September 23, 2003
As the Machakos/IGAD peace process continues at Naivasha (Kenya) in a last bid to end Sudan’s civil war, security issues remain the focus of diplomatic and negotiating energies. For all who recall the disaster of the Addis Ababa peace agreement of 1972, it is hardly surprising that the SPLM/A regards security as the essential issue in representing the people of southern Sudan and the marginalized areas. Precisely because security issues were not dealt with in 1972, the south was all too vulnerable to Khartoum’s vicious duplicity and rapacity in 1983, when the Nimieri regime began the present phase of the civil war. Since 1983 more than 2 million southern Sudanese—overwhelmingly civilians—have been destroyed by a war that grew out of this southern vulnerability. Millions have been displaced, oil development has completely ravaged huge swaths of land, human suffering has been unimaginable.
Though the talks at Naivasha have been underway since September 4, 2003, they have yet to make a full breakthrough on security issues. Parts of an agreement have been reported at various points along the way (see Agence France-Presse, for example, September 21, 2003); but there has also been much reneging on the part of the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime, including by the very powerful first vice-president, Ali Osman Taha. Nearly all of the ups and downs in the negotiations reflect real or factitious disagreements within the NIF (see September 17, 2003 analysis from this source; available upon request). Responses in Khartoum’s position papers have been contradictory, delayed, and characterized by several refusals to accept previously negotiated terms.
This behavior makes especially ominous a report today by Deutsche Presse Agentur (dateline Khartoum):
“The Sudanese army said Tuesday that cessation of hostilities in the country’s civil war could result in further obstacles and would not automatically lead to peace. ‘We fear that cessation of hostilities would become another obstacle, that its implications will not differ from that of war,’ a senior army officer said Tuesday.”
What does this mean? How could a “cessation of hostilities” lead to “further obstacles” or indeed a condition no different from “war”? And why is it Khartoum, which has consistently and systematically violated the terms of the previous, October 2002 cessation of hostilities agreement, that is making this bizarre claim?
What’s clear is that the NIF army is muscling up in order to make its voice heard in the peace talks, and that the message is distinctly threatening. Army spokesman Mohammed Beshir Suleiman, who made the statement to the state-run Sudan News Agency (SUNA), focused on precisely the issues that are presently the sticking point in Naivasha: “the number of forces and their redeployment” (Deutsche Presse Agentur, September 23, 2003). The effect of such a strong, pointed, and threatening public statement by the NIF army is to put Taha and other members of the NIF negotiating team at Naivasha on notice that the army expects to decide what are acceptable security agreements in the talks. This hardly augurs well for the kind of negotiating breakthrough that is desperately needed after 19 days of talks in Naivasha, talks now evidently deadlocked on the essential security issues.
To be sure, the army might have issued this statement at the behest of others in the NIF to create additional diplomatic pressure in the talks—or to represent the views of those not in Naivasha but who insist that their voices be heard. But it has been clear for well over a week now that there is a fundamental lack of integrity in the NIF approach to the negotiations: contradictions and (real or contrived) divisions keep appearing, undermining the possibility of genuine progress.
It is thus imperative the IGAD mediators and the “troika” (the US, Norway, and the UK) insist on a unified negotiating posture by Khartoum. This was clear over a week ago; it is just as clear now—and today’s military pronouncements in Khartoum make the urgency, if possible, even greater.
Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence that the Bush administration fails to appreciate the good-faith efforts by the SPLM/A, or the historical realities making it imperative that these efforts be guided by the paramount need to insure that the negotiations yield adequate security arrangements for the people of the south. Rather, Bush administration diplomatic presence in Khartoum and Kenya, as well as members of the foreign policy team in Washington, seem engaged in yet another terrible version of “moral equivalency”—equating the human rights record of the two parties and thus preparing the ground for breaking off all engagement with the Sudan peace process if the talks at Naivasha should fall through. To the extent that Khartoum discerns this positioning, it is profoundly destructive of the chances for peace.
Indeed, if the Bush administration is in fact positioning itself politically for the aftermath of failed talks, this is the height of moral irresponsibility. The US has an obligation to assess, fully and honestly, responsibility for negotiating progress, or the lack thereof—both now and should the talks collapse. Any present political decision to blame both sides for such a collapse is expedient, dishonest, and should be condemned by all who hope for peace in Sudan. For it has long been the case that “moral equivalency,” in any context, is a victory for Khartoum, and is obviously regarded as such by the regime. As a fine editorial in The Christian Science Monitor pointedly declared yesterday:
“While the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) are no angels when it comes to human rights, they aren’t even in the same league as government forces. The Army and government-backed militias have bombed and attacked civilians, often from the air; allowed hundreds of thousands to starve while withholding food aid; and kidnapped thousands of women and children, whom they sell into slavery and sexual servitude.” (Christian Science Monitory, September 22, 2003; entire editorial appears below)
The editorial concluded with a brief but useful caution against expediency on the part of the Bush administration:
“Some in Washington worry that pushing too hard will threaten Sudan’s opportunistic cooperation in the war on terrorism. Yet the US has ample leverage: Khartoum needs US sanctions lifted to get more foreign investment in its oil industry and to qualify for international loans. The Sudan Peace Act of 2002 gives the president authority to slap further sanctions on Sudan if its government doesn’t negotiate in good faith. The White House should make clear it’s ready to use that power if necessary.”
Troublingly there are growing signs that the Bush administration won’t invoke the Sudan Peace Act under any circumstances. Certainly the April 2003 State Department and White House reports on Khartoum’s engagement in the peace process (per the terms of the Sudan Peace Act) were deeply disturbing exercises in disingenuousness, error, omission, and—all too predictably—“moral equivalency.”
This irresponsible assertion of moral equivalency has been encouraged by US special envoy for Sudan John Danforth, by some in the National Security Council, and even by some of the more tendentious members of the human rights community. Such assertions must be forcefully rebuked if peace is to come to Sudan. Further, those who care about peace in Sudan must insist that there be no reprise of the deeply inadequate reports of April 2003 guiding the President’s decision (due in one month) on whether to certify that Khartoum is engaged in “good faith negotiations to achieve a permanent, just peace agreement” (Section 6 [b], Sudan Peace Act, enacted October 21, 2002).
Time is short, and despite the optimistic talks emanating from Kenya, very difficult decisions lie ahead. The last thing these peace talks need are threats and constraints emanating from the army in Khartoum, the major instrument of genocidal destruction in southern Sudan and the part of the NIF regime least inclined to make decisions leading to a peace that will inevitably reduce the size and influence of the armed forces.
Sudan needs honest, morally committed engagement by the Bush administration—not expedient political positioning, claiming credit for success if there is a breakthrough in the peace talks, blaming both parties if there is failure. The moral equities of the two sides in the negotiations are simply not equivalent, and any effort to assert that they are will be a permanent disgrace to American foreign policy.
Northampton, MA 01063
from The Christian Science Monitor
September 22, 2003, Monday
SECTION: EDITORIAL; Pg. 08
“For Peace in Sudan”
The civil war in Sudan has raged for 20 years, killing 2 million people and displacing 4 million. Its original cause was the government’s attempts to Arabize and Islamicize the people in the south and the Nuba Mountains—black Africans who are mostly Christians or followers of local religions.
The huge, beleaguered country is a stereotype of Africa’s problems: underdevelopment, bad government, ethnic and religious strife, and a thriving slave trade. It’s also important to the US as a past haven for terrorists.
The discovery of oil in the south several years ago has helped keep the war going. The government in Khartoum has forcibly evicted people from their lands to develop the oil fields.
While the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) are no angels when it comes to human rights, they aren’t even in the same league as government forces. The Army and government-backed militias have bombed and attacked civilians, often from the air; allowed hundreds of thousands to starve while withholding food aid; and kidnapped thousands of women and children, whom they sell into slavery and sexual servitude.
Since its arrival in office, the Bush administration has increased humanitarian aid to the south and pressed both sides to negotiate. In 2002, the government and SPLA agreed to a cease-fire and a self-determination referendum in the south to follow a six-year transition period under a unity government. But they remain divided on such basic issues as secular institutions, division of oil revenues, security, and power-sharing. Meanwhile, Khartoum has repeatedly violated the cease-fire and built up its forces in southern garrison cities.
Peace talks resumed this month in Kenya and observers say negotiators have made fragile progress. But continued US pressure—especially on Khartoum—is needed to ensure success. It’s encouraging to hear reports that Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for that purpose last week.
Some in Washington worry that pushing too hard will threaten Sudan’s opportunistic cooperation in the war on terrorism. Yet the US has ample leverage: Khartoum needs US sanctions lifted to get more foreign investment in its oil industry and to qualify for international loans.
The Sudan Peace Act of 2002 gives the president authority to slap further sanctions on Sudan if its government doesn’t negotiate in good faith.
The White House should make clear it’s ready to use that power if necessary.