“Sudan: Peace Agreement Around the Corner?” Professor Eric Reeves, Smith College (March 11, 2004″
House Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on Africa
Mr. Chair and distinguished members of the committee.
The timing of this hearing could not be more auspicious—the question posed in its title could not be more urgent. For there can be no mistaking that this is Sudan’s moment of historical truth. If a just and comprehensive peace agreement is not reached in the very near term at talks in Naivasha (Kenya), it will not be reached at all.
The main outstanding issue of Abyei—one of three contested areas along the historic north/south border—is little more than a diplomatic place-holder for Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime in these historic peace talks, a device for stalling negotiations. This is hardly surprising, since such stalling continues a pattern of diplomatic evasion, foot-dragging, and bad faith that goes back many years—certainly over the past decade of efforts by the East African Intergovernmental Authority for Development to negotiate an end to the Sudan’s catastrophic civil war.
Khartoum knows full well that all historical and moral equities dictate that the Ngok Dinka district of Abyei should be part of the south. Yet the regime refuses to acknowledge these realities, preferring instead to use the issue of Abyei as a means of retarding further progress on a comprehensive peace agreement. For Khartoum also knows the critical significance of Abyei to the southern cause, and the impossibly unjust nature of an agreement that simply abandons Abyei to northern Sudan.
But why is Khartoum remaining so intransigent? Why with a peace agreement so clearly within reach is the regime failing to take the last steps?
For an answer we must look to Darfur, in far western Sudan, where the regime is presently conducting a vast military campaign directed primarily against civilians among the African tribal groups of the region—the Fur, Zaghawa, Massaleit, and others. War in Darfur has escalated rapidly over the last year, and especially the last four months. Militarily, Khartoum has been badly surprised and only now feels that it is making progress. The present pursuit of a military solution has come even as the regime has repeatedly refused to entertain the possibility of a negotiated political settlement to what are finally longstanding political problems, and has refused meaningful international auspices for the negotiation of a humanitarian cease-fire.
Believing that the international community will not respond with appropriate force or urgency to the catastrophe in Darfur so long as an agreement in Naivasha can be made to seem “imminent,” Khartoum now hopes to resolve the crisis in Darfur militarily prior to any final peace agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army. Tragically, the international community has given Khartoum all too much reason to believe that the costs of an intransigent pursuit of military victory in Darfur will not be excessive.
This is so despite reports from many UN officials, human rights organizations, and journalists—reports clearly suggesting that what is occurring in Darfur is genocide, that the military actions of Khartoum and its Arab militia allies (the “janjaweed”) amount to the destruction of these various African peoples because of who they are—”as such,” to borrow the key phrase from the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The current phrase of choice among diplomats and UN officials is “ethnic cleansing”; but given the nature and scale of human destruction, and the clear racism animating attacks systematically directed against civilians from the African tribal groups, the appropriate term is genocide. Amnesty International has recently reported authoritatively on this ghastly reality. Among the many chillingly similar interviews from persons displaced from Darfur into Chad, we hear:
“A refugee farmer from the village of Kishkish reported the words used by the militia: ‘You are Black and you are opponents. You are our slaves, the Darfur region is in our hands and you are our herders.'”(Amnesty International Report, page 28)
“A civilian from Jafal confirmed [he was] told by the Janjawid: ‘You are opponents to the regime, we must crush you. As you are Black, you are like slaves. Then all the Darfur region will be in our hands. The government is on our side. The government plane is on our side to give us ammunition and food.'” (Amnesty International Report, page 28)
There is a terrible prescience in comments made by an African tribal leader to a UN news service several months ago:
“‘I believe this is an elimination of the black race,’ one tribal leader told IRIN” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, al-Geneina [Darfur], December 11, 2003)
It is in this context that I would remind the subcommittee of a key finding from Section 2 of the Sudan Peace Act, passed virtually unanimously by both houses of Congress:
“The acts of the Government of Sudanconstitute genocide as defined by the [UN] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (78 U.N.T.S 277)” (Sudan Peace Act, Section 2. Findings. Number 10. October 2002)
The Sudan Peace Act was of course signed into law several months before the conflict in Darfur began to accelerate into the massive human catastrophe that is now all too fully in view. But this only makes it more urgent that we face the disturbing reality before us: the Khartoum regime, one of the negotiating parties in the Naivasha peace talks, has already been condemned for genocide in southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile—and now it stands clearly guilty of the same monstrous crime in Darfur. We must assess, soberly and realistically, the value of a signature from a regime guilty of such unspeakable crimes.
We must also remember that Khartoum’s actions in interfering with humanitarian access to Darfur, actions that have been castigated by many international humanitarian organizations—most recently the International Committee of the Red Cross—contravene obligations spelled out in the Sudan Peace Act. The Act requires the President to certify that “the Government of Sudanhas not unreasonably interfered with humanitarian efforts” (Section 6 [b]). Under present circumstances in Darfur, such certification cannot possibly be made in good faith.
To be sure a formal peace agreement may well be right around the corner, if Khartoum finds it expedient to reach such agreement. But even if we have a signing ceremony tomorrow, we will still be far from seeing that such an agreement is translated into a just and sustainable peace. Khartoum’s brutality and cynicism should make clear to all that the urgent planning and deployment of an international peace support mission is far behind schedule. Indeed, to date such planning seems to have been undertaken without a clear understanding of how much will be required—logistically, materially, organizationally, and perhaps militarily. Nor has the international community begun to respond to the urgent task of funding the redeployment and demobilizing of Khartoum’s military forces in southern Sudan—a critical task if the terms of the breakthrough agreement on security arrangements (September 25, 2003) are to be realized in timely fashion.
On another critical front, there is no meaningful US funding commitment to provide transitional aid following an agreement. The State Department committed to a “large peace dividend” for Sudan following a peace agreement; these critical resources were promised in testimony by then-Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner on May 13, 2003, in a hearing very much like this one. So far, the promise has proved thoroughly empty.
There is nothing that begins to approach an adequate US commitment to the urgently needed resources for emergency transitional aid in southern Sudan following a peace agreement. Reliable estimates suggest, for example, that as many as 1 million internally displaced persons will be attempting to return to the war-ravaged south in the first six months following a peace agreement. The consequences of such massive migration may well be catastrophic, perhaps violent, and may even serve as a pretext for resumed war, especially in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile. Additional resources are also needed for further efforts at encouraging south/south dialogue and in providing incentives for armed militias of Upper Nile to own the peace.
We must recognize that there is yet another major obstacle to a sustainable peace. It is the same obstacle that has heretofore made securing peace so difficult: the assertion, direct and implicit, that there is somehow a “moral equivalence” between the southern opposition in the form of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army and the Khartoum regime of the National Islamic Front, both in conduct of war and in diplomatic commitment to peace.
Let us be decisively clear here: there is no equivalence. Yet repeated suggestions to the contrary appeared in last April’s woefully inadequate State Department certification per the terms of the Sudan Peace Act. Troublingly, even the most recent State Department interim report on the peace process (February 2004) suggests a continuation of this intellectual, finally moral failure in assessing events. Though the SPLA has been guilty of serious human rights abuses, including the diversion of food aid for military use and forced conscription, there is nothing that compares with the relentless, brutal, finally genocidal conduct of war by Khartoum.
Whether there is peace or war, an agreement in Naivasha or not, US policy simply must not be guided by a premise of moral equivalence. For only one party in Sudan’s conflict has deliberately, relentlessly bombed civilian and humanitarian targets in southern Sudan and other parts of Sudan for many years; only one party has deliberately, repeatedly, and precipitously denied humanitarian access to many hundreds of thousand of civilians, with many tens of thousands of attendant casualties; only one party has conducted massive scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions of Upper Nile; only one party has deployed as a barbaric weapon of war the enslavement of human beings.
We must keep all this in mind if talks at Naivasha fail. For failure will surely have derived from Khartoum’s intransigence—from the deliberate collapse of the peace process by means of a contrived and wholly unjustified assertion of control over the Ngok Dinka district of Abyei. Here, by way of explanation, we may speculate about political divisions within the National Islamic Front, greed for Abyei’s oil reserves, or pressures coming from the Misseriya tribal leaders in the larger Abyei area—but we will know in any event where responsibility for failure lies and we must respond accordingly. The first opportunity for such response will come in April, with the next reporting requirement stipulated by the Sudan Peace Act. There must be no assertion of equivalent responsibility for the collapse of the Naivasha talks, should this occur. For such equivalence is, in the minds of the National Islamic Front regime, the necessary diplomatic victory.
Further, if there should be a final peace agreement, it is critically important that the immense tasks of construction/reconstruction and peacekeeping in the south and the contested areas be shouldered immediately. They are daunting in the extreme, and the danger of renewed fighting will be present for years. Here again we must not succumb to the fiction of moral equivalence: for it is the south that has endured catastrophic human destruction and suffering over the past 20 years of war, indeed over the past half century of Sudanese independence and central rule in Khartoum. This has been overwhelmingly the responsibility of successive governments in Khartoum—and none bears greater responsibility than the present National Islamic Front regime. US policy toward and assistance to Sudan should be informed by this fundamental asymmetry in responsibility for human suffering and destruction.
To this end, current US sanctions against the Government of Sudan should be lifted gradually, and should be tied to clearly articulated benchmarks—in the implementing of a peace agreement, in expediting military redeployments, in disarming allied militia, and in upholding provisions for revenue- and power-sharing. Thorough scrutiny of Khartoum’s long record of supporting terrorism should continue even if there is a decision later this spring to remove the regime from the State Department list of supporters of international terrorism. And finally, members of the Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime must be held accountable for their actions over these many years.
For history obliges us to keep clearly in mind the character of this regime, largely unchanged since it came to power by military coup in 1989 and deliberately aborted a nascent peace process. Khartoum has been deeply complicit in international terrorism, indeed hosted Osama bin Laden during the formative years for al-Qaeda, and continued to provide very substantial support to al-Qaeda years after bin Laden left Khartoum in 1996. The regime is guilty of genocide, as the Sudan Peace Act has unambiguously found. The regime is now, every day, lying repeatedly, egregiously, shamelessly about the realities of Darfur, about the nature of the military conflict, and about the extremity of the humanitarian crisis. This is so even as Khartoum’s cynical assurances are fully confounded by reports from Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, a wide range of UN officials, Roger Winter of USAID, a recent European Union assessment mission, and all too many horrific accounts from within Darfur and along the Chad-Sudan border.
I believe that this latter crisis must be considered immediately, urgently, and outside the context of negotiations at Naivasha. For we may be all too certain that without an international willingness to begin the most urgent preparations for humanitarian intervention in Darfur, we will be forced to witness helplessly a disastrous increase in what Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres recently described (February 17, 2004 press release) as “catastrophic mortality rates” in Darfur.
Khartoum’s ongoing, cynically cruel willingness to lie about so much human suffering and destruction should remind us how difficult it will be to make anything meaningful of the regime’s signature on an agreement in Naivasha. If a comprehensive agreement is indeed “around the corner,” we must fully accept that this marks only a beginning in the real job of building a just and sustainable peace.