is to establish itself as the regional authority it must make civilian protection a priority and stand against impunity. As an example, the AU need look no further than the League of Arab States, which has stepped up to take unprecedented action to help end atrocities in Libya and Syria.

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