Friday, February 20, 2004
As the peace process for the war in Sudan’s South inches along, the situation in Sudan’s western province of Darfur deteriorated quickly. UN Undersecretary General Jan Egeland described the situation in Darfur as “probably the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at this moment.” Providing more details on how this western conflict broke out amid the peace processes are a panel of human rights and policy experts. Amnesty International’s Adotei Akwei presents information from an AI mission to Darfur in November 2003, where they documented massive crimes against civilians. Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch gives more information on the background to the conflict, also clarifying the close relationship between Janjaweit militia and the Sudanese government. Finally, John Prendergast of International Crisis Group offers his views on how Darfur fits into the Sudanese government’s logic as to how it will engage in the Southern peace process.
JERRY FOWLER: My name is Jerry Fowler and I’m the staff director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience, whose mandate is to address contemporary threats of genocide. Thank you very much for coming on what’s otherwise a beautiful Friday afternoon, the first hints of spring.
We always have a question about what room to hold these events in. We have some smaller rooms and we were uncertain about whether we needed the smaller room or this larger room. Our experience, though, whenever we have John Prendergast is that a very large crowd turns out and it’s better to err on the side of having a little bit more space.
As I said, the mandate of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience is to address contemporary threats of genocide and in October 2000 we issued a genocide warning for Sudan, and at that time we were largely concerned with aspects of ongoing conflict in Sudan that were directed towards southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains and we identified a number of factors that led us to believe that there was a threat of genocide.
In the time since we issued that warning there have been lots of very positive developments in Sudan, especially with regard to the conflict in the south. Most notably from the United States perspective was the appointment by President Bush of Senator John Danforth as the Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan and Senator Danforth’s initiative in turn paved the way for reinvigoration of negotiations under the auspices of the regional organization, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, and the peace talks there have brought the Khartoum Government and the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement by all accounts very close to a final agreement to resolve their conflicts.
But even as there has been progress in those talks, which are ongoing even as we speak, the situation has deteriorated precipitously in the western region of the country, the Province of Darfur. UN Undersecretary General Jan Egeland has described the situation in Darfur as “probably the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at this moment.”
All the reports coming out of Darfur point to the Khartoum Government using many of the same tactics in Darfur that they used in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, including pitting ethnic groups against each other with tremendous loss of civilian life, exploiting and exacerbating tensions and conflicts that exist between different groups, aerial bombardment of civilians, and use of food or access to relief as a weapon of destruction, threatening a vast population with mass starvation.
The use of these tactics and others in the south are what led the Committee on Conscience to issue its genocide warning for Sudan and it’s plain that recent events in Darfur require the reiteration of that warning. According to Amnesty International compelling evidence points to government responsibility for the crisis. Thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes. The International Crisis Group has also reported on the conflict.
So to provide expert analysis and up to date reports on what is happening in Darfur, we’re very lucky to have three speakers who I imagine are very well known to all of you and who I’ll introduce very briefly.
To my farthest left is Adotei Akwei, who is the Africa Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA. Before joining Amnesty International he was Africa Program Director for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and before that he worked with the American Committee on Africa and the Africa Fund as the Director of Research and Human Rights.
To my immediate left is Jemera Rone, who is counsel and Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch. She has just recently published her fifth book-length report on human rights abuses in Sudan and that new book is called Fueling Sudan’s War: Oil, Ethnic Violence, and Human Rights. She’s been with Human Rights Watch, not to date you, but for more than two decades, right?
JEMERA RONE: Almost two decades.
JERRY FOWLER: Almost two decades and among other achievements she opened Human Rights Watch’s first office outside the United States and that was in El Salvador back in the 1980s.
And in between Adotei and Jemera is John Prendergast, who is Special Advisor to the President of the International Crisis Group. He is a former special advisor to the US State Department, where he specialized in conflict resolution initiatives and is also a former director for African affairs at the National Security Council.
Both Jemera and John have spoken here before. This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to have Adotei and so as the relative rookie we’ll ask him to go first followed by Jemera and John and then we’ll open it up to discussion amongst all of you.
So, Adotei, thank you.
ADOTEI AKWEI: Thank you. It’s a little intimidating to go on a panel with Jemera and John but I’ll do my bit and then we’ll listen to the experts.
Amnesty International released a report in January focusing on the situation in Darfur. It was based on a mission that was sent there in November 2003 that went into western Chad and then on the border areas and the access that the Amnesty delegation had was mainly with people who had managed to escape the conflict and the killing in Darfur.
Based on those interviews we issued a report which we felt was yet another alarm for the international community and for the general public about the deteriorating situation in Darfur which we had been very concerned about for over a year prior to the release of the report. While in some ways it’s good that we are now seeing some attention being paid to Darfur, it is, of course, a little late for the thousands of people who have been killed and the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced.
What I’d like to do is go through very quickly the main findings of the report and give you the context that we think is the situation there. At the start I would say, as Jerry said, you seem to have a microcosm of the worst aspects of the largest Sudan conflict being replicated in Darfur. What is extremely disturbing is that even as you have seen progress on the negotiations or the resolution of the larger conflict, the activities in Darfur seem to indicate a lack of a change in behavior and attitude by the government in Khartoum and I think this should be sending some very serious concerns into all of the players involved in negotiating the larger peace process and who are trying to generally stabilize that region.
As I said, we did not have access to all of the internally displaced or the internally displaced in Darfur but the estimates were that about 670,000 people had been displaced and that at least 3,000 had been killed since the conflict began in the spring of 2003. The mission found that there had been grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and that these violations were committed primarily against civilians and unarmed combatants. The perpetrators of the abuses were the armed opposition groups, of which there are two, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. But we had data showing that the majority of the violations was committed by militia groups also known as Janjaweed linked or allied to the Government of Sudan and also the Sudanese armed forces themselves.
The abuses involved acts of violence and torture, the use of rape and assault, the wholesale destruction of villages, the looting of crops, looting of cattle and property, abductions, arrests, torture, and the killing of detainees. Similar abuses were committed by the armed opposition groups, including reports of unlawful killings and looting as well as arrest and detention by some of these groups.
Amnesty International, as Jerry said, feels very strongly that the Government of Sudan was complicit in grave human rights violations as a result of its policy of using indiscriminate bombing and other aerial attacks, something that they had done in the southern part of the country. The incontrovertible evidence linking the government with the Arab militias or the Janjaweed, as I have mentioned, and the government’s failure to condemn or investigate effectively these abuses -- there have been the creation of some special courts by the government but the bottom line is that these have not only failed to meet international standards of due process or transparency. They have not really addressed or conveyed a sense of justice and genuine interest in investigating and punishing perpetrators amongst the people in the region.
In addition to the actual loss of life and mortality as a result of the fighting, we now have a major humanitarian crisis due primarily to the remoteness of the areas both in Sudan and in Chad, where the refugees and the IDPs have taken shelter, the Sudanese Government’s policy of restricting or hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance and aid, ongoing attacks by the militias on the refugees, and the lack of assistance and security and in some cases the actual involvement and harassment by Sudanese authorities in Darfur.
The report goes on to cite various conventions and treaties which are all being violated by the Government of Sudan in its failure to protect its own citizens, and I won’t go into that unless there are specific questions, but we basically came up with the following recommendations. Obviously the first are directed towards the Government of Sudan. We call upon them to publicly investigate and punish persons or individuals who have been involved in or responsible for the abuses, to ensure unrestricted and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations and delivery of food aid, to cease support and training and any kind of linkages with militia groups such as the Janjaweed that are responsible for human rights abuses, and to allow the establishment of a human rights monitoring mechanism as a part of any cease-fire to monitor and investigate potential attacks against civilians.
Amnesty also included a recommendation calling for a commission of inquiry to look into the underlying tensions and causes of the conflict that the government has manipulated and exacerbated but we do understand that that is probably something that has to wait, given the fact that we have to figure out a way to protect individuals at the moment, and we also have called on governments and the armed groups to respect international human rights and humanitarian law.
I think those are the standard things that you would have in an Amnesty report and those are the things that we would continue to raise with the Government of Sudan. The key actor here, and I think the one that we would probably be most interested in impacting, is the international community, in particular the United States, which does have an incredible role or ability to ideally influence the behavior of the major actors in the Darfur conflict, and we would call upon them to basically increase pressure on the government for humanitarian assistance and free access.
Also for the deployment of monitors, we need to make sure not only that we have eyes and ears in the region but that we can try to create a record of what has been going on so that we can potentially bring people to account and then also for the international community to support this idea of a commission of inquiry. The unspoken thing is how does one link this to the larger ongoing negotiations and is it possible or is it not possible?
In some ways I think we have to adopt a different strategy, and that is that Darfur needs to be negotiated quickly and on its own merits based on the severity of the situation there and whether or not progress slows down or speeds up with the larger negotiations something needs to be done on Darfur immediately.
I’ll stop there and I’ll hand over to Jemera.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you, Adotei. Jemera?
JEMERA RONE: Thank you for the invitation. It’s good to be here again. Can you hear me?
JERRY FOWLER: You might pull it a little bit closer.
JEMERA RONE: The front row can hear me, right?
JERRY FOWLER: Right.
JEMERA RONE: What about the back row? Okay, great. Thank you.
I’ll try to fill in and supplement some of the things that Adotei said in his very thorough overview of the situation in Darfur. I was asked also to comment on the composition of the forces and try to give a little bit of the background to this particular conflict.
As you know, many people see the war or the wars in Sudan as a result of the marginalization of many different ethnic groups by the center, the center being controlled by the elite, who have had most of the privileges and benefits in Sudan in terms of education and live basically in or near Khartoum.
This fighting in Darfur certainly fits into that view of a conflict, one of many, by marginalized groups for recognition and fair treatment by the central government for sharing equally in resources for development which has been shorted or denied to them by the concentration of resources in the center. Sudan, of course, is not a rich country even with the oil revenue it is receiving now but even then the social and economic conditions of people living in the west have always been very, very bad, very, very hard, not perhaps as difficult as in the south but they’re running pretty close.
I won’t go into the history of Darfur except to note that at one time it was an independent sultanate and that I believe one of the scholars of Darfur, Dr. Ali-Dinar, who is himself Sudanese from Darfur and has written a lot about that area, I believe is coming to Washington in the next week or two and perhaps we’ll hear more about that.
The composition of Darfur ethnically I won’t and can’t go into in any great detail, but the groups that have been highlighted as on one side or the other appear to be divided roughly into sedentary African Muslim farmers, cattle raisers but not with a lot of cattle and not nomadic, and grain growers.
They are different ethnic groups, one, the Fur, which the name Darfur comes from, Darfur meaning house of the Fur; the Massalit, and the Massalit are on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border; and the Zaghawa, the Zaghawa also on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border.
Those are the three main groups that we’re getting reports of who have been targeted, burned out, and forced to flee their homes. Either they go into Chad for protection and that’s mostly, as far as we can tell, the Massalit and the Zaghawa going into Chad. They’re closer to Chad. The Fur seem to be farther from the border and mostly are internally displaced inside Sudan.
The Zaghawa also are divided somewhat, apparently. We don’t know as much about the composition of the Janjaweed or the militia that Adotei mentioned being among the aggressors or the attacking parties in this case. Apparently there may be some Janjaweed among them and there seems to be a division along subsectional lines of the Zaghawa.
The current President of Chad is a Zaghawa and when I at a meeting asked a Chadian about the president’s possible involvement in Sudan his immediate answer was oh, he’s a Sudanese. We don’t like that in Chad. So there are that not only cross-border ethnicities but also a person in the top of the government in Chad who has some ethnic and possibly political and other interests in what’s going on in Sudan. I’ll let John go more into that in his background with the current government in Sudan and so forth.
But the Janjaweed or the government militias come from different areas and we’re still trying to get a fix on exactly where they’re from. Some of them come from northern Darfur into the south and west of Darfur and also go and attack their own northern Darfur neighbors. Some of them are from areas very close to the attacking villages and they are nomadic and they are distinctive first of all in their dress but also in the fact that they use camels extensively and they use them for raiding villages. They use them for transport of their goods, their tents, their families, and so forth. So it’s one certain sign that the Janjaweed are there if there are some camels nearby.
There’s very good evidence to place them at the scene of burning villages and there are many, many testimonies about their role both by themselves and together with government forces in attacking villages where there are no rebels and very few armed men. Historically the people in these villages, Zaghawa, Fur, Massalit, have had friction with the northern or the nomadic peoples with the camels and there have been arms on both sides. There are tons of arms in Sudan and all the bordering and neighboring states, and it’s been that way for quite some time, so men have some arms in the villages and have from time to time been able to defend their villages and drive off the Janjaweed, although not permanently.
We also have evidence that the Janjaweed are very much backed by the government. Not only do they conduct joint operations with the army and with backup from army planes that bomb and tanks that accompany them and vehicles and so forth. They also are said to have been promised land by the government and also according to some information we have they have been given sign-up bonuses of a few hundred dollars and are being paid a few hundred dollars a month and, of course, they are armed by the government. There have also been promises made with regard to the government taking care of their families in the event that they’re killed. So they’re looking more and more like they are really very closely connected to the government.
In any event if that weren’t enough proof there is the clear pattern that we have here of Janjaweed attacks going completely unprosecuted and unpunished by the government. They have raided enormous numbers of cattle from the sedentary people and they have huge cattle camps and the sedentary people who’ve been displaced or have been forced into Chad as refugees have been deprived of all of their cattle. That’s almost always the story and they’ve been taken by the Janjaweed and none of these acts of theft, arson, murder, et cetera, et cetera, have been prosecuted by the government, to our knowledge, and that is obviously a major sign of government complicity and so forth.
The Janjaweed apparently have been conducting operations with the government in the western and southern areas of Darfur, but they’ve also done a lot of damage there on their own without waiting for the government to come along. They’ve been apparently given a blessing to go ahead and loot and burn and so forth.
In the north and in the south to a lesser extent, although these patterns are still emerging, after the failure of the negotiations between the government and the rebels in Chad in late 2003, just a few months ago, the government army together with the Janjaweed undertook major military operations. So they’re very recent victims of these campaigns and the numbers of people who have gone into Chad as refugees have risen enormously.
Adotei had some of the numbers. Also the internally displaced numbers have ballooned even more. One set of numbers I heard was about 100,000 refugees in Chad and about 6-800,000 internally displaced inside Darfur still. These are enormous numbers considering that a year ago they were very low numbers. The conflict has really just mushroomed enormously since the beginning of last year, January 2003.
The rebels are, as Adotei mentioned, the SLA and the JEM, or the Justice and Equality Movement. The Justice and the Equality Movement and the SLA now appear to be operating together and are both in the Jabal Marra Mountains as far as we know although initially they weren’t together at all and there were reports that they were even fighting between themselves. They have conducted ambushes and placed land mines on the roads and so forth, and it appears that there really is no government control outside of the main town and that even the UN food convoys had sufficient problems so that when they were finally given some kind of permission by the Sudan Government after months of pleading and begging for access, the World Food Program started to undertake airlifts of food because there just was not enough security on the ground.
We have yet to see how access for humanitarian agencies will develop. The history of this is terrible when you look at the cat and mouse game that Khartoum has always played with southern relief agencies trying to serve the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, et cetera. It’s been agonizingly long and difficult negotiations for very little and some areas in the south were kept off limits for four years.
So just because the government has said there’s access we cannot afford to just take that as a green light and everybody is going to get the food they so desperately need. Within the last two months there were internally displaced camps in and around the Town of Nyala. There is a map outside that Jerry has very nicely provided for everyone. When you look at the western part of Sudan you’ll see the main towns that I’ve been talking about, Geneina, which is on the border with Chad right in the middle of the country on the western border, El Fasher, which is the traditional capital of Darfur, which is directly to the east, and south of El Fasher is Nyala.
Now, there were internally displaced people, tens of thousands of them, in Nyala and the government decided to move them although the agencies protested the displacement. It’s not clear exactly why they wanted to do that but the end result was that the displaced were put out of reach at the agencies that were assisting them. So there has been a number of relief- connected abuses that have happened even so far.
The recommendations I really wanted to second, there has been talk of extending the mandate of the US-run civilian protection monitoring team, which has been operating fairly successfully in the south, based on a March 2002 agreement between the Sudan Government, the US, and the SPLA, that would allow this team of investigators based in Rumbek and also in Khartoum to look into and investigate and write public reports of attacks by either side on civilians or civilian infrastructure.
They’ve gotten the hang. It was a slow start for this group but they got the hang of it and now there’s talk of having a standing monitoring operation already in Sudan extending that mandate into Darfur. So far it seems that the government is resisting that as well. That would be the most rapid type of mechanism available.
The commission on inquiry, I think, is a very good idea and I would like to note in this context that the USAID actually did all of the groundwork for this, funded the Eminent Persons Group, which was composed of international scholars and other experts with supporting staff to look into the issue of slavery in Sudan and they did that rather quickly, turned it around, an excellent piece of work, published it in English and Arabic, and that was a good example.
However, there was no follow-up mechanism in place to do anything with any of the recommendations that they made. Obviously if there is a commission of inquiry undertaken, it could be done along this model also. Actually the eminent persons group looking into slavery was one of the outcomes of the Danforth work. If such a similar commission were set up in Sudan now to look at Darfur, as Amnesty is urging, there must be follow-up built into the system.
The last thing I wanted to mention, and I’m probably running way over my time, the UN Commission on Human Rights meets every year in Geneva in March and April and its members are states. Many of the states who are members of the UN Commission on Human Rights are what we would call in the human rights community pariah states, that is, gross abusers of human rights who are on the commission to make sure that the commission doesn’t do anything or pass any resolutions with regard to their own country.
So this human rights institution has been quite compromised by the government membership; nevertheless, for 10 years they had extended the mandate of a special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan. Last year, after years of effort by the Sudan Government that mandate was ended despite the fact that the Darfur community and the diaspora and numbers of human rights groups urged strongly that the mandate be extended particularly in light of the worsening situation in Darfur. Now, a year later, the situation in Darfur has gone down even faster than we imagined and there’s even more need for a special rapporteur again on human rights in Sudan to look into Darfur.
The Darfur community and human rights groups actually were very good last year and I hope they will also be organized again this year to send people to the commission, to lobby the governments, and so forth, and also they showed a video that was taken last year of destroyed villages and people who had been killed and everything just burned and animals dead and so forth. They had an impact but it wasn’t enough. The renewal of the mandate lost by only a few votes. This year there’s even more film and more testimony so I hope we will have the capacity to follow up on that.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you very much, Jemera, and now, John.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Thank you. Sudan has moved from one of the good news stories of 2003 potentially to perhaps the biggest nightmare and biggest horror story on the African continent in 2004 and I’ve learned over the years that conflict resolution in Africa is really a roller coaster, but Sudan is setting new extremes for the highs and lows on this roller coaster.
I would like to focus for a minute on the obvious fact that the emergency in Darfur is not occurring in isolation and in a vacuum; it’s intimately linked to the IGAD process in Naivasha, Kenya. It is linked in the following ways and we’ll get into it in a minute.
First, the rebellion in Darfur intensified as a result of the fact that a decision was made early on in the peace process to limit the involvement at the peace table to the SPLA and the government and secondly to paint the conflict in Sudan as a north-south war. Both of them were actually strategic mistakes on the part of the mediation.
Many of us have tried to highlight that over time and said at least set up parallel or connected mechanisms that would allow input from other parties in Sudan who had deep grievances with the government in Sudan so that they could feel part of the process. Mediators never moved on that and here we are.
Secondly, Darfur and the IGAD process are linked in the way in our view that Khartoum has delayed forward movement in the Naivasha process in order to maintain its diplomatic cover for the offensive that it has undertaken over the last few months of 2003 and the beginning of 2004, enhancing what the Janjaweed had been doing for the last nine months before that.
Thirdly, the link occurs in the way that it has affected both parties in Naivasha in terms of their calculations as to what they can get and what they can give in the peace talks in IGAD.
I’ll just take a minute to try to describe why in my view the government slammed on the brakes in the main peace process in Sudan and Naivasha and then get into its linkages more directly with Darfur. There are two competing explanations, I think, for why we’re stuck now in the IGAD process. First, the explanation is challenging just the difficulty in negotiation in the sense that when you get closer to the end game in any negotiation, you are going to get a toughening of stands on the part of any party who is participating in that peace process.
We have seen it in the form of the SPLA taking a very strong line on Abyei and at times stronger lines on issues related to the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile, but even more extremely we’ve seen a very, very strong position taken by the government, a very public position now and one that’s going to be very hard to walk back and may never be walked back. The view in this analysis is that from Khartoum’s perspective, they’ve given everything they had to give on the south. The SPLA has achieved basically all of its strategic objectives with regard to what it wanted in the south. Therefore now that we are starting to talk about issues related to areas outside of the traditional south, outside of the 1956 borders, in other words, Abyei, Southern Blue Nile, and Nuba Mountains, it is time to take a much harder line and not compromise and make the SPLA give on these issues. That is the difficulty in negotiations.
But there is another, much more disturbing explanation, and I don’t know which one is the right one. We are going to find out in the next few months. Interestingly enough, the explanation I’m about to give you is one that you’re finding increasingly being held by hard-line elements of the US Government and its supporters in the constituencies that have driven US interest in Sudan since the Bush administration took seat in Washington.
This view holds that this whole process has been a deception by the government in Sudan. They’ve lured the international community into a long-term peace process, a very long-term, very complex peace process, with occasion good news stories as they’ve signed protocols which, of course, mean nothing until there is a final agreement, to give the impression that there’s forward movement, to keep people engaged in diplomacy, to ease the pressures prematurely on the government before it actually signs a final resolution, and to take the process right to the brink of resolution, in fact in the process making the hardliner the hero of the negotiation. The ultimate hardliner always was considered to be the vice president, Ali Osman Taha. Everybody always would say if we compromise here you don’t know what those guys back in Khartoum will do.
Well, now he’s become in effect Nixon to China and taking the thing right to the brink and then they’ve jammed on the brakes on an issue that is perhaps the most divisive one within the SPLA and in which one could assess or analyze that the SPLA really does have no room to compromise on and that is the question of Abyei.
Now, either way regardless of which explanation is correct -- and that’s motivations so that at the end of the day, motivations can’t be proved one way or the other and we have to see what happens on the ground as it unfolds -- the objective has been, I think, regardless of which one of those two explanations is correct, to delay this process. Even if they want an agreement in Khartoum they don’t want it so quickly. They want to delay the process.
The main reason, as I’ve already said, is in order to be able to conduct this offensive, which they, as you saw maybe during the first week of February, President Bashir proclaimed the success, said the war is over. We won in Darfur, and that’s it, we’re ready to go home. But it didn’t work out that way.
And secondly perhaps to delay the process past the April deadline of the Sudan Peace Act and to moderate or modify the response of a few members of Congress who appear to be increasingly upset, just as the administration is, by this slowing down or stoppage of any progress in Naivasha. The concern was that if the administration certified the fact that the Sudan Government had not been making good-faith efforts in the negotiations that this could spiral into another form of pressure and another policy emerging out of Washington. It’s not impossible that that would happen.
Delaying this process is also aimed at opening up divisions within the SPLA. It’s very well understood that there are differences of views. Some southerners in SPLA may want peace immediately. Why can’t we get this deal? We’ll deal with the Southern Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains and Abyei down the road. We’ve got everything we wanted. And then there are other voices from Abyei itself, and they’re very, very influential voices in the SPLA, that say well, okay, if you do that the war will continue and perhaps bad things will happen to the SPLA leadership.
So driving a wedge in the SPLA, if it’s cost-free why not try? It’s also designed to see if the international community consensus around Abyei and around the negotiations will break down in the desire to see a peaceful settlement of the conflict between the SPLA and the government. From Khartoum’s perspective, listening to the deluge of diplomats that come in with their different views about what ought to happen and hearing the British tell them one thing about Abyei and hearing the United States telling them another thing about Abyei, well, let’s just see what we can do here. Let’s press the envelope a little bit longer and see if we can’t create some further divisions within the diplomatic community.
The result is there’s no war, no peace, between the government and the SPLA for extended periods of time. This is in fact the ideal scenario for the government. They don’t have to share the oil revenues, the transparency doesn’t kick in, and all of the things that I’ve just mentioned to you they’re able to benefit from.
Now, whatever the explanation again, whether it’s the first or the second one, the international community’s response has been completely mistaken. The priority has been to maintain diplomatic access, to undertake quiet diplomacy, to not enrage the hardliners back in Khartoum, to keep everyone engaged in Naivasha until maybe we can bleed through the finish line and get an agreement. And the conflict in Darfur has escalated dramatically.
The completion of the agreement in Naivasha is still possible, I think, but not through constructive engagement with Khartoum. This is a very important point, the past 15 years has demonstrated that really focused pressures on either party have moved them at either the peace table or in negotiating humanitarian access or whatever the issue has been. It has not been this incentive-laden, quiet diplomacy, constructive engagement.
It hasn’t worked and we can look at the Bahr al Gazal example, which included the slave raiding in the eighties and up to the mid-nineties. We can look at the clearing of populations in the oil fields. We can look at aerial bombardment. We can look at the issue of closed-off access to humanitarian assistance, as Jemera was telling us [break in tape].
I think we are poised on the brink of a long-term protracted civil war in the western part of the country. This war threatens regimes both in Khartoum and in Chad. It has implications that the SPLA war never had with respect to stability in Khartoum.
It is not only the worst humanitarian crisis, as UN Undersecretary Egeland has said, but it’s also the most violent conflict in Africa today. It’s the hottest-shooting war in Africa and the worst human rights crisis and a debate is emerging and I don’t know where I stand yet on this debate and I’d be quite interested to hear what our colleagues here at the table think as well in the discussion about what this constitutes.
Some voices say what is going on in Darfur constitutes genocide, that if you look at the genocide convention and you read it and you look at what we have in terms of gathering available evidence of what is happening in Darfur the conclusion is beginning to be inescapable. Others would say no, that’s a little extreme. Let’s look at this as a case of ethnic cleansing, and those people would be supported by looking at the history of Darfur. We are going to put out a report next week that goes into this in great detail, particularly on a phenomenon called the Arab gathering back in the late eighties, a group of leaders from Darfur whose agenda was and continues to be [genocidal]. That doesn’t mean the government is. It means these community leaders’ agenda is to clear up populations of African descent in Darfur to make room for people of Arab background. The history of that and watching that evolve in the governments of Sadiq al-Mahdi and then this current government, how they arm the militias in Darfur and Kordofan principally to fight the SPLA and to avoid SPLA encroachment into the north, but then how those transformed into battles or those arms and assistance were used by those communities to attack groups of African origin in Darfur over time and have laid the groundwork for what’s going on today.
Then others would say no, again, those two, genocide and ethnic cleansing, are too extreme to explain. There is no systematic or deliberate nature to these attacks, they’re very episodic, and they’re very calculated in political terms to undermine support for the rebels and therefore this is just attacks using ethnicity. The debate will, I’m sure, intensify from here.
But to continue on with the implications of Darfur, we have what is definitely true, which is that it has this war now between two rebel groups as has been described in the government that has the potential and capacity to degenerate into an inter-ethnic war. In my view there are people in Khartoum who would like to see that happen so that it undermines the necessity of political dialogue between the rebels and the government and can be portrayed as an inter-communal conflict, as Jerry pointed out in his introduction.
This is a long-time tried and true tactic. As we’ve seen in the south, let’s divide the southerners, create a Dinka-Nuer war so it can be portrayed and eat up the potential for opposition and get people consumed on fighting each other rather than the government.
We also have in terms of implications the potential to continue to undermine the Naivasha process, the process that IGAD is holding now in Kenya, and there are many other implications but we don’t have time.
I’ll just conclude by saying a few words about what the way forward ought to be. I think like any civil war where there is not a clear victor, where one side or the other is not going to win the war or has not won the war, Darfur cries out for political negotiations between the government and the rebels.
This is precisely what Khartoum has said at this point it won’t do. They won’t even meet the rebels for humanitarian purposes, as they turned down the invitation, a very nonpolitical, very independent initiative from Geneva from the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, which would have allowed them to at least discuss the issue of humanitarian access.
So we get back to where we were on the issue of the IGAD discussions earlier. The only way to change the calculations in Khartoum is through increased pressure and the history of this is well documented.
So just when we need that pressure the most, the international community has gone soft and I think that, just to supplement the recommendations that Adotei and Jemera have made, which are excellent and very focused in terms of raising the profile of what is happening in Darfur and then responding to that with the available tools that we have in the international community, I would supplement on the human rights side some kind of referral, and I don’t know the actual way this would be and I certainly would again look to my colleagues here to talk more about it, but certainly the International Criminal Court needs to look at this in addition to the Human Rights Commission, in addition to an independent commission. These aren’t mutually exclusive. There needs to be a number of things. I do think that this idea Jemera threw out that has been part of the diplomatic process recently, that the CPMT needs to be also a part of any effort to try to highlight and investigate what’s going on.
Let me in just the last 30 seconds get into what the more political elements of the strategy ought to be in addition to a much different posture by particularly the United States away from constructive engagement towards pressure, and you’re seeing this change in the personnel and approach now, I think.
I think the White House has gotten fed up with the State Department’s constructive engagement strategy. You’re seeing the change in leadership out in Naivasha. And you’re going to see a change in tone, I think, both privately and publicly over the next few weeks.
But in short I would say that there has to be a political process between the rebels and the government. There has to be some kind of a negotiation process. The Chadian process is a joke. It’s dead. The Chadians are so deeply compromised on both sides that they are not capable of, I think, undertaking any kind of a credible negotiation and any reliance on them in a future process would be incorrect and the process needs to be immediate, as was already said, and it needs to involve directly the United States.
Secondly I think there needs to be a deadline provided to the participants in the negotiations in Naivasha. Otherwise this thing will go on for the next ten years and undermine our ability to get a peace agreement between the SPLA and the government and undermine our ability to address the growing cross-border, international crisis that we’re seeing emerging in Darfur. I think the means by which that can happen is that the mediators, rather than sitting back which they’ve had to do over the last few months -- because rather than a mediator-led peace process it’s become a process driven by direct negotiations between the government and the SPLA in the form of these face to face talks between Garang and Taha -- the international effort, the troika and the IGAD heads of state, needs to reinsert themselves and put down a plan on the question of Abyei and say this is the way we think this thing ought to go forward and put maximum pressure on both parties to agree to it. They’re not going to agree by themselves at this juncture, they’re diametrically opposed positions. We’ve got to get some forward movement on this thing, putting a plan down, giving a deadline, and saying we’re walking away from this thing if we don’t get closure on it is the way to do it. So that’s what I’ve got.
JERRY FOWLER: Well, thank you, John. That was a lot to chew on. We have a microphone up here at the front for people to ask questions and to engage in the dialogue so I encourage you to come forward.
One point that I would just make. You mentioned the International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious war crimes committed after July 1, 2002, with some very significant territorial restrictions. In fact the only way that it could have jurisdiction over events or crimes committed on the Territory of Sudan, which is not a party to the treaty creating the court, is through a referral by the United Nations Security Council.
So that presents a problem for two reasons, one, the United States has been very hostile to the court and so it would be quite a change in its policy to support such a referral, and then the Chinese are not particularly keen on the court either and they have very close relations with the Khartoum Government. So that’s an interesting --
JOHN PRENDERGAST: So we should recommend that Sudan signs the convention? Would that be the right --
JERRY FOWLER: Well, they’ve actually signed the convention, interestingly enough, but they haven’t ratified it so the signature doesn’t really count until they ratify it and become a party.
I wanted to ask Jemera, this is relatively detailed but when you were talking about the evidence of the connection between the Janjaweed militias and the Government of Sudan some of the evidence was objective evidence that you could gain from refugee testimony. In general, history has shown that when you get a lot of consistent reports from refugees that there’s a good reason to lend credence to them and so things like joint operations are things that refugees would be able to observe when they’re under attack.
But you also mentioned evidence that Janjaweed had been promised land, sign-up bonuses given by the Government of Sudan, and that they’re being paid by the Government of Sudan, and that would be less amenable to being observed by refugees. I’m just wondering if you can explain a little bit more the evidentiary basis of that?
JEMERA RONE: Well, this is still being developed and I don’t want to say too much about it, but there have been a number of journalists that have gone into areas where they could reach. It’s been very difficult, of course, and my understanding is that there are some filmed interviews with the Janjaweed themselves who were prisoners of war of one or the other of the rebel groups.
Of course, that kind of testimony you have to take it with a grain of salt since they’re in custody of someone who would stand to benefit from that kind of testimony, but that’s often in any war how some of the details of the relationship are discovered if you get enough of it from enough different prisoners. I think that there are occasions for people who are now refugees to observe and interact even with Janjaweed and the role of the police in some areas can be a mixed one because the police are often from the African sedentary population in towns.
The refugees are running to the towns. They’re asking the police for protection. They’re asking the army for protection. The army apparently doesn’t protect them. The police may be a little more sympathetic and also authority figures are in a position to know better what’s going on in the relationship between the army and the Janjaweed.
So there are some lower-level authority figures privy to that kind of information and all I’m saying is it doesn’t only come from the villagers themselves who have been immediately attacked. I mean, there are lots of other people moving around that area. This has been going on, really, intensively for more than a year so there is an opportunity for a lot of different people to make observations.
JERRY FOWLER: Very good. Please, if people want to ask questions come forward. John, I wanted to make sure I understood what came through loud and clear was that an approach of constructive engagement towards Khartoum is not going to work. It’s not going to get a deal in Naivasha on Abyei or resolving the north-south issues, but one thing that I’m not clear on is exactly how a resolution of the conflict in the west fits into Nivasha.
Should those issues be brought into Naivasha, which would seem to me an incredible complication, but if they’re not brought into Naivasha does that mean that we’re then going to have a decades-long process to create a process to resolve those issues?
JOHN PRENDERGAST: I think there need to be two concurrent processes. I think you’re absolutely right that polluting the IGAD process at this juncture even though it’s a flawed construct would break it to pieces and we would lose the chance that we had and all the progress that has been made. Therefore IGAD has to continue on and be pushed towards resolution, but in the meantime and at the same time a separate, equally robust process needs to be constructed. Let’s look at what’s inhibiting that now.
If the humanitarian access issue remains as urgent as it is now as we’re seeing increased numbers of people displaced, as the attacks continue, as counterattacks by the JEM and the SLA continue, we’re going to see more and more both people displaced as well as difficulties for security reasons in accessing populations. If to counter that there isn’t a much greater effort expended that has an opportunity to create some kind of mutually agreeable basis for humanitarian access amongst the conflicting parties then that degeneration of the humanitarian situation will, I think, intensify fairly dramatically in the coming months as peoples’ resources are spent down. In order to get an agreement around some form of humanitarian access which is mutually agreed by the parties for the rebels’ part, they’re simply not going to agree to anything unless there is some prospect that the political issues that they originally took up arms for are going to be addressed.
That doesn’t mean resolving it in the next weeks. That means saying here’s the process by which those things will be addressed and in the meantime let’s stand down either in the first instance in allowing access and, much more ideally, a cessation of hostilities for as long as the prospect of a negotiated settlement to the political issues is apparent.
That’s why I say if we sit back and wait until the government accepts that it’ll negotiate again through Chad, which will be months from now. Then Chad will be completely unable to do anything as we see the president support Khartoum’s policy of counterinsurgency and in his own presidential guard providing arms and personnel to the rebels. There’s not a more compromised actor that you could possibly choose. In some cases that’s good because you could have leverage, but in this case neither side thinks anything of the guy so there’s no leverage there.
They have no leverage, no capacity, and, again, waiting and hoping that that will be something that can be undertaken will leave us with no humanitarian access. I use humanitarian access as a wedge issue for the political process because everyone in the international community from President Bush on down wants some form of humanitarian agreement.
I just spent the last two days talking to the Security Council and with all the members of the secretariat and Secretary General, and there’s obsession with humanitarian access in Darfur, rightly so because it’s the worst humanitarian crisis in the world now.
To get it we’ve got to have some prospect of a peace process and to get that requires some concerted diplomacy and high-level pressure to get a political process agreed to so that the humanitarian pieces can be put into place but mixing the two together at this point, though they should have been two years ago.
In other words dealing with the national context of the war, not just the north-south dimension of it, already, I mean, it’s not going to happen. We’re not going to get a peace agreement just on the basis of north-south issues. As we’ve seen, as we’ve argued, the issues that’ll stop it are the issues outside of the south and now they’ve gotten mixed up in that and there it goes.
The answer is two very, very concerted parallel efforts with equal energy to get that done and the more unwieldy a process for Darfur the less likely that it’ll happen, like trying to create a troika to support Chad or something like that. I mean, that’s an idea that people have had of setting up a contact group that would support the Secretary- General’s Special Representative for Humanitarian Affairs, Tom Vraalsen, to go and conduct shuttle diplomacy over the next few months.
This stuff is just too low profile, too much the reason why we’re not getting any progress now. There has to be very, very strong, very, very direct diplomatic intervention and I think again that it should be led by the United States. We have people out there now pressing this case and we’ll see what happens.
JERRY FOWLER: Jemera?
JEMERA RONE: I had a question for John if it would not be out of order now or do you want to --
JERRY FOWLER: Well, I’ll rule it in order.
JEMERA RONE: Thank you. Talking about the possibilities of Khartoum engaging in a meaningful way, I’ve heard a lot of people speculating that the precedent that they want to avoid is just that, having to take onboard another rebel group. The precedent that one group goes out among the many others that there are in Sudan, takes up arms for a year, and then all of a sudden they get a seat at the bargaining table, well, it took the SPLA 20 years to get that and they are possibly afraid of the open, sesame effect.
So that’s my question, but I wanted to underline one of the things that you said about the regional instability because we’ve heard that this week or last week there have been retaliatory attacks in the Massalit or on both sides of the border and the Maharia, described by the refugees as Arabs who are on both sides of the border, Chad and Sudan. An Arab chief who is a very important person in both Chad and Sudan was apparently killed by the Massalit in Chad, killed by Chadian Massalit, in retaliation for the fighting inside Sudan and now they’re going to retaliate back and forth so that it does appear to be spreading in Chad and there’s no telling how far it might go.
JOHN PRENDERGAST: Well, my fear, and it is a very valid point and it was the reason why, again, two and a half years ago when IGAD was being revitalized the argument was in fact if you do exclude political actors who may or may not have some linkages to potentially more armed elements then you will inspire armed rebellion in other parts of the country. Now we’re there. But if we don’t move forward on the Darfur discussions then the war will escalate there. I admit that no answer is clean in this case.
The unintended consequences of addressing Darfur could in fact, as you say, potentially embolden other groups in the country and then you have to make a political assessment and analysis as to whether other groups in the country have the capacity to undertake armed rebellion that would be so destabilizing as Darfur. It could literally undermine the main peace process in IGAD. I don’t think that’s the case with other potential armed rebellions. I think it would be further rectified by allowing the Darfur rebels’ new ally, the Beja Congress, to be part and parcel of that process, because you’re dealing with questions of representation by northern elements in the central government. They’re feeling potentially cut out of the door that’s being opened and closed now on restructuring the state in IGAD through the IGAD process.
You’re seeing a moment when they’re going to carve up the pie, give a bunch of it to the southerners, then take the knife and put it back in the drawer and the other guys are not going to get part of it. So I think that having Beja and others that it allies itself with to be part of that process in one way or another could address that very important point.
But we’re not going to have negotiations at all for Darfur between the rebels and the government unless one of two, or both, things happen. First, and I already said this, is international pressure and that’s a variable that remains to be seen if this rumbling in the White House and the change in policy that’s underway will actually result in increased pressure. That remains to be seen.
But secondly and more importantly, perhaps, is what happens on the battlefield. This is a very big wild card and it’s been a very big debate inside our own little team at ICG focusing on Sudan in the sense that okay, if the rebel counteroffensive occurs and does not change the balance of power on the ground and does not impact on Khartoum’s pacification strategy then why should Khartoum negotiate with them? Why not pursue what government is saying it wants to do which is to have these peace conferences inside Sudan as a peace from within strategy that includes all kinds of different groups and tribal conferences and all kinds of other things.
And if that’s the case, if the Darfur rebels’ counteroffensive peters out, does nothing, and if they can’t effect humanitarian access then I wouldn’t argue with that. I don’t think that’s the case and I think it’s been demonstrated now both the internal capacity of the Zaghawa particularly to undermine the government’s military offensive and counter it as well as this international element of support coming from Chad, not official, and from the Zaghawa diaspora has impacted the ability of the rebels to sustain this rebellion and therefore obviate the possibility of quick movement to full humanitarian access.
So in that case we have the increased pressure in the context of a counteroffensive by the rebels and we have the potential for an increase in pressure from the international community, particularly from the United States. Then there’s the potential for peace talks that would be political in nature but would allow, perhaps first and foremost, the cessation of hostilities or at least humanitarian access to be the wedge issue.
JERRY FOWLER: Thanks. I want to come back in just a second to your references to the Beja Congress and the implications of that but I’ll first hand the floor to you.