“Sudanese Disobedience Day” (December 19): The international community must warn Khartoum not to use excessive force in response
By Eric Reeves
As Sudan approaches what has become a day of reckoning— #Dec19Disobedience — the international community, particularly those nations seeking rapprochement with the Khartoum regime, must put this survivalist cabal on notice that brutal repressive actions will not be tolerated and that there will be serious consequences if the regime again issues “shoot to kill” orders, as it did in September 2013. That bloody episode offered us all too full a sense of just how savage the regime is prepared to be in confronting civil society and political opposition (see "Sudan’s Bloody Crackdown on Civilian Protestors: Does the U.S. have anything to say?" The Huffington Post, October 7, 2013)
A failure to warn Khartoum—now—against violently repressive actions will be, in effect, a countenancing of those actions. Unctuous expressions of “concern” or “condemnation” after the fact will be of little use to those in Sudanese civil society injured or killed by actions of the sort we have seen on too many occasions. Hundreds were killed and many times that number wounded in September 2013.
German, France, Italy, and the UK are the countries that have most aggressively pursued improved relations with Khartoum; they bear a special responsibility to ensure that peaceful protestors and those engaged in principled civil disobedience are not victims of violence in their effort to secure the democratization of Sudan. The Obama administration also bears a similar responsibility, particularly given the arrests of those representing Darfuri civil society who met with U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Donald Booth last August in Central Darfur.
Why People Are Protesting
The people of Sudan are in various states of anger, despair, and resolve to effect change. The tyrannical 27-year rule of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime has cost millions of lives…destroyed or reduced to mere survival—and that number continues to grow. War continues in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile; aerial attacks on civilians are a constant; humanitarian blockades imposed by the regime affect hundreds of thousands of suffering civilians this very day.
More broadly, however, the people of Sudan have been crushed by the rapacious, self-enriching economic policies that have brought about rampant inflation, shortages of critical consumer items, including bread, cooking fuel, and essential medicines. The agricultural sector has been allowed to deteriorate to the point it can no longer begin to provide the food necessary for self-sufficiency—and arable and pasturable land has been sold or made subject to long-term leasing agreements with Arab and Asian countries seeking to ensure their own future food security.
Unemployment and under-employment are at extremely high levels, and an astonishing 50 percent of Sudanese wish to emigrate—the figure is even higher for physicians and medical personnel, which provides essential context for the recent strikes by doctors and those working in hospitals and pharmacies.
There has been gross under-investment in infrastructure maintenance, with consequent dire shortages in water throughout the country, as well as only erratic electricity supplies in various parts of the country nominally part of the “grid.”
Much of the explanation for these economic woes can be attributed to profligate military and security expenditures over the entire tenure of the current regime, which has increased Sudan’s external debt to a staggering—and unserviceable—$50 billion (it was $13 billion when the National Islamic Front staged its military coup in June 1989). Beyond this, the regime is financially best understood as a giant kleptocracy, benefiting only members of the regime and their extended network of cronies: they have made the economic decisions that have put the Sudanese economy into a terminal nosedive (see: "Kleptocracy in Khartoum: Self-Enrichment by the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party, 2011 – 2015" )
Mounting Political Repression
Political repression has always been a feature of NIF/NCP rule, but recently Sudan has witnessed an unprecedented number of arrests of human-rights and political figures. The highly punitive (costly) confiscation of newspaper runs has skyrocketed, and intimidation is acute.
The nexus between political repression, economic mismanagement, and current civil unrest could hardly be clearer, as the reports from Sudan Tribune and Radio Dabanga over the past month have made painfully clear. A recent dispatch by Sudan Tribune reports on the contents of a widely disseminated leaked audio of al-Bashir preparing his regime for what is impending as the consequences of decades of economic mismanagement come with undeniable force:
Sudan’s President Omer al-Bashir has warned the members of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of hard days to come due to the planned government policies to liberalize the prices of commodities and scrapping subsidies, according to a leaked audio recording. Social media users have widely shared a leaked audio for al-Bashir speech before the NCP Shura Council members last week. (“Leaked Audio: Sudan’s Bashir warns of hard days to come” | Sudan Tribune, November 4, 2016)
There can be little doubt that what al-Bashir means by “hard times”: the days ahead, in which deployment of security forces to crush civil society, will be the only means of regime survival. For if recent months have made anything clear, it is that the courageous people of Sudan refuse to be intimidated any longer, despite arrests, torture, extra-judicial executions, and the vivid memory of the “shoot to kill” orders al-Bashir gave in September 2013.
Indeed, the warning signs of deepening and more violent repression are already clearly in evidence, which makes even more important robust international protection of Sudanese civil society actions, most notably “Sudanese Disobedience Day” (December 19).
The world must be watching, and those nations that profess to uphold democratic values must me most vigilant. And no country more than the United States is obliged to commit—now—to the protection of human rights and democratic values. For the Obama administration has never publicly disowned the disgracefully expedient words of former special envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman:
“We [the Obama administration] do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Interview with Asharq al-Awsat, December 3, 2011)
Now is the time for the U.S. and other countries to hold the Khartoum accountable for the consequences of this abject failure to “reform.” And the words must be much stronger than those we have heard to date:
The members of the Sudan Troika (Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the European Union, and Canada, have issued a joint statement expressing concern at the current spate of detentions and press curbs in Sudan... “We are also aware of Sudanese authorities seizing newspapers and engaging in other forms of censorship, allegedly for reporting on expression of political views.”
“The arrest of political leaders for non-violent dissent risks hindering efforts for an inclusive National Dialogue that involves all the relevant political forces in Sudan in line with the African Union Roadmap, which we all support,” the statement continues. (International community ‘concerned’ over Sudan detentions, press curbs | Radio Dabanga, December 7, 2016)
“Risks hindering efforts for an inclusive National Dialogue that involves all the relevant political forces in Sudan”!? What disingenuous nonsense, and known by these key international actors to be such: the Khartoum regime has never committed to a true “National Dialogue,” indeed has seen it as merely a politically expedient ploy. The international community seizes upon it only because it does not have the nerve to confront the regime over its repeated sabotaging of true dialogue. The words of former Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, indicted by the International Criminal Court for massive crimes against humanity in Darfur:
“Our National Dialogue initiative is just a maneuver to provide us with political cover for a continuation of the war….”
President Omar al-Bashir himself, indicted by the ICC on multiple counts of crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, weighed in with the claim that,
“The National Dialogue is also intended to provide political cover for the present Constitution and the Decisive Summer Campaign [against rebel groups in Sudan].”
(From leaked minutes of the Security and Military Committee meeting held on the premises of the High Academy of Security (Khartoum) 3 June 2014 (Part 1 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Il ) (Part 2 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Il ) (on authenticity of minutes, see http://wp.me/p45rOG-1w5)
“Expressions of concern” are not enough—not nearly enough. Indeed, this sort of familiarly tepid “concern” expressed by the “Troika” is likely only to encourage Khartoum to believe that there will be no meaningful international reaction to even the most violent suppression of civil society activism. If blood is spilled, then, it will be on the hands of those who choose to remain silent or mute their voices to the point of inconsequence. For what we have seen to date may easily explode into unconstrained violence on the part of the regime’s police and security forces. Unwittingly, al-Bashir has provided us the clear “early warning” of the “hard times,” the violently hard times that will be endured by the people of Sudan if they remain so conspicuously undefended—without vigorous, outspoken, and unambiguous language from the international community about the punitive consequences of violence against unarmed civilians.
Eric Reeves, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights