Fatally handicapped by a lack of diplomatic groundwork and effective leadership from the US State Department’s Africa Bureau, Resolution L. 35 was today defeated in Geneva. This resolution at the annual meeting of the UN’s Human Rights Commission would have continued Sudan’s status as an “Item 9” country, one with serious human rights problems. As it now stands, Khartoum’s appalling human rights record has been rehabilitated, and there will be no renewal of mandate for the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan. Despite the fact that the present Special Rapporteur, Gerhart Baum of Germany, has declared unequivocally that there has been no substantial improvement in human rights in Sudan, his voice will now be silenced. The brutal and destructive savagery directed against southern civilians will no longer be chronicled by the UN; Khartoum’s ghost houses, its suppression of press freedoms, its extrajudicial executions, its use of torture, its barbarous penal code, its fierce repression of political dissent—all have been judged in Geneva not to warrant further special consideration. Those nations that voted against Resolution L. 35—especially and most hypocritically the African Group, including South Africa and Kenya—deserve the most immediate blame. But it is ultimately the US State Department that has failed Sudan, failed to use its leadership role and diplomatic resources. By arriving in Geneva without a clear sense of the urgency and difficulty of securing Item 9 status for Sudan, the US created a fait accompli which even considerable last-minute efforts could not undo. It should be a moment of the deepest shame for the Africa Bureau at the State Department, and a clear signal of how shallow and ineffectual the commitment to Sudan finally is.
Eric Reeves [April 16, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
The final vote tally from Geneva on Resolution L. 35 (concerning “the situation of human rights in the Sudan”) shows the draft failing on a vote of 24 votes for, 26 votes against, with 3 abstentions. One of the votes against came from Libya, which—preposterously—has chaired the Commission meeting in Geneva. The most significant consequence of this vote is that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Sudan will now expire, and a significant voice for the international community will fall silent. Since so much silence from the international community has already greeted the suffering of the people of Sudan—replaced recently only by so much appallingly glib celebration of the Machakos peace process—there is perhaps a certain predictability to the results in Geneva (see below for particular votes and selected comments).
And perhaps if this were a vote that reflected only the views of nations like Libya—and Cuba, Syria, China, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan—it might be dismissed as little more than a revealing portrait of national tyrannies and their diplomatic power around the world. Indeed, there is a certain perversely edifying effect that derives from witnessing deeply repressive regimes with the power to declare on the world’s diplomatic stage that Sudan’s realities are other than what the Special Rapporteur—and every other human rights organization and assessment—has revealed them to be.
But these terribly cruel realities in Sudan persist, and will surely worsen because the international community as represented in Geneva has rewarded the Khartoum regime not for an improvement in its human rights record, but rather for its relentless persistence in human rights abuses, for an indefatigable willingness to cause human suffering, destruction, and loss of freedom and dignity. The National Islamic Front’s persistence seems to have produced a weariness among those nations with the diplomatic power to serve the cause of human rights—none more powerfully than the US.
So perhaps it is not surprising that despite the apparent engagement of the US government on Sudan policy and issues, the State Department’s Africa Bureau allowed a delegation to be sent to Geneva that was neither prepared for the Sudan human rights issue, nor capable of dealing with the readily apparent risk to a decade of human rights scrutiny of Sudan by a UN Special Rapporteur. Only belatedly, only after the African Group had already committed itself to a hypocritical “African unity,” did the Africa Bureau at the State Department realize the extent of the diplomatic challenge. And by then it was too late.
Perhaps sensing impending defeat in Geneva, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner sought to change the subject with his Monday briefing of reporters, declaring (according to Reuters and Agence-France Presse) that a diplomatic “touchdown” had been scored in the Machakos peace talks:
“[Kansteiner (clearly the “senior official” being cited)] described as a ‘touchdown’ the stated desire of both sides to reach a final peace settlement by the end of June.” (Agence France-Presse, April 14, 2003)
This contrived optimism, based on nothing in the way of negotiated resolution of the outstanding issues, evidently works in Mr. Kansteiner’s mind to justify the failure of the US to prevent the fiasco that was to occur two days later in Geneva. Such expedient optimism is also the basis for Kansteiner’s confirming that Khartoum will be getting a Presidential certification that the regime is in compliance with the Sudan Peace Act, viz. that it is negotiating in “good faith” in the Machakos Process, and that it is not “unreasonably interfering with humanitarian efforts in Sudan.”
Of course neither assertion is justified. Khartoum impeded humanitarian access in unprecedented fashion for much of 2002; indeed, at one point in 2002, flight bans and air space denial by Khartoum left over 3 million people without humanitarian access. Well into 2003 Khartoum was still interfering with humanitarian access in highly consequential ways. Only in immediate anticipation of the certification required by the Sudan Peace Act has Khartoum largely ceased to impede humanitarian access. But given Khartoum’s vicious history of humanitarian denial and manipulation, we may reasonably expect that the present situation will begin to deteriorate after the April 21 Presidential determination.
Nor has there been any truly substantial progress at Machakos since the signing of the Machakos Protocol in July 2002. Why Kansteiner expects that the issues that have proved intractable over the last nine months, overwhelmingly because of Khartoum’s intransigence, will be resolved in the coming two months is a question that can be answered only if we plumb the depths of political expediency.
A more realistic assessment would take account of the effects on Khartoum’s thinking that follow from a human rights upgrade in Geneva, and a certification by the US President that the regime is cooperating diplomatically and on the humanitarian front. For of course both these important rewards from the international community come in the context of Khartoum’s continuing failure to abide by any of the agreements it has signed—ever. Most recently these agreements include: the terms for deployment of the recently grounded Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (created by an agreement signed by Khartoum in March 2002); the terms of the October 15 agreement on the cessation of offensive hostilities (violated continuously and massively since the signed agreement went into effect on October 17, 2002); the terms of the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the October 15, 2002 agreement, as well as the February 4, 2003 “Joint Communiqu” (again, both signed by Khartoum and continuously violated or denied implementation up to the present moment).
If Khartoum is rewarded in such consequential fashion, even as it violates all the agreements signed under the auspices of the US special envoy for Sudan, as well as those of IGAD, what possible incentive is there for the regime to reach a just peace with the people of the south and other marginalized areas? Instead of pressuring the regime, the international community is rewarding it, blithely touting the existence of a peace process that has yielded nothing of substance in nine months and serves as cover for Khartoum’s strategic and deeply ominous redeployment of major offensive military assets.
This is apparently the “touchdown” that Kansteiner is celebrating. If the US is content to play a game scored in such fashion, there is even less hope than one might surmise in the wake of today’s travesty in Geneva.
from the UN office on human rights:
The draft resolution L.35—Situation of human rights in the Sudan—was rejected by 24 votes to 26, with 3 abstentions. The voting was as follows:
Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Republic of Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay.
Algeria, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, India, Kenya, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syrian Arab Republic, Togo, Ukraine, Viet Nam, Zimbabwe
Thailand, Uganda, Venezuela.
Extracts from the press release on rejection of resolution on Sudan:
A Representative of Cuba said the draft resolution was not objective in assessing the situation in Sudan. For years, the Commission had seen resolutions that had not taken any account of positive developments in the
Sudan. The texts continued to be very similar one year after another. For this reason, Cuba would vote against the draft resolution.
A Representative of China [Sudan is far and away China’s largest offshore source of oil—ER.] said the Sudanese Government had adopted a series of measures to improve the situation in the country. A new Constitution had been put in place, and other measures had also been implemented to resolve the problems the country had been facing. The country should be encouraged to continue its efforts to build a peaceful society. The draft resolution disregarded those efforts. China would not support the draft resolution on the human rights situation in the Sudan.
A Representative of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the contents of the resolution did not reflect the important and positive developments now taking place in the Sudan. It was regrettable that the co-sponsors had not taken on board the recommendations of the African Group, which had underlined the fact that the resolution was unbalanced. Of particular concern to the OIC were the contents of operative paragraph 3 (a) referring to the Sharia law. The language in this paragraph was an offense to all Muslim countries.
[Pakistan is evidently not “offended” by the imposition of Sharia law on non-Muslims in Sudan, or the various provisions of Hudud in Sudan, including cross-amputation (of right hand and left foot), stoning to death for adultery, crucifixion, and other barbarisms—ER.]
A Representative of Algeria said the draft resolution on the Sudan was the fourth country-specific resolution introduced by the European Union (EU). The EU was a continent that had elevated human rights to the level of an ideal to be attained. However, the interventions by the EU constituted a repetitive litany which contained the same terms and phrases. Instead of recommending that the EU use one copy for all its speeches, Algeria urged it to engage in a dialogue.
A Representative of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Group regretted that its recommendation for amendments on the draft resolution on the Sudan had not been accepted. The European Union’s inflexibility reconfirmed the view that the European Union was using this resolution for political purposes, as opposed to the promotion of human rights. After ten years of this resolution being put before the Commission with fruitless results, the African Group believed it was time to discontinue this resolution and end the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on this issue.
[South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, evidently feels that Khartoum’s “inflexible ” commitment to human rights abuses is exceeded by European “inflexibility” in refusing to accept those human rights abuses. Put differently, because Khartoum won’t end its human rights abuses—thus the “fruitlessness” of such human rights resolutions—international scrutiny of those abuses should be ended. The perversity of the logic by which the Africa Group has abandoned the African peoples of southern Sudan is breathtaking—ER].