Remember Darfur? What is Going on in Sudan…

In April 2008, we launched the World Savvy Monitor with an edition focusing on the Situation in Sudan and the Conflict in Darfur. Since then, many of the issues we examined in this complex country have simmered largely on the back burner through the US Presidential election campaign, the start of the Obama Administration, and the world’s distraction with Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea. Today, Sudan headlines are creeping back into the mainstream media. We thought it would be helpful to provide an overview of where things stand and what to watch for in the coming months:

Darfur: The violence continues as the UN/African Union hybrid peacekeeping force (UNAMID) struggles to define its mandate and bring its troops up to capacity.

  • Roughly 2.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict and forced into crowded refugee and IDP camps in Sudan and neighboring countries. Exacerbating the situation is the ouster by the Sudanese government of Western humanitarian groups (NGOs) in March 2009 on whom victims depend for aid and sustenance. Other aid workers have been voluntarily recalled; and those that remain routinely find themselves in danger.
  • The UNAMID force is still having trouble getting up to speed, suffering from lack of men on the ground and equipment. So far, only 18,000 of the 26,000 authorized force has been deployed; however the UN has set a goal of having 95% of the force in place by December 2009. Much controversy has been generated over the statements by (now former) UNAMID military commander General Martin Luther Agawi who proclaimed an end to the war in Darfur, and characterized the situation as one of “security issues,” “banditry,” and “low intensity conflict.” Numerous experts disagree with these assessments, believing the situation to be as dire as ever and still directed by Khartoum.
  • A downgrading of the conflict and focus on Southern Sudan is expected to draw UN attention away from Darfur in coming months.

North-South Tensions: The CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) ending this decades-long civil war in 2005 continues to hold, yet political skirmishing and violence are ever-present as the 2011 Referendum on Sudan’s unity draws closer.

  • All eyes are on preparations for the 2011 Referendum in which voters will decide the fate of united Sudan. The country is now embarking on a highly contentious census to determine the eligibility of voters for the referendum, which many believe will result in a secession vote by the semi-autonomous South. The credibility of the referendum and, ultimately, the viability of the CPA are considered to be at stake in decisions taking place now in the run-up to the massive balloting.
  • Meanwhile, much of Southern Sudan struggles. Hunger and disease are widespread; inter-tribe violence and feuding take lives and displace families; attacks by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) out of Uganda only add to the insecurity.

President Al-Bashir’s ICC Indictment: In March 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) made good on its promises to “implicate the whole state apparatus” in Khartoum for atrocities committed in Darfur by formally indicting Sudanese President Al-Bashir on war crimes and crimes against humanity.

  • The ICC decision to go after Bashir was not greeted with enthusiasm by all of his detractors. Many feared the peace process in Darfur would be compromised by the indictment because Bashir would calculate that he had nothing left to lose and would be loathe to make concessions during upcoming negotiations. Others noted that the ouster of Western humanitarian groups (a measure taken by Khartoum, in part, in retaliation for the Bashir indictment) would harm victims while Bashir would most certainly remain at large. Remain at large is exactly what Bashir has done. See his very public condemnations of the ICC process and justifications for his actions in Darfur in a series of interviews recently conducted by Time and the PBS News Hour.
  • Undeterred, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the PBS News Hour this week that he was pursing additional genocide charges against Bashir, specifically related to the use of “rape and hunger” as weapons of war against civilians. The US (like Sudan and 30+ other countries) has not ratified the Rome Treaty and is not party to the ICC. Some African countries who have ratified the Rome Treaty are now being urged by Sudan and others to withdraw their recognition of the ICC in protest of Bashir’s indictment. Bashir’s National Congress party will hold conferences in October to determine whether or not he will stand as the nominee in upcoming Presidential elections, scheduled for April 2010. If he does run, he will be seeking a third decade in power.

US Policy Toward Sudan: This remains largely unchanged from the Bush to the Obama Administrations. A formal policy statement by President Obama’s foreign policy team is reportedly under consideration and scheduled for release soon.

  • President Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration embarks this week on a visit to the country to assess preparations for the North-South census and referendum, and to monitor the situation in Darfur. Gration’s statements to date have been cautious, and it is unclear what, if any, policy shifts he may recommend. He drew fire recently for his suggestions that it was now safe for Darfuri IDPs and refugees to begin to return home when many assessments of the security situation (including the additional 150,000 people displaced this year alone) would argue otherwise. He has also been criticized for seeming to downgrade the conflict in Darfur to “remnants of a genocide.”
  • A coalition of US human rights organizations and Darfur advocates has launched a new campaign to pressure the Obama Administration to intervene in the region. See Opposing pressure is being applied by groups who favor normalization of relations with Sudan and an end to US sanctions that prevent US companies from investing in Sudan’s lucrative oil sector (currently dominated by Chinese companies).
  • Some analysts worry that, even if American policy should turn more sharply against Khartoum, US leverage in the United Nations Security Council over Sudan is limited. The US needs China’s cooperation as concerns over Iran and North Korea take center stage – a hard-line stance over Darfur may not be possible at this time given other geopolitical realities.
  • As many have predicted, the urgency of looming deadlines concerning North-South tensions may also take precedence over Darfur as the US and other stakeholders in the CPA try to preserve the fragile peace in that conflict.

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