Thursday, January 31, 2002
As part of an ongoing forum to inspire serious discussion of polices, John Prendergast, co-director of the Africa Program at the International Crisis Group, offers an update on the crisis in Sudan.
JERRY FOWLER: Well, we’ll go ahead and get started. I’d like to welcome you to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Jerry Fowler, and I’m the staff director of the Committee on Conscience here at the museum. The Committee on Conscience mandate is to alert the national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide.
As part of that mandate, we’ve issued a genocide warning with regard to Sudan because of our conclusion that there’s a threat of genocide. Over the past 18 months or so, we’ve sponsored a continuing series of events to discuss Sudan. We also have outside of our larger auditorium -- not this one -- a special display on Sudan, which actually represents the first time that space in the museum has been used to address a contemporary situation outside of Europe. We have a website that has information about Sudan. And, we’ve sponsored a number of public programs, and this is the latest of those.
As part of our mandate to stimulate a response, to confront, and work to halt threats of genocide, we seek to provide a forum to discuss options for responding to particular situations. I should emphasize that we ourselves, the Committee on Conscience and the Museum, don’t endorse particular policies. We want to create a forum that allows for the serious discussion of policies, and that’s one of the reasons that we’re very happy today to present this briefing by John Prendergast.
We normally hold these briefings in a classroom where it’s a little easier to have an informal give-and-take. But I guess because of John’s -- either his personal prominence or the strength of his ideas, the response to this was so great that we moved it into this larger auditorium, because it would have been too many people to put into one of our classrooms. But I hope, in spite of the kind of formality of being up on this stage, that we’ll be able to have a give-and-take after John makes a presentation.
As you know, John is now the co-director of the Africa Program or the International Crisis Group. And they have just published a new book, “”God, Oil, and Country; Changing the Logic of War in Sudan.“” John probably, to this Question, doesn’t need much of an introduction, but he probably wants one anyway.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: We’ll have more time to talk if we don’t.
JERRY FOWLER: Before joining ICG, he was a special advisor to the US State Department, where he worked on a number of issues, including Sudan policy. He worked with Special Envoy Anthony Lake on the Eritrea-Ethiopia negotiations, and claims to have advised Central Africa Special Envoy Howard Wolpe. I don’t know if any of that advice was actually taken.
Before that, John was executive fellow of the United States Institute of Peace, and before that, director of Africa Affairs at the National Security Council where he provided support to the President, the National Security Advisor, and successive senior directors on overall Africa policy.
So I’m very happy today to welcome John and give him a chance to lay out the ideas that are in the new ICG publication.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Well, thank you very much, Jerry, for your personal and your institutional commitment over the years. It’s been really a great addition to many of us in this room who have been working over the last decade or so on behalf of peace and justice in Sudan.
I’m really humbled, actually, today to be able to speak to you within these solemn walls. In this building is housed the world’s foremost testament to the concept of “”never again.“” But, sadly, it is happening again, in smaller and much less dramatic ways, perhaps, than in Europe during the 1940s, but it is happening again in painfully slow motion, at an almost surreally slow speed now, today, in Sudan. Although it’s very, very late, it’s not too late for us to act.
Most of us here are well aware of the statistics: 2 million people dead, 4-1/2 million people driven from their homes. Most of us here today also know about the reasons for these horrifying numbers. You know of the population clearing operations in the oil fields of Upper Nile and in the Nuba Mountains. You know of the use of starvation as a weapon of war. You know, of course, of the targeting of civilians and of their asset bases as a means of reducing work for the opposition. You know of aerial bombardment, continuous aerial bombardment that has become principally a tactic of terror. And you know, of course, of the raids on villages, in Bahr Al-Ghazal principally, which have revived the slave trade in Sudan.
Let me put this to you, though, in a different way. Imagine just for a minute that back in 1995, you took a trip to, say, St. Louis, and imagine you went there and you visited the Arch; you went to see a Cardinals game; you wanted to see if Mark McGwire would hit a home run. You visited the local hospital, because some fish you ate gave you a funny stomach. Imagine you liked the trip so much, and especially the people there in St. Louis, that you decided again in 2001 to go back, in the last year. Imagine that when you arrive, you find that the Arch has been destroyed, the baseball field has been abandoned, and the local hospital has been razed. And all the people you met are gone, some of them dead, most of them unaccounted for.
Now, stop imagining and let me tell you what I’ve experienced just in the last 6 months. In that time frame, I visited two particular villages, one in Upper Nile and one in Bahr Al-Ghazal, in south central and southwestern Sudan, all since the middle of 2001. I brought with me lists of people that I had spoken with about a half dozen years ago on an earlier trip. I wanted to catch up, see what they were up to, see what had changed, see how their perspectives had changed on the conflict, and see where things were going from their point of view.
But no one, not one soul, was there that I had seen then, that I had shared meals with then, that I had traded stories with then. None of them were there. The local monuments and symbols, their Arch, is destroyed. The local clinics, their hospital, burned to the ground in one place, bombed in another place. The soccer field, their stadium, deserted and overgrown. I came to see if things had changed for these people and found that they will and could never been the same again.
When I had the opportunity and curse, as Jerry said, to be part of this mediation team for Ethiopia-Eritrea, there were two parties to the conflict in that war with relatively straightforward positions. Despite that, it took us 2-1/2 years of constant shuttle diplomacy, weeks-long negotiating sessions in Algiers, and strong US leadership from President Clinton on down, and very close cooperation with our African and European partners. But let me tell you, the Sudan’s war is no Ethiopia-Eritrea. It is much deeper, much more complex, with far too many very relevant actors and interests and grievances.
It’s time, therefore, for the US to decide as a nation whether we really want to help end this war or not, because it will require just that: It will require the US direct leadership of a peace effort.
I’m getting ahead of myself. I think we first need to understand for a few minutes, all of us on the same page, where people are coming from in Sudan and what is driving this war. Rather than give you the usual sort of laundry list of causes of the conflict -- there are myriad causes, as you know, root and proximate -- I’d like to rather take you on a brief tour of locations, some of the places I’ve visited over the last 6 months, in order to provide a window on the multi-causality of this conflict.
Now, I’m sure in the book, there is a map somewhere that perhaps would help a little bit in this effort. I’m not sure what page it’s on, so if somebody can find it quick, they can yell it out so everybody else can be on the same page. Page 2? Hey, that’s easy. If we can start first in Bahr Al-Ghazal. That is in -- if you look southwest, the southwest part of the country, hopefully, it’s -- is it pointed out as Bahr Al-Ghazal?
JERRY FOWLER: Yes.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Southwest part of the country. Really, the mother of all front lines in the multi-theater war. It is here that you really begin to understand the depth of the racial and religious discrimination and exclusion that is the foundation of 40 years of civil war in Sudan since independence. It is here you also begin to understand the underpinnings of the central concept of self-determination, the Gordian knot that will have to be untied somehow in order to resolve this war.
After centuries of being victimized by slave raiding, after a decade and a half which has seen two of the worst famines in the entire history of Africa -- one in 1987 and 1988, the other one in 1998 -- and after continuing assaults by government-supported militia, the Dinka of Bahr Al-Ghazal are saying emphatically, enough is enough.
This is very significant because the Bahr Al-Ghazal Dinka are the backbone of the SPLA, as many of you know, and the backbone of the rank and file of the SPLA army. It matters what they think. They are very clear -- and this is an important point -- self-determination must be part of the solution, or they will keep fighting to the last man.
Let’s understand their sentiment. The sentiment is not, as some from afar might think, we have suffered so much, so now we must settle, we must compromise. Rather, the sentiment is this: We have suffered so much, we cannot turn back now. The bottom line for these people, the bottom line is self-determination, and that means in some way, shape, or form, that they will control their destiny.
Now, that can be negotiated in many different ways, in any meaningful ways. But it cannot be given away at the outset, as many in the international community would have it.
Next, let’s travel to the east a bit, across the Nile to Upper Nile, the region of Upper Nile, which is the home, of course, of the oil fields. Now, oil isn’t the only cause of the war, as all of you know, but it certainly has intensified the war since the exploitation began in 1998 and ’99. That has never been more true than today, as the key Upper Nile commanders begin to reunite and have continued to reunite with the SPLA, the dominant opposition faction, creating more and more of a unified South.
While southern Sudanese exiles have had a very intense debate that many of you are perhaps aware of over the last year or so about the future of southern Sudan, and given the impression perhaps of some disunity in the South, quite a different process has been taking place and unfolding on the ground in Upper Nile. Ten years after the SPLA split, it splintered where the Nuer commanders largely left the SPLA, and resulted in a badly divided South, which divided Dinka and Nuer communities right down the middle.
Reconciliation is now taking root, thanks in large part to the efforts of the new Sudan Council of Churches, who have also addressed an audience here in this building. This new Sudan Council of Churches’ effort has been a bottom-up peace process that is now culminating, finally, in the reunion of the top guns. This means that despite all the predictions -- and we heard many of them -- that the oil wealth would lead to an overwhelming military advantage for the government, unity in the South is impacting significantly in a different way, the other way, and driving oil companies to review their plans for Sudan.
Next, let’s travel up the Nile to Khartoum, where all the oil development has fueled the government’s desire to not allow any outcome that could lead to the division of the country. Self-determination then becomes a rhetorical device which must be reduced to its lowest common denominator and must be used in some way, shape, or form as a vehicle to maintain unity in the country. The political Islamist agenda, which drove this coup in 1989 and has driven this government’s agenda, has become much more complicated as efforts to cooperate with counterterrorism have unfolded and they harm, in fact, international Islamist ties.
Also, in Khartoum, when you meet with internally displaced people, with the churches, with other communities who have come in because of civil conflict and are residing around the outskirts of Khartoum -- you again get this extraordinary sense. You get a taste of the depth of the racial and religious discrimination that is perceived by people and is, again, driving this conflict, driving the central cause of this conflict and its continuation.
Also in Khartoum is a beleaguered, but nevertheless committed, set of civil society and political party activists and organizations. They represent the aspirations of the vast majority of the Sudanese people and, in different ways, are working towards one main objective, and that is democracy.
So now let’s travel east from Khartoum to the Eritrean border, and take a quick jump and stop in Asmara and Cairo. In all of these places, you find representatives of what’s called the National Democratic Alliance, the consortium, the umbrella of opposition groups in Sudan, who remind you that this is not just a North-South war, but a national struggle for rights and representation.
In Cairo, one experiences in a more open way what I think is felt throughout much of the rest of Africa: opposition to an independent southern Sudan. The Egyptian government reads any proposal for self-determination as laying the groundwork for separation, and no one yet has successfully disabused them of that notion. That, in the end, will have to be the job of the United States Government and of the Sudanese themselves.
So to finish our tour, we can really go to any significant African capital, whether it’s Abuja or Pretoria, or Addis, Nairobi, Kampala -- take your pick. Although lured by Khartoum’s oil diplomacy, they will inevitably come, in my view, to the SPLA’s rescue should its fortunes flag, not wanting to see opposition to what is perceived as a discriminatory agenda to be snuffed out. It will always be there in small ways for the SPLA to ensure that there is an opposition to this government’s agenda, unless there is a serious peace process.
So against this complex backdrop, is there really any hope for peace in Sudan? I would argue that, really, for the first time in the 18 years of this conflict’s history, there is hope. A huge -- relatively speaking -- huge window of opportunity has opened up. But the clock is ticking on whether the United States, and the international community more broadly, will respond appropriately.
Let me explain this window as we see it. If you walk away from today’s session with anything at all, I hope you walk away with a better understanding of what a unique and singular opportunity we have right now to make peace in Sudan. Here are the factors as we see them.
First, the September 11th terrorist attacks have built a consensus within the government around the tactical compromise aimed at once and for all ending its international isolation through cooperation in counterterrorism and in the peace process. It is strengthened moderate voices for peace, and they’ve given us an opportunity to move this thing forward.
Second, September 11th has also increased the vulnerability of key government officials because of past association with Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda network, and other terrorist organizations. There’s an increased fear of retribution if there is forced change in Khartoum in the future, especially after watching the Taliban disintegrate, hunted down by Afghans as much as by Americans.
Third, there is an increased threat to the oil fields that many of you perhaps have been reading about over the last few days. This affects greatly the fortunes of the oil company partners of the government. Lundin and Petranos in the last 2 weeks have suspended their operations. Talisman is looking to sell. Most importantly, because of the insecurity, none of these actors in the consortium can get at the most lucrative blocks to the south of current exploitation. That’s where the real money is, and they can’t get at it.
But that’s not really all there is to the oil story. As the price of oil on the global market has declined, while insurgent attacks, while SPLA attacks, have increased, this has increased the cost of exploiting Sudanese oil because of security insurance and replacement of equipment and many other factors, making it less and less attractive to other international oil companies to come in as part of the consortium or for the existing partners to expand production.
But that’s still not the full picture on oil. The capital market sanctions legislation that currently resides in -- waiting for a conference in the Congress -- still hangs out there. Of course, it’s uncertain; it has an uncertain fate. But that’s the point. No company really knows what will happen with this. It acts as a small, but important, deterrent to diversification, diversification of the oil sector in Sudan, which is a key objective of the government, which doesn’t want a Chinese monopoly, doesn’t want Chinese control of the oil sector.
That’s still not the whole story on oil. The arms buying spree that the government went on over the last year, last year and a half, based on their increased oil revenues, was premised on oil purchased at $30 a barrel. As you know, it isn’t $30 a barrel now; it’s fallen by at least a third. This has created serious budgetary problems as the debt overhang in Sudan, probably the largest on the African continent, gets larger and larger and larger as every month goes by.
This is just the beginning of a list that, through these travels over the last 6 months, we’ve been compiling as to reasons why, particularly since September 11th, the government is ready for serious negotiations. Let me just say for a second, they’re not ready to give away the store. They’re not ready to walk up to the table and hand over a just peace without negotiating. They’re serious negotiators, and they have very serious interests, but they’re ready to negotiate seriously. That’s the point.
But the SPLA, they also have a number of reasons why they would participate seriously in a serious peace process. They’re worried about their own military position in the long run. The South is being torn to pieces by this war, as all of us know, and is probably why most of us are here today. The government has new equipment, particularly the attack helicopters. Their coordination of ground and air assets, which they utilized in the last major conventional confrontation between the SPLA and the government in southwestern Sudan in Raga and Ademzubare (phonetic) a few months ago, demonstrated that they figured this out better than they had in the past. This is a warning, really, to the SPLA about the effectiveness in the future that mercenaries and all this high-tech equipment can have. Again, the destruction -- if you use scorched earth as your principle tactic, you’ll win a lot of battles.
Finally, I think the SPLA, as I said, it will always have a bastion of support within Africa. African nations will always come to its assistance at the time of need. But I think that the level of assistance is perhaps more uncertain than it has been in the past. There are many reasons for that over the last few years. The Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict really started the ball downhill; the Ugandans’ very large-scale investment in the Congo; a lot of other reasons. So these are issues that, again, this is with the government. They’re not going to walk up to the negotiating table and start giving things away. But if there is a serious peace process, we can expect the SPLA to be ready to negotiate seriously.
So what do we do with this wide-open window? Well, I think most importantly, we can’t continue to do business as usual. US leadership in constructing a path to peace is the indispensable missing ingredient. At this juncture, it is an uncertain ingredient. We have a month or perhaps 2 months at the most when Special Envoy John Danforth makes his recommendation to President Bush as to what should be the role of the US in the peace process in Sudan. That recommendation will be a crucial, but by no means singular, determinant for US action.
The absolute worst-case scenario is the following -- worst-case scenario for the people of Sudan, I might add -- if Senator Danforth concludes that because he has only made progress on three of the four tests that he has constructed for the government and the SPLA, that because they’ve only made progress on three of these four tests, that the Sudanese parties aren’t ready for peace, they aren’t ready to negotiate seriously. And therefore, the US would risk its prestige and its credibility and waste its time to move forward with a larger engagement in the peace process, this would be a disaster.
Another potential disaster and recipe for failure would be for Senator Danforth and the United States to trot out the old mantra -- one that, of course, administrations across party lines have used -- that it’s up to the parties and to the region to take responsibility for peace, and then using that mantra to encourage the IGAD process and the Egyptian-Libyan initiative to work together with perhaps some little enhancement of international effort, even US diplomacy on the margins.
These are some areas that will result, I guarantee you, in another 18 years of war and another 2 million graves in Sudan. We simply cannot miss this window of opportunity with in-the-box thinking and conventional responses to the conflict in Sudan.
What is really most remarkable to me is that there has never been a multi-national, high-level sustained effort to build a viable peace process in Sudan. In order to do this, what is needed, again, is US leadership, working closely with the British and the Norwegians, who have formed a sort of partnership outside the region and supporting peace in Sudan, and these three actors, in turn working very closely with the regional states that have a vested interest in their own existing initiatives, which have undermined each other over the last few years.
What this means more specifically is that the US must take the lead as only it can in crafting one unified process that all stakeholders buy into. This new process will inevitably be some kind of a partnership between the regional and extra-regional actors. So we’ll need new packaging, a new understanding of a new process. It cannot be seen to simply be the existing efforts with a little extra international push or coordination. The parties on the ground in Sudan will not take this seriously.
It means having a serious high-level mediating team with one lead negotiator who has the respect and the confidence of the parties and of the international community. It means crafting and coordinating international leverage, something, again, that has never been done, through a contact group or a working group of key nations agreeing on specific incentives and pressures that can be deployed in support of the mediation effort. It means ensuring, most importantly, the centrality of certain principles in the process, such as, not surprisingly, the right of self-determination for southern Sudanese and other marginalized people.
Let me conclude by underlining this central point. In the 18 years of war in Sudan, of this phase of the war in Sudan, there has never been a window of opportunity for peace as wide as there is now. Both sides are battle-hardened with huge walls of mistrust and no confidence in existing efforts. But all the parties -- the government, the SPLA, the larger National Democratic Alliance umbrella of opposition, the Umma Party, civil society organizations, all of them -- have called for a leadership role by the United States, moving us beyond this traffic jam of existing initiatives.
The US should maintain its principled advocacy for human rights. I’m not suggesting one iota of abandonment of that policy. But understand, and make key constituencies in the United States understand the best it can, that the best means, the only means for ensuring these rights is a comprehensive peace deal. And we’ll really only get that with a much larger role and engagement by the United States Government.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JERRY FOWLER: Well, thank you, John. We’ll open it up for questions. Actually, I’ll take the prerogative as the host. And the first question I had -- actually, I have questions on just all the people involved, how committed they are to peace.
But, in particular, Khartoum, I understood you to refer to a tactical compromise within the government that has agreed on engaging in peace talks as being appropriate now. And I wonder if, given the ideological basis of the government and the way that they in particular have prosecuted the war over the last decade, if a tactical compromise is really a very sound basis for saying that there’s actually a real window of opportunity, as opposed to a window of opportunity for longing things for a while.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Yes. I think in and of themselves, each one of these reasons is not sufficient for us to believe that the parties -- and you’re asking in this case about the government -- to move forward seriously in the peace process. Taking together as a package, it motivates. So some may be motivated by this desire to remove the government from the partial international isolation that it finds itself. Some will be particularly motivated by the oil dynamics that I mentioned to you. Some will be particularly motivated by a desire to take on the world stage a more leading role, on the regional stage and on the world stage, that many of the Sudanese leaders believe they will rightly assume as soon as they remove some of these barriers to such a role.
So on the one hand, in and of itself, some of the September 11th dynamics are enough, I think, for us to conclude that they’re indeed serious enough to negotiate seriously. But I think that taken together, some of these dynamics lead me to believe that there is a collective seriousness to move forward.
There are certainly different levels of commitment. People who have worked in and out of Khartoum over the years know that there is a shifting kaleidoscope of individuals who are key in making decisions, and it’s their calculations that will be crucial in determining where they go. The only way we will ever know -- I mean, what I’m actually proposing to you is an act of faith, in effect, because until we actually have a process that sustains serious proposals and serious counter-proposals, and serious negotiation backed by serious leverage, with serious testing of the parties on particular positions, we’re just not going to know where their bottom lines are.
It’s foolish for diplomats and other international actors to go in, as they repeatedly do, to Bashir or Taha, and in the South to go into John Garang, and try to extract these bottom lines out of them. Every time they walk out of these meetings, “These guys aren’t clear about what they want.” Of course they’re not going to say what they want. That’s what they’re going to do in a serious negotiation. If you begin to throw out randomly what your bottom lines are, then you’re going to alienate serious constituencies, and both parties have serious constituencies that care about what the solution is.
In Khartoum, that is the case. There are different groups that support this government and has supported it for 12 years. Within the SPLA, there are different groups that support it. Within the NDA, the particular parties within the NDA, there are groups that support it. There are constituencies. None of these guys are ever going to put all their cards on the table and say, “This is where we’re going.”
So this window provides us perhaps a 50-50 chance that we could get a peace agreement, because this is probably the hardest war in Africa by far to negotiate a peace agreement for. And therefore, I’m not trying to sell you a bill of goods to say, hey, you get us a moderately serious peace process going, we’ll nail this thing in a few months. That’s why I gave you the comparison of Ethiopia-Eritrea, an easy one: 2-1/2 years.
But I do believe that until we put the peace process in place with serious mediation, we’re not going to know. We’ve got to start testing these guys in ways other than confidence-building measures on humanitarian diplomacy, which is what we’ve been doing for the last 18 years.
JERRY FOWLER: So there must be a lot of [indecipherable].
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Thank you. Maybe just a quick point on both where some of the popular movements and popular trends at the local level in the South and North might suffice to try to begin to answer a very comprehensive first question, and then a quick point about the domestic constituencies here in the United States.
With respect to the South, I just mentioned, but certainly we could spend hours talking about the extraordinary efforts that have gone on at the local level by churches, by nongovernmental organizations, by Sudanese civil society groups in the South with SPLA participation and with international support to try to reunify and reconcile communities that were so badly divided by the 1991 split.
This has been a very difficult process. I spent a lot of time in southern Sudan throughout the decade of the ’90s, watching efforts begin and fail in horrible incidents of, particularly, these warlords and militia commanders trying to undermine these agreements. But at the end of the day, where we’re sitting now, against everyone’s prediction, is a situation in which by and large there is a great deal of cross-border movement of goods and people between the Dinka and the Nuer communities. The kind of intermarriage and kinship arrangements that existed for centuries are resuming. All the kinds of things that build a foundation for real peace in Sudan are emerging very, very strongly.
This period that occurred in the aftermath of 1991, is one that people are ashamed of, and they want never to have happen again. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen again. That doesn’t mean there aren’t warlords out there that will take money from Khartoum and go do damage. But in the end, and there still are -- Paulino Matiep and others are still out there with some militias, and they can always find some people, because it’s a desperate situation, to follow them or to be paid by them.
But nevertheless, at this point, that bottom-up process has resulted in almost all of the commanders who left in 1991 have come back to the SPLA, and it’s unified the South politically, militarily, and socially in general terms. There are still grave issues and problems and divisions that will need to be addressed. But how could there not be, in a situation of continuous civil war and economic dissolution as has existed in the South since independence?
In the North, I think, also -- although, again, we have to look at the context. Since 1989, since this government took power, there was an effort to try to destroy civil society organizations and opposition groups that had independent bases that perhaps would represent a threat to that power base.
Despite that -- and we’re talking about human rights abuses that Human Rights Watch has documented as well as anyone, which compare unfavorably anywhere around the world with some of the legendary dictators of the 20th century -- despite all that, there is a robust civil society and an effort to continue to push an independent press, political opposition parties that continue to operate even if they’re banned or illegal, still trying to coordinate messages, delivering messages, political organizing, all the kind of things in preparation for a time and a moment when they will have their opportunity to participate again in the political process. So I derive a great deal of hope from that.
There is negotiation always going on with the government, and the government is always -- there are people within the government that want to see more liberalization. There are people within the government that will fight to the very end against liberalization. So there’s a diversity of views within the Sudanese government about what to do about the whole concept of political liberalization.
But the fact, when you start opening the door, when you start going down that slope, it gets a bit slippery. There’s opportunities left and right for organizing. There’s space for political organizing and political movements to build. I see a lot of that happening. And, yes, every day there’s something, some terrible news comes out. You get last week when Nhial Bol wrote the article about slavery and got slapped with a huge fine, thrown in jail. These kind of things are going to continue to happen. But there’s the fact the Sudan Times or whatever it’s called, the Sudan Monitor, Khartoum Monitor, publishes is an important thing, because it gives people hope that they can organize. If you’re really going to close the door, you never let any of that happen. So there’s little movements, little grass coming out through the cracks that demonstrate that are the tip of iceberg of what really exists in terms of people’s aspirations for democracy in Sudan.
Let me just use that as an opportunity to say that I don’t want to, by virtue of focusing so exclusively on the SPLA and the government, mislead you into believing that the solution for Sudan at the peace table is with only the government and the SPLA at the table. That would be a mistake. I think we have to expand the negotiations process -- and the SPLA has articulated this, the others have articulated this -- to a wider group of actors. And the NDA provides a convenient vehicle for widening that. So you get the aspirations of the large majority of Sudanese people somehow represented at the table, and that’s very key.
On the issue of religious activists in North America, they have played an absolutely crucial role in putting this issue on the map. They’re criticized for sometimes an over-simplistic message or exclusively focusing on one or another issue to the exclusion of the complexity of the things that we’ve talked about today, but to me, they’ve put it on the map.
Now, what are we going to do with it now that it’s on the map, is the huge question. I think that in terms of my own time, I would like to spend it working with people and talking about this point that I made at the very end, which is that the human rights issues that they’re deeply concerned about and that they have national movements that they can mobilize, that are very strong President Bush supporters and constituencies of the Republican Party that can be mobilized. And, by the way, it’s across those party lines, because there are groups on the left as well that are very, very keen on this in terms of advocacy for human rights in Sudan -- but with respect to those particular ones that are most influential with this President, this issue of these human rights issues being best addressed through a comprehensive peace deal is the central message that I think we’d like to try to get into there. I think a lot of them are convinced of that.
So it’s just a matter of -- what? This war is as complex as the negotiations, the difficult negotiations that have occurred over the last 18 years. All these competing peace initiatives. A lot of people don’t know what to do. I’m giving you one idea. There could be many others that are better ideas.
But the bottom line is, I think, just that basic point: if the religious activists that have been able to mobilize the administration to have a Rose Garden ceremony with a very, very serious personage as an envoy on this particular subject, then they can go a step further and influence then the direction of how we go beyond that envoy. Of crucial importance is that they make that point; that indeed, whatever else they’re going to advocate for, and they’re going to continue to advocate, perhaps rightly, on the issues of aerial bombardment and slavery and all these other things, but that, in fact, advocacy be first and foremost for a large, direct US role in the peace process.
QUESTION: My name is [inaudible] began earlier this month [inaudible] and I agree with you that there is a window of opportunity for peace, and I do agree that there is a tremendous role for the United States to play.
But I would emphasize that it should be a fair role. [inaudible] list of the charges against the government, but you don’t talk about the SPLA atrocities. They commit war crimes, and the New York Times and other people objected to that. Can you comment about the war crimes of the SPLA? And instead of just pressuring the government, why don’t you pressure the SPLA? They just signed a peace agreement [inaudible], and the government called for a comprehensive cease-fire, which the SPLA has [inaudible].
My basic point is that the US foreign policy under the Clinton Administration was a failure. I mean, to arm their -- Ethiopia and Eritrea, then they try and say that the [inaudible] based on faulty evidence. It was a failure. So it’s encouraging that Senator Danforth [inaudible].
But the whole point is that the US should be fair and pressure both sides and acknowledge that the government has done something decent. Like, when we were there, they explained how they upgraded a committee [inaudible] looking into abductions and stuff, people who have been -- [inaudible] abductions and so forth. And they freely acknowledge that there is a problem with that.
So my whole point has been, let’s call on the United States to be fair, to pressure both sides. But don’t just say, [inaudible] the US to be a referee. This is just an analogy. To say they’re going to be a fair player and be a referee, if you just want to arm the NDA and SPLA, that’s like a boxing match where the referee is giving a crowbar to one of the fighters. I mean, it makes no sense. How can somebody be fair and then arm one side? Well, that’s my [inaudible].
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Well, and I realize that mostly needs a comment, but I’ll just comment on the comment.
JERRY FOWLER: He kind of raised his voice at the end.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: I think the better analogy would be a boxing match where one of the boxers has a crowbar and the other one doesn’t. But that’s just me. In this case, I think yes, indeed, abuses have been committed on both sides, but the vast preponderance of those abuses have been committed by the government. The book does indeed outline very significant abuses by all parties in the conflict.
But in this case and in all of the examples -- by the way, I never specified at the outset whether it was government or SPLA; you assumed that it was government because --
QUESTION: [inaudible] aerial bombardment.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Right. Well, I guess that only one of the actors has airplanes to bomb civilians.
So we have a situation where there is a serious human rights crisis, perhaps, and why it’s on the genocide -- is it warning?
JERRY FOWLER: Warning.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: -- warning list here at the Holocaust Museum, is because it’s a human rights crisis. Abuses have and will continue perhaps to be committed by all parties.
But most importantly, I think the point you made is that the US must be fair, absolutely must be fair. And the question is, what does that mean? Some would argue that fair means evenhanded, some would argue that fair means neutral, and others would argue that fair means principled, and you speak for what is right and you speak out against what is wrong, and you continue to press in a principled way for a peace that’s fair to all parties in Sudan. I hope that that’s what the United States will do.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Just to clarify what you mean by this last point, what would the threat be?
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Well, yes. This question is housed or takes place in the context of, a Security Council would never do such a thing. The dynamics on the council, the permanent five, would, I think, prevent that from ever happening, so it’s almost not worth commenting.
But it is worth responding and thinking as much as we can about this question of justice and accountability.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: -- this one, I’m sure, will get clubbed, and I hope the human rights advocates in the room will club me good on it, because that’s their job.
But I think that in this context that the parties at the table will have to take the lead on deciding to what extent they want a justice and accountability component built into a peace agreement that would decide the future of the country. You know, as in many places, that the threat of such accountability will drive one of the parties away from the table. When they’re weak, fine. Do it and corral them and bring them to justice. Bring them to the table and bring them to justice.
But this isn’t a weak party. This has a lot of supporters internationally. In the case of the government, others might have made the same arguments about the kinds of cases that could be brought against the SPLA for some of its actions.
So on the one hand, I will answer by saying that I would take the lead on this issue from the context of the parties that are at the negotiating table and that are influenced -- Sudanese parties that are influencing those at the negotiating tables, and not just those that are sitting at the table, but also --
JOHN PRENDERGAST: -- accountability mechanisms, and you asked about the ICC, a not-yet-functional ICC, and other such things. Of course, this conflict and the level of abuses in this conflict would qualify perhaps for some kind of a tribunal, at least, or some kind of international mechanism to respond to this litany of abuses that have occurred.
I don’t have a position on that now. I don’t know whether pushing that agenda very hard right now would drive us further away from the possibility of a peace agreement that will stop the suffering. That may be a cop-out, I fully admit it. But I don’t think that we’re in a position internationally. If we had the Marines revved up, ready to go after certain people, whoever they are -- I’m not taking sides or anything on this issue -- but if there was a list of 10 people and we knew it and we were going to do it, hey, maybe that would be a different story. But that is not in the realm of the possible right now.
What is the realm of the possible is a peace process and a peace agreement. And therefore I would pursue that with all seriousness in the first instance and look at questions of accountability secondarily, not bury them, but put them out there and debate them. But I just don’t have an answer on that from my own perspective right now. Thanks.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Yes. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in this move. You have an opportunity, I think, as Europe and the United States are working more closely together in the context of this Administration in preparing something not determined yet as terms of a larger effort on peace.
Central to that, as I said earlier, is going to be the construction of leverage, of multilateral leverage, incentives and pressures to move the process forward, to back the process and resource the process. They just handed away a significant amount of that leverage before we’ve even set up the process at a time when really -- I mean, maybe some of those in the audience can tell me -- I don’t see a huge difference between today and last month or the month before in terms of the environment, the critical dialogue that the European Union and the government have been engaged in, has changed.
So I was really, really disappointed, because I do believe that a partnership between North America and the US working with other key governments around the world that have an influence and an interest in Sudan, working together and using comparative advantages of the relationships they have or don’t have with the parties of the conflict, that putting out significant assistance as an incentive and withholding that assistance to both parties as a pressure -- or to all parties is a pressure -- would help. Again, none of these things are definitive. But as part of the overall effort, it would be really important. And they handed it over. I don’t even understand the logic. And again, there might be a logic that I don’t understand. I’m not saying there isn’t, there probably is, and they probably are tying it to something that’s happened, that they perceive it to have happened.
But at this juncture, it just seems like, tactically, a really, really, really bad move.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Yes, this is a very torturous issue, I imagine. If I was sitting in Khartoum now, I would probably be put at the top of the list as the issues of degree of difficulty.
We had for 2 years, whatever it was, a year and a half of the Clinton Administration, there was a dialogue on the issue of terrorism between the United States and Khartoum. Very little to no information was shared either way. And the mantle passed in January last year to the Bush Administration. Very little happened. A little bit; enough that they felt, well, there was a little progress made on the very specific issue of the information provided about the suspects in the Mubarak assassination attempt. So the United States, even before September 11th, made a decision: Let’s allow the lifting of the sanctions in the Security Council. But again, by and large, mostly not much progress.
After September 11th, progress picked up, as all of you know, very, very considerably in terms of turning over information, files, and people to be interviewed. That process has slowed down considerably. There are still people that are being sought. There are people that the US would like to interview that they’re not getting access to. One can speculate as to the reasons why. I would put foremost on that list that people fear that if we allow certain people to come forward, the information they have about high-level contacts between the government of Sudan officials and al Qaeda activists and operators, including bin Laden himself, during the period bin Laden was there and afterwards, would be first and foremost on the agenda, and they don’t want that to happen. Maybe I’m wrong, but that appears to be where it is.
So the thing has become complicated now. I think there was an assumption on the part of the Sudanese and an assumption on the part of the American public who cares about this that, in fact, this was actually going to change the dynamic in the relationship between the United States and Sudan and, in fact, early and quick cooperation on the counter terrorism front would, in some fundamental way, change US interests and change the tenor of the US relationship with the Sudanese government. I don’t think enough has happened for that to happen.
I think that the constituencies that were asked about earlier by Professor Bashir, the religious activists and the Congressional Black Caucus, the kind of community groups that have mobilized on this question have maintained, at least for now, somewhat of a standoff between those that would want to engage more and those would want to focus on the human rights questions. So it has bogged down a bit in both domestic political considerations and the fact that it just hasn’t progressed at the speed at which American policymakers would want it to progress.
I’m telling you what I think. Hopefully, US policy people would give you a more comprehensive answer as to what that would be. But at this point, I don’t think that the kind of cooperation that has occurred will change fundamentally the relationship between the Sudanese and American governments.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: What is it exactly, sorry?
JOHN PRENDERGAST: A commitment of the government to terrorism.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Oh, I see.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Okay, good. Right. Let me just say that in terms of my overall perspective on the conflict, I’ll refer you to this book [inaudible] recently.
JERRY FOWLER: Two hundred and fifty pages.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: There’s an executive summary. Read the first page. It should be there, I hope.
JERRY FOWLER: Cliff Notes.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: The Cliff Notes are coming. Monarch, yes. They just signed a contract just yesterday.
Will this agreement, though, exclude the NDA? This is a very important question. I tried to answer it a little bit earlier, but it’s worth reinforcing. It would really be a mistake to proceed at the outset of this negotiation with a perspective and an assumption that this is North-South conflict with the solution that can be gained simply by negotiating to the government and the SPLA. We need to widen the set of actors.
Again, how exactly an enhanced unified process would look, I don’t have a crystal ball. But certainly, NDA participation in that in some way, shape, or form would be crucial. I believe that that’s fundamental. Let me just say, there is an important fundamental reason for that, and that is because this is a national war. But there’s also a tactical reason. I think NDA participation, political party participation in general in these negotiations, would provide a moderating influence on both sides, both of the armed parties. So it is essential; that would be my one-sentence answer.
On the question of commitment of the government to the counter terrorism agenda globally, it requires just a few seconds of background, and there’s a chapter in here that really focuses on this history. But effectively, Turabi came to power in 1989 with an agenda, a desire to do something that no one had done before and to create a crossroads in Khartoum between international Islamist agendas and internationalist Arabist agendas. He allowed organizations who subscribed to these notions free access to Khartoum. He provided these organizations -- many of them considered to be terrorist organizations -- he provided them with visas, or his government provided them with visas, allowing them to use passports, allowing them to have training camps, allowing them to use accounts to both move money and launder it. They provided basically the accoutrements of a state, which was very, very crucial for these groups, and this allowed for al Qaeda’s rapid growth. It would not have happened, it would not have grown as quickly, had it not had those state benefits.
So as the ’90s progressed and the effort to exploit the oil intensified -- by ’96, ’97, when you could smell it coming -- they began to sacrifice some of these groups, because they saw that the revenue, the money that came in as a result of allowing for this free, safe haven to exist, the cost of that was very, very high on the international scene, as you all know. I mean, the partial isolation that exists now was almost total then. So they began to, one by one, sacrifice some of the most egregious actors such as Osama bin Laden, and they became less important to them in terms of subsidizing the state coffers.
So at this point, we have a situation after September 11th where they’re willing, of course, to throw away all of the old bones of the bin Laden network, they’re willing to throw away many of the sort of marginal terrorist groups that are on terrorism lists. And they’ve done so. They’ve turned them in. They’ve sold them out.
But there is a feeling in many countries in the Middle East -- Iran and Sudan have been the lead on this issue, I think, within the Arab League and within some of the other international organizations that need to plan strategy on these issues -- and that is that there are genuine liberation groups that the West labels as terrorists that they reject -- they believe are freedom fighters. So you have Hamas and Hezbollah and other groups who are housed in Khartoum that will continue to stay there and will continue to gain refuge there.
This will inevitably also cause problems as the Middle East situation intensifies, I imagine, in the relationship between the US and Sudan. I don’t know that; I just assume it.
So there are hard lines. There are lines that they’re not willing to cross, lines that have to do with that that I have just told you, and lines that have to do with what I said earlier, which is wanting to be careful about the kind of information that gets shared that might rebound negatively on officials that are in charge of the government today, because it isn’t just Turabi. It was this whole group of people that worked very closely with Turabi to build this vision to allow all these groups to come in and provided that kind of safe haven.
So the kind of commitment to the vision that existed at the outset of -- that the political elements of that vision are not as strong as they were in 1989, not as strong as they were in 1995. So there is evolution. There is a change. But there remains a great deal of issues to be dealt with, both through a peace process and in the context of the Sudanese government’s relationship with those that would like to see it provide more in the way of cooperation with the global counterterrorism efforts.
QUESTION: [inaudible] is that there are those who believe that the [inaudible] that unless the international community comes to the conclusion [inaudible] and thus provides a solution that [inaudible] the nation through the [inaudible] Sudan and [inaudible].
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Yes. And I’m sure that if we just left for one minute, if I didn’t speak up quickly and answer the question, there would have been other people that would have jumped in very, very strongly in support of that line. It’s a very, very deeply held position -- widely in southern Sudan, which you’ve just articulated.
Let’s put it this way. The situation is -- I hate to say it’s more complex than that, because that’s such an arrogant thing to say. What I mean is, the situation has other elements to the picture. One of the other elements is that Sudan is 65 percent African. Southern Sudan is, what, 15 percent of the population. Sixty-five percent of the population in Sudan is African. There are pockets and regions of the country that are, if not openly fighting against the government outside of the South, that are if not openly fighting against the government, deeply opposed to this government’s agenda. This has metamorphosized into a national conflict. It has roots, very central roots, that are the central element of the story, that relate to the exclusion, the extreme exclusion and discrimination faced by southern Sudanese in the region of southern Sudan. But it is a wider war, a wider conflict internally than just the South.
Now, at the end of the day, a solution may emerge as a compromise among many compromises that is only effectively focused on the South. But I think at the outset, in order for what we call a comprehensive peace agreement to be fully effective, there has to be an effort to try to address this as a national problem of exclusion and rights and not just one regional issue.
The issue of self-determination is a very difficult one to articulate more clearly than just calling for self-determination. My assumption is that if I was -- let’s put it this way. If I was leading the SPLA and I had to tomorrow tell you, if my objective is independence for southern Sudan or the new Sudan, some beautiful country that respected human rights and all that kind of stuff, it would be very difficult for me to do. Because if I went one way, if I went I want an independent South, of course, internally, southern Sudanese would say, “Ah, finally, the guy’s come out of the closet; we really got a guy who can really lead us to the future.”
But what happens then? The tap goes dry from a number of his sources because they’re, like, “Whoa, if we support this, then who’s next, us? What about the groups that have a problem with us?” Only, I think, in that case there would be one or two governments that would continue to support them, maybe even less than they support them now. It’s a problem.
If he goes the other way and says, “No, I don’t want an independent South. I really do want new Sudan and, I will fight till we get new Sudan,” where you have all these great things happening, then, of course, you’re alienating your internal domestic constituency.
So it’s very hard to say, to clarify, what self-determination means. Because at the end of the day -- and I’m sure this will spark some response; I hope it does -- you can negotiate the concept of self-determination in many different ways. Self-determination could mean this whole concept of confederation where there are two states effectively within a state, and you just simply then have to negotiate the details of who controls what, and to what extent are the things that are shared controlled by one or the other party, by one or the other entity.
Secondly, you could look at a solution along the lines of what the Declaration of Principles envisioned and the IGAD envisioned at its outset, which would have some form of a transitional period with all the details to be negotiated, and at the end of that transitional period, there would be some kind of a vote up or down on independence or unity. You could have another construct, a vote that looked at how successful were the interim arrangements. If they were not very successful and were not very well implemented, let’s renegotiate those and kick the ball down the field a little further. That’s been proposed in the last few months and then put on the table -- again, without a process, so it’s meaningless.
Then finally, you could look at a construct which said, okay, let’s establish some benchmarks. Let’s establish a set of interim arrangements that’s acceptable to everyone. If these commitments are met, X, Y, and Z, and a joint commission of all the parties agrees at the end of such a transitional period that all these things are met, then we don’t need to have a vote, because people will say, okay, let’s just make permanent these interim arrangements, this interim situation that we’ve negotiated.
So there are many different ways to skin the cat. Some of these -- I mean, all these have major problems with them. All these will require intense negotiation. Many of these that I’ve just said, or some of them, will be rejected at some point along the way in the negotiations process.
But what I’m saying is, it’s unhelpful to, at the outset, I think -- and an argument can be made for the converse of what I’m saying -- it is unhelpful at best to have to specify what everything means right now: What is specifically, precisely the end state that will exist in Sudan at the end of a negotiations process? Because too many parties, too many constituencies on each side, will reject that end state before you’ve even had a chance to start negotiating it. So there has to be some time to put the compromises on the table, to build internal agreement around these compromises. Remember, it’s a two-way street. It’s not just parties at the table making agreements. It’s parties at the table going back to their constituencies and say, “See, here’s how we can make this into our own interest and agree to it.” So it’s a long process, and that has to happen too.
So for us to say right now there’s got to be an independent South or there can’t be an independent South, and Egypt does it all the time to everyone’s distraction, it simply is the most unhelpful thing that can be contributed. You’ve got to let a process over what evolves as to be the future of Sudan evolve through a serious confidential peace process.
JERRY FOWLER: I have just a quick question and clarification. What’s the relationship of the Declaration of Principles to this comprehensive process that you envision?
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Yes. I think the Declaration of Principles is intended as one road map towards how you get to an agreement. Many have rightfully said we’ve got to maintain some fidelity, or fidelity to the Declaration of Principles, because it’s the one time, the one forum, the one set of principles that both parties have at least accepted in principle as a basis for negotiation that says the right of the South to self-determination is accepted.
So I would argue that the process that the Declaration of Principles envisions may be the way it happens at a negotiation table, it may not be. I don’t necessarily think that that process needs to be what we maintain fidelity to. What we do need to maintain fidelity to is the underriding concept, which is, the overall goal is a democratic Sudan, a Sudan that no one’s rights are taken away from them, a Sudan that it remains unified. But if that’s impossible, then in some way, shape, or form, the Southerners will be allowed in some way to exercise the right of self-determination -- again, to be negotiated.
So it’s a question of, do you have to accept the Declaration of Principles in total? Not necessarily. Do you have to accept the fundamental axis on which the Declaration of Principles was constructed, i.e., that self-determination becomes a point of leverage and an ultimate guarantor of a future Sudan that we w