FEATURE ARTICLE

Augustine C. OhanweWednesday, September 13, 2006
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AFRICAN UNION AND THE DARFUR SITUATION


he demise of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) heralded the birth of a new regional actor, the African Union. On its birth, Africans shouted hurrah for a new dawn that will usher in a new constructive path. A new Union that would draw vital lessons from the mistakes of its predeccessor.


The OAU was a conservative regional organisation. It did not support boundary changes. Colonial drawn boundaries were accepted and defined as sacrosanct. It also maintained the doctrine of non-intervention particularly with regard to internal conflict of its member states. Disturbingly, it remained indifference while the winds of social evolution and political changes swirled around Africa. It was unable to readjust to the shift in the global arena. Such embarrassing lukewarm attitude to tackle even the post-Cold War conflicts in Africa was mourned by those who had longed for a strong regional actor. Former colonialist took advantage of its conservative posture to show their presence in African conflicts involving their ex-colonies and defined the outcome of such conflicts.

However, it was in the Chadian Conflict of 1980-81 that the OAU managed to do away with its non-intervention policy to take a bold and concrete resolve to halt internal conflict of its member state whose escalation was on the verge of sucking in the neighbouring states. The OAU intervention in Chad at that time checked external intervention. It reached a resolution that the Libyan and French troops stationed in Chad must to leave with immediate effect. It also prevented foreign powers especially the US from supplying weapon to the waring factions. In its entire life span, its achievements remains meagre hence its demise was not mourned.

Its successor, the African Union (AU) was not expected to walk in the shadow of its predeccessor but to chart a new compass that sees through the prism of post-Cold War realities. But its recent pronouncement that it would leave Darfur at the end of September 2006, at the insistence of the Sudanese government constitutes a worrisome development. It casts a dark shadow over the security of the people of Darfur.

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It is true that Art. 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits the inviolability of each member state. But it should also be remembered that the UN Charter is not written on a stone tablet. It is therefore subject to modification in order to accommodate contemporary realities. This vision may have prompted the former UN Secretary-General to advance a remarkable shift in the attitude of the UN to domestic jurisdictions and non-intervention clause. A noteworthy shift was amplified in 1991 in the annual report of Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cueller. He stated in a vivid language:

"It is now increasingly felt that the principle of non-interference within the essential domestic jurisdiction of states cannot be regarded as a protective barrier behind which human right could be massively and systematically violated with impunity . The case for not impinging on sovereignty, territorial intergrity, and political independence of states is by itself indubitably strong. It would only weaken if it were to carry the implication that sovereignty.includes the right to mask slaughter or of launching systematic campaigns of decimation or forced exodus of civilian population in the name of controlling civil strife or insurrection".

Such a statement emanating from the Secretary-General represents a tremendous shift when we realise that traditionally the UN was created to deal with conventional conflicts between states. This new shift could be interpreted as an attempt to accomadate post-Cold War reality. In order to clarify this new policy, the UN Security Council's 31 January 1991 Summit Declaration defined the new threats to international security to include "non-military sources of instability in economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields". This means that the UN has moved beyond its traditional definitions of international threats involving civil wars or aggression of states.

Furthermore, in his book entitled Agenda for peace published in 1992, the former UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutro-Ghali views the traditional definition of sovereignty as colliding somewhat with the reality of post-Cold War. Within the post-Cold War landscape, Boutros Ghali advocates that the UN has the right to intervene in any conflict area to enforce the peace regardless of sovereignty. He further argues that problems emanating from poverty, social unrest and humanitarian tragedies in just one state, if left unchecked, might reach a magnitude that is capable of disrupting the stability of the entire region. It was against this deduction that the UN intervened to protect the Kurds in Iraq and its intervention in the former Yugoslavia. By responding to the Iraqi treatment of its Kurdish minorities and halting the ethnic cleansing initiated by the Bosnian Serbs against their neighbouring ethnic group, the UN has directly challenged the sanctity of sovereignty. Such action shows that non-intervention clause cannot prevent the UN from intervening against a state's horrendous acts against its own people.

The UN diplomatic tango with the Sudanese government on the plight of the people of Darfur has not, at the time of writing this article, yielded any positive result. Worse still, the African Union, at the insistence of the Sudanese government, will pack and leave Darfur at the end of September, 2006. The Sudanese soldiers, not the UN forces will fill the vaccum. Based on the alleged collaboration of the Janjaweed with the Sudanese soldiers, the proposed departure of African Union troops from the region constitutes a worrisome development.

The African Union falls within what is defined as "a regional arrangement" under Art. 52 of the UN Charter and should expolit such status well as its predeccessor did in the Chadian conflict of 1980-81. Posterity will not forgive both the UN and the African Union should the plight of the people of Darfur degenarates from worse to worst.