November 14, 2003
Although the Khartoum regime may yet collapse the Machakos/IGAD peace talks seeking to end Sudan’s civil war, the prospect of a peace agreement in the very near term is so clear that some assessment must be made of present international readiness to provide the necessary UN peace support operation. Any such assessment must be the occasion for the most intense dismay, for it is clear that there is neither adequate planning, nor funding commitments, nor organizational thinking.
This latter deficiency is especially worth highlighting, since there are already four different monitoring forces for southern Sudan and the marginalized areas: the superb but very small Operation Lifeline Sudan security team based in Lokichokio, Kenya; the just-deployed Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT), evidently to be based initially in Leer, Western Upper Nile; the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) based in Rumbek and Khartoum, which has in recent months proved itself terribly inadequate in fulfilling its mandate; and the Joint Military Commission (JMC) in the Nuba Mountains, widely criticized for a lack of even-handedness and an unwillingness to investigate instances of significant human rights abuses, especially against those in or from the SPLM/A-controlled parts of the Nuba.
Reports from a wide variety of sources indicate that, in addition to inherent limitations and weaknesses, liaison between these four teams is poor and ineffective. The geographic overlap, coupled with the quite various mandates for the teams, should dictate close communication and coordination; but this is not the case. It is thus extremely difficult to see how the teams could readily become part of a larger UN peace support operation. The very different auspices for the three non-UN teams pose particularly difficult and urgent problems if there is, as there should be, a UN aegis for overall peace support operations.
Moreover, the extremely belated deployments of the CPMT (negotiated in March 2002, but not deployed until November 2002) and the VMT (stipulated in the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the cessation of offensive hostilities agreement, but only now starting to deploy effectively) augur extremely poorly for timely deployment of a peace support operation in Sudan, and this may very well spell disaster for any peace “agreement” reached in Kenya. For while there is a positive aspect to the extremely intense political pressure on the parties—the Khartoum regime and the SPLM/A—to reach a peace agreement by the end of 2003, this date is only a month and a half from today. A peace support operation should be fully ready for immediate deployment upon the signing of any agreement, for this will certainly be the moment most threatening to any agreement. And yet this seems impossible, at least in the time remaining before the new year.
There is at least some planning underway at the UN in New York, and we may discern perhaps the very broad outlines of a peace support operation. It will be headed by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, and thus potentially bring to bear the political dimension and power of the UN in New York. Additionally, the (too limited) resources of the UN High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR) already in Sudan would be integrated into any peace support operation. This last feature is critically important: human rights monitoring simply must be a fundamental feature of any meaningful peace support operation in the Sudanese context, where gross human rights abuses by Khartoum and its allies, and to a much lesser degree by other parties, have been the norm for decades. The protection of highly vulnerable noncombatant populations will, in fact, be one of the most arduous and important tasks of peacekeeping.
The model here should be that which guided UN peacekeeping in Angola and Cambodia, where human rights operations were fully integrated with peacekeeping operations. Even as war and human rights abuses have been obverses of one another in Sudan’s conflict, so peacekeeping and human rights protections must go hand in hand if a peace agreement is to be meaningful. Sustainable peace and respect for human rights simply cannot be separated in Sudan, and the resources for fully adequate human rights monitoring must be part of any peacekeeping planning.
To be sure, a Sudan peace support operation will be expensive, for its tasks in this immense country will be many. The most critical of these will be to monitor closely Khartoum’s willingness to disarm those militias it has backed with weapons, ammunition, and food for years—and which have been the military instrument of some of the greatest civilian destruction, especially in the oil regions. Many militias are actively in negotiations with the SPLM/A to return to the southern cause; but some, including some of the most ruthless, remain potent spoilers of any peace, and may be used by Khartoum for precisely this purpose.
Khartoum undertook to disarm its militias in the breakthrough “Agreement on Security Arrangements” (Naivasha [Kenya], September 25, 2003). The language could not have been more explicit: under  “Status of Other Armed Groups in the Country” (i.e., armed forces other than those of Khartoum and the SPLA), Khartoum agrees that:
“No armed group allied to either party shall be allowed to operate outside the two forces [Khartoum’s and those of the SPLA]”
Further, Khartoum has agreed “to address the status of other armed groups in the country with the view of achieving comprehensive peace and stability in the country and to realize full inclusiveness in the transition process” [Section 7 of the “Agreement on Security Arrangements”].
What this makes abundantly clear is that any meaningful peace support operation must have the staffing, communications, and transport capacity to ensure that Khartoum complies with these commitments. Access to all areas of Sudan must be immediate and unimpeded (a state of affairs that would be in marked contrast with what has greeted various efforts of the CPMT and the VMT). If UN peacekeeping forces find evidence that either party is not in compliance with this key part of the “Agreement on Security Arrangements,” then the matter must be referred immediately to the UN in New York—and to the Security Council if the lack of compliance becomes a serious threat to returning civilians.
This will be a large and expensive operation, requiring detailed and comprehensive planning. But it is essential. There is no peace on the cheap in Sudan, and the moment of greatest peril to a peace agreement is precisely the one in which the resources of the international community will be most needed. One clear sign of support for such a peace support mission would be an explicit, public declaration now by the US and key European countries of full support for and financial commitment to such an operation. Those planning for peacekeeping efforts at the UN must be given a clear signal that this operation will not scaled back or allowed to wither for lack of donor commitment. Other countries, such as Japan, India, and South Africa, should also make their commitments known now.
Such commitments would also do much to forestall a lack of cooperation or obstructionism by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime, which is already sending a number of dangerous signals about peacekeeping. The Associated Press has recently reported troublingly ambiguous comments from NIF President Omer Beshir:
“Concerning the joint armed forces, el-Bashir said he would accept foreign observers but that a peacekeeping force is not necessary now that the warring parties have signed cease-fire agreements and are working toward a peace deal.” (Associated Press, November 10, 2003)
This writer has recently commented on the absurd disingenuousness of Beshir and the NIF referring to the efficacy of “cease-fire agreements,” given their continuing and flagrant violation of these agreements (of October 15, 2002 and February 4, 2003). In fact, these violations—including proscribed offensive military redeployments, and the continuing militarization of the oil road south of Bentiu in Western Upper Nile—highlight the importance of the very peacekeeping forces that Beshir declares unnecessary. It is not clear what distinction Beshir means to draw between “foreign observers” and a “peacekeeping force,” but it is essential that UN planning be done on the basis of the realities as they exist on the ground. Given Khartoum’s relentless record of violating signed agreements, there can be no other basis on which to configure and deploy a peace support operation.
This is most obviously true when we consider the extremely perilous circumstances in which southern Sudanese will make their way homeward in the immediate wake of a signed agreement, especially those from among the roughly two million displaced persons presently living in camps and slums around Khartoum. These people must not only travel long distances, with precious little in the way of resources, but they will be highly vulnerable to military assault. The most obvious transport corridors will become points at which population concentrations are most likely to be attacked and stripped of their assets, and perhaps killed. Without such assets, including food, returning displaced persons will find the journey home that much more difficult and that much more likely to result in malnutrition, disease, and death. With hundreds of thousands of civilians on the move, over vast areas of Sudan, the immense task facing a UN peace support operation comes more fully into view.
Peacekeepers must be deployed to a wide range of points at which people will cross over military lines and points of particular vulnerability, from Eastern Upper Nile to Bahr el-Ghazal in the west, with Abyei and the Nuba Mountains particular areas of concern. They must be deployed in areas where the remaining armed militias are most likely to assert themselves militarily, primarily in Upper Nile. They must be deployed to the many flash points where competition over scarce resources, vastly diminished by years of war, will require some supplementing of traditional forms of economic arbitration and adjudication. And peacekeepers must be in close touch with humanitarian organizations to ensure that a lack of adequate food, water, and medical supplies doesn’t exacerbate the potential for conflict, especially inter-tribal conflict.
At the same time, human rights abuses, past and present, must be an essential concern of the peacekeeping forces. It will take years for a fully adequate legal and justice system to be developed in southern Sudan after so many years of a war that has been catastrophically destructive of the fabric of civil society. But the international standards for human rights must be represented fully and robustly by the peacekeeping forces; without such concern at the center of the peacekeeping mandate, the threat of gross abuses looms all too clearly.
To catalog even these tasks—and there are many more—is to see how critically important is the timely deployment of a UN peace support operation. And yet, again, there is no evidence of anything like adequate planning for or funding commitments to this most important feature of any peace agreement for Sudan.
Sudan’s war has dragged on for over 20 years, a deep disgrace in itself to the international community. That Sudan at its moment of historical truth, on the verge of a peace agreement that seemed almost inconceivable a year and a half ago, should be without the timely transitional aid and a fully adequate peace support operation—this is beyond disgrace or forgiveness. It is a failure that must be compared with the most hideous moments of inaction and moral blindness in the 20th century.
Without aid and protection, the people returning to and relocating within southern Sudan in the wake of a peace agreement will be in the acutest peril. If their only protection consists of Khartoum’s signature and “good faith,” they may very well find themselves in new “killing fields,” enduring human destruction bearing comparison with the Rwandan genocide, and thereby reminding us yet again just how hopelessly enfeebled that fatuously brave declaration—“Never again!”—has now become.
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