“The Sudan Peace Act and the Machakos Peace Process:
Khartoum’s Intransigence Adds Urgency to a Looming Deadline”
Optimism about the Machakos peace process continues to run high in some quarters, reflecting both the overwhelming desire for an end to twenty years of savage human destruction—and a good deal of political expediency. In some cases, of course, it can be difficult to discern a clear distinction, while in other cases political and economic motivations are all too evident. But surely anyone with reasonably sound moral bearings must grow queasy hearing Khartoum’s Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail declare, “the opportunity for peace is closer than any previous time; there is an internal consensus to give peace priority. Peace has become a popular need” (Cairo, February 19, 2003; ArabicNews.com). For Ismail and the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime he represents bear overwhelming responsibility for the continuation of the war, especially the massive scorched-earth clearances in southern Sudan’s oil regions over the last half dozen years. Ismail and the NIF reflect neither “popular need” nor Sudanese “consensus”: with less than 5% popular support, they represent nothing more than a vicious survivalism. Even so, such survivalist instincts as define the NIF may still see the advantages of peace; and this is all that has ever offered any cause for hope in assessing the prospects for diplomacy at Machakos. But we must remember that the NIF has nothing to lose with expressions of optimism: indeed, such expressions—however disingenuous—buy time, if more time is what the regime judges to be politically or militarily advantageous. And if Khartoum does plan to collapse the Machakos process and resume its quest for military victory, their present expressions of optimism will (the regime is convinced) buy them diplomatic credit with the international community. Will the international community be so easily duped? And will the US State Department give a passing grade to Khartoum in order to avoid coming to terms with the looming requirements of the Sudan Peace Act? The answers are dismayingly evident.
Eric Reeves [February 21, 2003]
Northampton, MA 010633
Agence France-Presse, citing diplomatic sources, reported yesterday that a “fourth round of peace talks between Sudan’s government and a rebel group fighting for the self-determination of the south will start in the Kenyan capital on March 19” (AFP, February 20, 2003). AFP also reports that separate talks on the contested areas of Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile will begin in Nairobi on March 1. On its face, such news seems encouraging and to be welcomed. But appearances can deceive, and this announcement will have meaning only if the diplomatic pace picks up very considerably and meaningful agreements are locked in place without further obstructionism on the part of Khartoum. Of course to speak of “locking agreements in place” with the Khartoum regime is to speak of what has so far proved completely elusive: Khartoum has never abided fully and faithfully by any agreement it has signed—not one, not ever.
It is, then, no longer acceptable, as we approach round four of the Machakos talks, to speak of “incremental progress” or “implicit understandings” or “agreements in principle.” There must now be substantial progress, with clear commitments that are underwritten by firm international guarantees and guarantors. Otherwise the Machakos process should to be seen as nothing more than an opportunity for Khartoum to continue to gain military advantage through substantial redeployment of forces, large increases in conscription, and the oil-funded purchase of new armaments.
The apparent “breakthrough” agreement on a Southern self-determination referendum (a provision of the Machakos Protocol, July 20, 2002) has never had any meaning except within the framework of a fully completed agreement. And such a completed agreement is nowhere in sight, at least not in what has been publicly reported or can be gathered from those close to the talks. There have been no breakthrough agreements on issues of geography, power-sharing, disengagement of forces, or even revenue-sharing. The “agreement” on this latter issue touted at the end of Machakos Round 3 is, insofar as it has been reported, not yet more than a “mechanism-in-progress”: any number of objections or unreasonable demands could still turn this into a potentially fatal stumbling block. A large SPLM delegation is heading to Washington soon at the behest of the World Bank; this may provide a litmus test, or simply another occasion for Khartoum to “agree” in one venue, even as they obstruct in another.
In fact, there is no evidence that Khartoum has either yielded or compromised meaningfully on any of the exceedingly difficult issues that remained after the euphoria generated by the July Machakos Protocol had subsided. Privately, the Machakos mediators know this and will sometimes say as much. But even General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, who has been the stalwart of the process to this point, has lost a good deal of his ability to speak frankly about the obstacles Khartoum is presenting in the negotiations; and—more ominously—his ability to render a fully honest post-mortem should the Machakos process collapse would also seem to have been attenuated. The US State Department, and in particular Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, have trimmed Sumbeiywo’s wings very considerably in recent weeks. This is part of Kansteiner’s evident wish to control the Machakos process, to put it on a footing in which pressure is directed at the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) rather than the Khartoum regime.
This negotiating “strategy” by Kansteiner and other US officials seems not just perversely and demonstrably wrong-headed but a deep betrayal of the views of the vast majority of those Americans who have worked for years to bring peace to Sudan. Recognition is widespread among an unusually broad coalition of political, religious, and human rights advocacy groups that unless the Khartoum regime is firmly pressured by the US, there is virtually no chance that this regime will make the painful decisions that can lead to a just peace for the people of the south. The abject failure of Canada, European governments (with the highly notable exception of Norway), and other members of the “international community” to confront Khartoum only makes a forceful US position more important.
And yet Kansteiner and his Africa Bureau cohort seem locked into a pattern of deep and perverse denial, unwilling to see either what Khartoum is or what its present actions mean, including continued fighting and militarized construction in the oil regions, as well as denial of humanitarian aid to South Sudan through various means.
Just what does this willful ignorance mean looking forward? It means among other things that there is no significant or useful planning for implementing the provisions of the Sudan Peace Act. Passed virtually unanimously by both houses of Congress, the bill was signed into law by President Bush on October 21, 2003 in the presence of both his Secretary of State and his National Security Advisor, as well as members of Congress, representatives from the State Department’s Africa Bureau (including Mr. Kansteiner), and numerous Sudanese and Sudan advocates.
The Sudan Peace Act is quite specific in its key provision, declaring that,
“The President shall make a determination and certify in writing to the appropriate congressional committees within 6 months after the date of enactment of this Act [thus, April 21, 2003], and each 6 months thereafter, that the Government of Sudan the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement are negotiating in good faith and that negotiations should continue.”
The Sudan Peace Act further specifies that “if the President determines and certifies in writing to the appropriate congressional committees that the Government of Sudan has not engaged in good faith negotiations to achieve a permanent, just, and equitable peace agreement, or has unreasonably interfered with humanitarian efforts, then the President, after consultation with Congress, shall implement” measures that are set forth later in the bill, viz.:
“ the President—
[a] shall, through the Secretary of the Treasury, instruct the United States executive directors to each international financial institution to continue to vote against and actively oppose any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Sudan;
[b] should consider downgrading or suspending diplomatic relations between the United States and the Government of Sudan;
[c] shall take all necessary and appropriate steps to deny the Government of Sudan access to oil revenues to ensure that the Government of Sudan neither directly nor indirectly utilizes any oil revenues to purchase or acquire military equipment or to finance any military activities; and
[d] shall seek a United Nations Security Council Resolution to impose an arms embargo on the Government of Sudan.”
Also part of the Sudan Peace Act, and requiring the present attention of the State Department, is the demand that “the Secretary of State shall collect information about incidents which may constitute crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and other violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Sudan.” It is in this context that we should recall one of the key “findings” that preface the Sudan Peace Act:
“The acts of the Government of Sudan, including the acts described in this section, constitute genocide as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (78 U.N.T.S. 277).”
What is the State Department doing to fulfill this key requirement of the Sudan Peace Act? What resources at the State Department have been devoted to “collecting information” about war crimes and genocide? Given the immense moral import of these issues, one would expect that there has been a fully sufficient commitment of resources and personnel. But this is clearly not the case. Though a Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) has been deployed to Sudan, its twenty members (for both the Khartoum- and Rumbek-based teams) cannot alone begin to fulfill the mandate of the Sudan Peace Act. The CPMT has done important work on Khartoum’s January military offensives in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile (see analysis from this source; February 10, 2003), but cannot begin to collect the available evidence, even that generated by events occurring after the October 21, 2002 signing of the Sudan Peace Act. Nor have there been nearly sufficient resources devoted to the issues in Washington.
It is of particular concern that the State Department shows no sign of taking fully seriously the unambiguous finding of “genocide” in the Sudan Peace Act: “The acts of the Government of Sudan, including the acts described in this section, constitute genocide as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (78 U.N.T.S. 277).” Such a conclusion is fully warranted both by other of the findings in the Sudan Peace Act, and by the inescapable realities of war in the oil regions of southern Sudan. There the Khartoum regime has long engaged in the deliberate and savagely brutal destruction of the non-Arabized, non-Islamicized indigenous populations in order to offer security to international oil companies and thereby generate oil revenues.
As the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team reports make clear, this genocidal policy continues to the present: for example, “The Government of Sudan military has been providing security for construction by pushing their regular units forward along the new [oil] road axis [south of Bentiu, toward Adok on the Nile]. They are now approaching the town of Leer. Villages along both flanks of the new [oil] road have been cleared of the civil populace approaching Leer” (CPMT Report to IGAD, February 2, 2003).
There are highly credible reports that construction continues along the oil road, even as there are equally credible reports that Khartoum continues to use militia forces in Western Upper Nile to attack indigenous populations.
But through all this, the State Department has refused to accept the profound moral responsibilities that attend a finding of “genocide,” and the unambiguous directive to collect information about this most disturbing of crimes against humanity. Ultimate responsibility here is not simply that of the Africa Bureau at the State Department, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner—it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State and the President. President Bush signed, with Secretary of State Colin Powell as witness, the Sudan Peace Act. If they countenance the continued leadership of Kansteiner on Sudan policy, then they are implicitly accepting his refusal to respond adequately to the clear demands of this legislation. And they are betraying those in Congress who passed the Sudan Peace Act, and those constituencies and advocacy groups that worked to see that such passage was overwhelming and deeply bipartisan.
The pressing issues of Iraq and North Korea cannot justify the neglect of the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis, and the urgent requirements of the peace process that seeks to end the world’s longest and most destructive civil conflict. April 21, 2003 is two months away today; the Bush administration State Department is far, far from being in a position to meet the obligations of this deadline.