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Sudan: Into Uncharted Territory

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 9, 2009 (090309 )
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Sudan has entered uncharted waters as a result of the ICC [International Criminal Court] arrest warrant against President Omar al Bashir. And indeed it is a nothing less than roll of the dice, a gamble with unknown consequences. Yesterday marks a turning point. We cannot say for sure in which direction Sudan will turn but there are many reasons to be fearful." - Alex de Waal

Other analysts may disagree with de Waal about the wisdom of the ICC indictment, but no one can contest his observation that it is a turning point. Human rights advocates may celebrate the declaration that impunity will not stand, but they must also consider that it may in practice be an empty or even counterproductive gesture. The question is what next? Some, acknowledging that Bashir will not actually stand trial, see the indictment as an opportunity for increased pressure and compromises to come.

Even so, there is no sign that the world (or the Obama administration in particular) is ready for the complex mix of pressure and diplomacy that would be necessary to give peace a chance, or to protect the people of Darfur, when even the existing UN force in Darfur is far under strength.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains reflections on the new situation after the ICC indictment from Alex de Waal, the International Crisis Group, and the Enough Project. It also contains talking points from Africa Action stressing the imperative for the Obama administration to integrate policy on Darfur into a coherent approach on Sudan.

Additional analyses and updates from the various points of view in the statements included here can be found on the respective websites:,,, and

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Sudan, and additional background links, see

For regular updates on Sudan see,, and

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Uncharted Waters

Alex de Waal

March 5, 2009

"Making Sense of Darfur" Blog

The die is cast. Sudan has entered uncharted waters as a result of the ICC arrest warrant against President Omar al Bashir. And indeed it is a nothing less than roll of the dice, a gamble with unknown consequences. Yesterday marks a turning point. We cannot say for sure in which direction Sudan will turn but there are many reasons to be fearful.

Conflict resolution is in part an exercise in reducing uncertainty, bringing former enemies together, and finding a solution that everyone can live with. For the last eight years, a great deal of effort by Sudanese and their international partners has gone into trying to accommodate diverse and distrustful people, all of whom have the capability to bring the country back into the abyss of war and destruction, within a common agenda of making Sudan function. Incentives, sanctions and pressure were all part of the package. But key to success was a shared vision, often blurry but nonetheless real, that solving the Sudanese problem was a common national challenge and that all without exception have a place in the new Sudan which arises from this effort.

The ICC is the reverse: a human rights absolutism that demands that some people be ruled out entirely. The ICC pretends to be outside politics, representing principles on which no compromise is possible. The key word is 'pretense', to paraphrase David Kennedy: it is a nice fiction for the human rights community to believe that it is 'speaking truth to power' and not actually exercising power. The ICC arrest warrant is a real decision with real consequences in terms of lives saved and lost and the political life of a nation.

I for one cannot see a political way out of this mess. The International Crisis Group writes that 'the NCP is likely to look for a way out of a situation, by changing its policies or leadership. To succeed, it will need to change both.' This is groping in the dark. What is ICG actually advocating here? It seems to me that it is calling for a coup. An internal coup is possible though unlikely and not, to my mind, a solution.

As of yesterday, everything that any commentator or expert thinks he or she knew with confidence about Sudan becomes moot. Wishful thinking took the place of analysis. Nick Kristof wrote a few days ago that fears of aid agency expulsion were 'overblown.' He got it wrong. Many among the advocacy groups in Washington DC see this as an opportunity for leverage, a chance for peace. I fear not: the ICC is a terribly bad instrument of pressure, because (a) the pressure can never be removed and (b) pressure only works if the end point to which the pressure is applied can be accepted by the party being pressured. The ICC indictment meets neither of these criteria.

The examples of the arrest warrants against Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Charles Taylor of Liberia are routinely held up to demonstrate that good outcomes can prevail against skeptics such as myself. I don't believe it. Milosevic was in the process of losing a war against NATO and Taylor was in the process of being eased out of power (with a promise of safe asylum). The one international policy towards Sudan that has really worked the CPA is focused on a negotiated transition. Milosevic and Taylor ran one-man dictatorships which crumbled when they were removed. Bashir is not a one-man dictatorship on the contrary he has been overshadowed by his lieutenants for most of the last 20 years so the idea that his replacement by one of his colleagues would represent a democratic transformation is not well-founded. The precedent of Joseph Kony of the Lord's Resistance Army is more pertinent. The ICC arrest warrant against Kony initially galvanized the peace process but when Kony realized the warrant could never be lifted it became an obstacle to an agreement. Ugandans who initially celebrated the ICC have become disillusioned.

The international community is playing its second highest card by demanding an arrest warrant (the highest card would be invading the country). That card is a dud. The Sudan Government will ignore it and the leverage that the internationals possessed is shrinking fast. I suspect that we will look back on the last few years as a time when things worked as well as they ever did in contemporary Sudan when the CPA was implemented as well as could be expected, when death rates in Darfur fell from levels of famine and war to just 150 per month, when there were numerous opportunities for international engagement in moving things forward, slowly and imperfectly, but none the less forward.

Perhaps it will revert to this after a hiatus. Perhaps, with a wave of a magic wand, all of peace, justice and democracy will be realized in an instant. Possibly, some unexpected benefit will arise. Most likely, not. Yesterday was a sad day for Sudan.

The ICC Indictment of Bashir: A Turning Point for Sudan?

International Crisis Group

[Excerpts only. For full press release and statement visit]

Nairobi/Brussels, 4 March 2009: The International Criminal Court's indictment of Sudanese President Omar Bashir for atrocity crimes in Darfur provides an opportunity for Sudan and the international community to both fight impunity and bring peace to the country.

In an extended statement released today, The ICC Indictment of Bashir: A Turning Point for Sudan?, Crisis Group examines the consequences of his indictment for crimes against humanity and war crimes, both for Sudan and for the international community. It offers next steps for the ruling majority National Congress Party (NCP) and for the outside world to transform the political institutions and policies that drive conflict in Sudan.


Crisis Group's statement warns Khartoum of the risks of responding by lashing out against its own citizens in retaliation by declaring a state of emergency or clamping down on internal political opposition. Sudan's international allies have a strong interest in the country's stability, and they must pressure the regime to react with restraint. The ICC prosecutor should make it clear that anyone responsible for further atrocities will be held accountable.

Ideally, Bashir would resign and submit to the Court, but this is unlikely. Yet the status quo is unsustainable in the long term. There are increasingly those within the senior ranks of the NCP who believe Bashir's policy of confrontation with Sudan's peripheral regions (Darfur, Kordofan, Eastern and Southern Sudan) has been counterproductive. To preserve its economic interests and guarantee its survival, the NCP is likely to look for a way out of a situation, by changing its policies or leadership. To succeed, it will need to change both.

The government should make immediate and genuine moves to establish a credible system of judicial accountability and create an environment conducive for a peaceful settlement of the Darfur conflict, while fully implementing the agreed political reforms mandated under the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The signature of a declaration of intent with Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels in Doha is a useful first step to relaunch the Darfur peace process, but too many such commitments have been violated in the past to be taken as a evidence of a change in NCP policy.

As an incentive to drive change in Sudan, the international community should offer to lift sanctions and provide international aid, but only if the NCP provides irreversible and unconditional evidence of its commitment to the peace process. Similarly, the UN Security Council can consider the prospect of a deferral of Bashir's prosecution, but only after clearly demonstrated progress by the Sudanese government on all of these fronts. ...

Statement on the NGO Expulsions by Sudan

Mar 05, 2009

Enough Project

"The Obama administration and the other members of the United Nations Security Council must convey a simple and direct message to Khartoum: Access for relief agencies needs to be immediately restored, or the international community will use all necessary means to restore this access," said John Norris, Executive Director of the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress.

"The time has come for the international response to Darfur's agony to move beyond the rhetorical, and the vulnerable people of Sudan do not have time for lengthy policy reviews."

In response to the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese government has moved to expel humanitarian organizations from the most vulnerable areas of Darfur and other areas in East and North Sudan. In addition, a number of important Sudanese human rights defenders around the country have faced a broadening crackdown.

Enough Project co-founder John Prendergast noted, "The decision by Sudan to cynically deny its own citizens lifesaving aid threatens a profound humanitarian emergency and demands a robust and decisive response from the international community - and the Obama administration in particular."

President Bashir's government has a long history of cutting off humanitarian aid as a deliberate military and political strategy, and this tactic was widely used in Sudan's earlier North-South conflict.

President Barack Obama should now take a number of key steps, including:

  • Working with the U.N. Security Council to support a resolution authorizing an expanded United Nations peacekeeping force, known as UNAMID, backed by air support to guarantee the safe delivery of relief supplies;
  • Accelerating discussions both at the U.N. and with NATO allies regarding the institution of either a no-fly zone or other practical steps to counter continued violations by Sudan on the U.N. ban on offensive military flights in Darfur;
  • Working with the U.N. Security Council to implement targeted sanctions against those most responsible for violence in Sudan and imposing a comprehensive arms embargo against the government of Sudan;
  • Making UNAMID effective with a robust force on the ground in Darfur, with a competent lead nation and a clear command-and-control structure;
  • Working closely with interested parties with leverage in Sudan and the region, especially China, the United Kingdom, France, and key African countries, to coordinate efforts on peace, the protection of civilians, and accountability; and,
  • Appointing a senior special envoy to address not only the situation in Darfur, but Sudan's multiple conflicts and their regional dimensions.

Africa Action Talking Points on U.S.-Sudan Policy in an Obama Administration

March 03, 2009

Africa Action

Nearly 3 million internally displaced people. Hundreds of thousands dead. While the massacres of 2003-2004 are no longer commonplace, 4.7 million people today are affected by the conflict in Darfur. The Sudanese government deliberately restricts humanitarian access to these populations. Military aircraft continue to bomb rebel controlled areas where civilians reside. Over the past year, government forces have tried numerous times to forcibly evict civilians from some of Darfur's biggest camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Civilians, particularly women, work hard to live with dignity in the sprawling urban communities that IDP camps have become, but a climate of lawlessness, violence (including rape) and impunity for human rights abusers persists.

Darfur has not burned for five years because of a lack of global attention. On the contrary, the international community has mounted the world's largest humanitarian aid operation there. Over 13,000 humanitarian workers and one hundred relief agencies operate in the region, providing lifesaving support for civilians, but unable to address the root causes of conflict and poverty.

The United Nations Security Council has twice authorized UN-led peacekeeping missions for Darfur, and even with less than half of its 26,000 personnel in place as of October 2008, the hybrid African Union-UN force known as UNAMID is the world's biggest peace operation. Yet these forces have been unable to effectively fulfill their mandate of protection.

The massive and well-intentioned international response to the genocide in Darfur has been tragically ineffective for two main reasons. First, because of lack of political will, the international community has failed to follow through on its promises and back up its commitments with real action. Second, the U.S. and other external actors have approached Sudan's conflicts in isolation from one another. U.S. and European diplomats worked tirelessly to help broker the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan's decades- long North-South civil war, while ignoring massive atrocities unfolding in Darfur. As grassroots activists forced policymakers to focus their attention on Darfur, the international community essentially forgot about the CPA, and tensions between the North and South have escalated over the past year and pushed the treaty to the brink of collapse.

Despite the US' inability to garner a stronger international response, Qatar has taken upon itself to foster what has come to be known as the Qatari Initiative. By organizing talks between rebel groups and the Sudanese government with hopes of securing peace in the region, this initiative has recently been successful in brokering a peace agreement between one rebel group, The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese government.

However, with President Obama's expressed commitment to Darfur during his campaign trails, this new administration offers an opportunity for a new and more effective U.S.-Sudan policy. This Africa Action resource outlines a plan of action for the next president to break from the failures of the past and achieve peace, human security and justice for the people of Darfur and all Sudan.

The U.S. president should NOT pursue a parallel track of counterterrorism intelligence sharing with Khartoum.

President Obama's unwavering dedication to human rights began with the mandate to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Similarly, this new administration should continue to prioritize human rights abroad as it has demonstrated with its approach to domestic affairs. It should end this hypocrisy and make human rights, not the so-called "war on terror," the unambiguous top priority in U.S.- Sudan relations. Bilateral and U.S.-led multilateral diplomatic pressure has little credible effect when Sudanese officials know that despite whatever State Department officials say, U.S. intelligence agencies will continue to coddle them. John Prendergast of the Enough Project has aptly described the task faced by U.S. diplomats as "Sisyphean," as negotiators struggle to build leverage against Khartoum but are undercut by senior national security officials eager to maintain friendly intelligence sharing relations with the regime. This two-faced policy is outrageous, unacceptable, and should be reformed.

Rather than treating each of Sudan's conflicts in isolation, the U.S. must pursue an all-Sudan strategy where both Darfur and the CPA are top priorities.

A return to war between North and South Sudan would be a humanitarian disaster in and of itself and would doom hopes of peace and security for Darfur. The CPA stipulates that Sudan hold national elections by July 2009. Serious challenges emerged while conducting the national census in 2008 that will affect the fair representation of the citizens of Darfur and South Sudan in these polls. Adherence to the timeline laid out in the CPA is of particular importance to Southerners because of the 2011 referendum on whether South Sudan will remain part of the country or secede as an independent nation.

The U.S should do what it can in the short timeframe before polls occur to promote elections that are as free and fair as possible while vigorously preparing for contingencies around different likely contested election scenarios. U.S. development assistance should prioritize widespread social and economic development programs such as healthcare, education and food security across Southern Sudan, rather than military assistance. Violence and instability are less likely to erupt around flawed or contested elections if Southerners feel they are experiencing "peace dividends" tangible economic and social benefits linked to the CPA. The chance of full inclusion of Darfuris in the election is unlikely. Jumpstarting political negotiations between Darfuri rebels, the government and civil society leaders is the best thing the U.S. can do to help Darfuris gain an expanded voice in their governance structures.

In addition to the UNAMID force in Darfur, the U.S. should focus on improving the effectiveness of the separate UN peacekeeping operation in Southern Sudan known as UNMIS. UNMIS failed miserably in protecting civilians along the border region of Abyei when violence displaced some 50,000 people there in May 2008. The U.S. should work diplomatically and logistically to secure and implement a more robust mandate for UNMIS that will allow it to enforce demilitarized zones in the sensitive North-South border areas of Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.

While Darfur and the CPA should be the top U.S. priorities in Sudan, this administration must also do a better job of anticipating conflicts in other marginalized regions, such as the Northern state where communities have been forcibly displaced to accommodate hydroelectric dam construction. The international community should also put pressure on the Sudanese government to better implement the 2006 Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement.

Real diplomatic resources must be devoted to the pursuit of peace.

A full-time U.S. Presidential envoy should be appointed and equipped with a full team of dedicated junior and senior staff, including personnel based in Sudan. This team should persistently pursue round the clock diplomatic efforts to ensure both CPA implementation and to bolster a peace process for Darfur.

In the case of Darfur, the international community awaits the ICC's decision to indict President al-Bashir. With growing concern that his indictment could trigger a violent backlash, UN efforts should be emplaced to protect those working on behalf peace and justice in the region. U.S. diplomatic efforts should support the efforts of AU-UN Lead Mediator Djibril Bassole. In part, a new peace process should be modeled on the successful approach that yielded the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, but negotiators must also realize that these conflicts have different dynamics. The inclusion of Darfuri civil society and women's voices in political negotiations must be a top priority.

U.S. diplomacy needs to be better coordinated with the international community, including European allies, Arab and African states, and other countries that hold key leverage over Sudan such as China. Economic pressure such as sanctions won't be effective in changing Khartoum's behavior unless it is coordinated. The decline in U.S. international standing due to other foreign policy decisions over the past eight years has weakened U.S. ability to build effective multilateral coalitions. This administration should seize the political space presented by the end of the Bush presidency to reengage with the full range of international actors in pursuit of peace for Darfur.

The U.S. must do everything in its power to salvage success for UNAMID.

On October 7, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the UN aims to reach 65% deployment of the 26,000 person UNAMID peacekeeping force by the end of 2008, and 80% deployment for March 2009. Going beyond these benchmarks to get the full force on the ground as quickly as possible in 2009 and sustaining an effective presence for as long as necessary will require stronger U.S. leadership in the international community.

While it is true that some responsibility for the force's glacial deployment rests with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, it is unfair for the UN's most powerful member state to pass the blame to UN bureaucracy without doing more to solve the problem itself. The U.S. should continue to engage with the "Friends of UNAMID" working group to match troop contributing countries (TCCs) with appropriate training and logistical support from donors. These support efforts should see TCCs through every stage of the deployment process.

The U.S. needs to ask our allies in the international community to do more to provide the helicopters and other vehicles and equipment that UNAMID lacks. U.S. financial support for UNAMID so far has been robust President Bush authorized $100 million for the force. President Obama must ensure that this commitment continues and is matched with diplomatic pressure on the government of Sudan to stop obstructing the mission's deployment and free operation. Even in a time of increasing economic uncertainty at home, U.S. funding for UNAMID should not come at the expense of support for other peacekeeping missions in Africa and worldwide or other foreign assistance programs.

Keeping the promise to protect

Congress has shown a deep interest in Sudan, including passing the landmark Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act. However, it takes strong executive leadership to exercise the diplomacy and international pressure that the U.S. must use to effectively help bring peace to Darfur. President Obama has pledged to pursue peace and security for the people of Sudan with "unstinting resolve." From Day One in 2009 through the rest of his presidency, the American people must hold him to this task.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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