By David L. Phillips and Ahmed Hussain Adam
February 5, 2014 - Sudan and South Sudan are a revolving door of deadly conflicts. Comprehensive and sustainable peace can only be achieved through parallel steps affecting conditions in both countries. Managing crisis in one while neglecting the other is a stop-gap. If problems are linked, so are solutions.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), with help from the United States, mediated the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. The CPA ended the civil war between the North and South, which lasted 22 years and killed more than 2.5 million people while displacing more than 5 million. It guaranteed the people of South Sudan a right to self-determination, including an option to remain a part of Sudan, and a timetable for conducting a referendum on South Sudan’s status.
Humiliated by the loss of South Sudan’s oil-rich territories, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir attacked Darfur in 2003. What started as a distraction from Sudan’s other problems turned into a brutal genocide, killing more than 300,000 people and displacing over 3 million.
The international community reacted to events in Darfur. The United Nations and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was established in 2007 as the world body’s largest peacekeeping operation in history. The World Food Program and other aid agencies undertook a massive relief operation. The International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Americans mobilized to save Darfur through grass-roots activities, raising awareness and demanding action by the U.S. Government.
The international community pivoted its focus back to South Sudan when 99% of its people voted for independence in January 2011. Diplomatic and financial resources were redirected to the huge task of stabilizing South Sudan, the world’s newest nation.
Bashir responded by intensifying Sudan’s military campaign in Darfur, indiscriminately targeting marginalized groups in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and the Nuba Mountains. All the while, Bashir was taking steps to undermine South Sudan’s sovereignty. Bashir believed he could control a weakened South Sudan and, by dividing its leadership, gain commercial advantage.
What started as a power struggle between South Sudan’s ruling elite erupted into a full-blown ethnic war on December 15, 2013. The conflict, which caused enormous human suffering to the entire population, pitted the Dinka of President Salva Kiir against the Nuer of former Vice President Reik Machar. The international community responded urgently to the crisis. U.S. Special Envoy Ambassador Donald Booth played a critical role negotiating a cessation of hostilities.
With international attention focused on the latest crisis in South Sudan, Bashir predictably intensified operations against Darfur. Like 2009, when Bashir threw out 13 international aid agencies, Bashir ordered the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to suspend operations and leave Darfur. He will make sure there is no witness to his latest crimes.
Bashir is also massacring the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Piqued by an alliance of armed movements who fought last summer to defend marginalized groups across the country, his latest offensive is an effort to punish innocent civilians. Manyinnocent civilians in Sudan have recently lost their lives or have been driven from their homes in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Millions of non-combatants are in urgent need of food, shelter and medicine.
After decades of violent conflict, effective international engagement must focus on multi-track and parallel efforts to achieve comprehensive peace and democratic transformation in Sudan and South Sudan.
South Sudan cannot be allowed to fail. Billions have been spent developing its infrastructure and governance. South Sudan’s implosion would have staggering regional implications.
At the same time, the world must take steps to end Darfur’s tragedy and prevent the killing of other Sudanese. Genocide is still unfolding under UNAMID’s nose. UNAMID is more engaged in force protection and meddling in flawed peacemaking activities than protecting civilians. Its monitoring and reporting capabilities are extremely limited. Darfur is like a black box; UNAMID cannot control conditions on-the-ground, and there is no real-time reporting on events.
The UN Security Council needs to bolster UNAMID. To this end, UNAMID needs credible leadership and a broader protection mandate to safeguard civilians. It also needs better trained and equipped peacekeepers. An enhanced early warning, monitoring, and reporting system would help identify crises before deadly violence spirals out of control.
Bashir’s appointment of General Mustafa al-Dabi, as his representative to IGAD, sends a worrisome signal. General al-Dabi is known for crimes against the people of Darfur, as well as divide-and-rule tactics when he served as deputy chief of staff for military operations of the Sudan’s Armed Forces (1996-1999), and as Bashir’s representative in Darfur (1999-2004). He also performed dismally acting as the Arab League’s chief human rights observer in Syria in 2011.
The five-year anniversary of Bashir’s indictment by the ICC is March 4, 2014. Bashir must not be allowed to murder with impunity. Member states must demand accountability, and political transition. Bashir is maneuvering to buy time and stay in power, while dragging the country into another rigged election in 2015, as he did in April 2010.
Sudan and South Sudan have reached a fork in the road. Down one path lies reform, peace and progress. Down the other lies more deadly conflict and state disintegration. After so many years of war, the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan deserve peace, justice and democracy.
David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) and Ahmed Hussain Adam is a Visiting Scholar at ISHR. They co-chair the Two Sudans Project.