Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 15 November 2003

A United Nations Peace Support Operation for Sudan: Urgent Needs, Lethargic Planning

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By Eric Reeves

Nov. 14, 2003 — Although the Khartoum regime may yet collapse the Machakos/IGAD peace
talks seeking to end Sudan’s civil war, the prospect of a peace
agreement in the very near term is so clear that some assessment must be
made of present international readiness to provide the necessary UN
peace support operation. Any such assessment must be the occasion for
the most intense dismay, for it is clear that there is neither adequate
planning, nor funding commitments, nor organizational thinking.

This latter deficiency is especially worth highlighting, since there are
already four different monitoring forces for southern Sudan and the
marginalized areas: the superb but very small Operation Lifeline Sudan
security team based in Lokichokio, Kenya; the just-deployed Verification
and Monitoring Team (VMT), evidently to be based initially in Leer,
Western Upper Nile; the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) based
in Rumbek and Khartoum, which has in recent months proved itself
terribly inadequate in fulfilling its mandate; and the Joint Military
Commission (JMC) in the Nuba Mountains, widely criticized for a lack of
even-handedness and an unwillingness to investigate instances of
significant human rights abuses, especially against those in or from the
SPLM/A-controlled parts of the Nuba.

Reports from a wide variety of sources indicate that, in addition to
inherent limitations and weaknesses, liaison between these four teams is
poor and ineffective. The geographic overlap, coupled with the quite
various mandates for the teams, should dictate close communication and
coordination; but this is not the case. It is thus extremely difficult
to see how the teams could readily become part of a larger UN peace
support operation. The very different auspices for the three non-UN
teams pose particularly difficult and urgent problems if there is, as
there should be, a UN aegis for overall peace support operations.

Moreover, the extremely belated deployments of the CPMT (negotiated in
March 2002, but not deployed until November 2002) and the VMT
(stipulated in the February 4, 2003 "Addendum" to the cessation of
offensive hostilities agreement, but only now starting to deploy
effectively) augur extremely poorly for timely deployment of a peace
support operation in Sudan, and this may very well spell disaster for
any peace "agreement" reached in Kenya. For while there is a positive
aspect to the extremely intense political pressure on the parties---the
Khartoum regime and the SPLM/A---to reach a peace agreement by the end
of 2003, this date is only a month and a half from today. A peace
support operation should be fully ready for immediate deployment upon
the signing of any agreement, for this will certainly be the moment most
threatening to any agreement. And yet this seems impossible, at least
in the time remaining before the new year.

There is at least some planning underway at the UN in New York, and we
may discern perhaps the very broad outlines of a peace support
operation. It will be headed by the Special Representative of the UN
Secretary-General, and thus potentially bring to bear the political
dimension and power of the UN in New York. Additionally, the (too
limited) resources of the UN High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR)
already in Sudan would be integrated into any peace support operation.
This last feature is critically important: human rights monitoring
simply must be a fundamental feature of any meaningful peace support
operation in the Sudanese context, where gross human rights abuses by
Khartoum and its allies, and to a much lesser degree by other parties,
have been the norm for decades. The protection of highly vulnerable
noncombatant populations will, in fact, be one of the most arduous and
important tasks of peacekeeping.

The model here should be that which guided UN peacekeeping in Angola and
Cambodia, where human rights operations were fully integrated with
peacekeeping operations. Even as war and human rights abuses have been
obverses of one another in Sudan’s conflict, so peacekeeping and human
rights protections must go hand in hand if a peace agreement is to be
meaningful. Sustainable peace and respect for human rights simply
cannot be separated in Sudan, and the resources for fully adequate human
rights monitoring must be part of any peacekeeping planning.

To be sure, a Sudan peace support operation will be expensive, for its
tasks in this immense country will be many. The most critical of these
will be to monitor closely Khartoum’s willingness to disarm those
militias it has backed with weapons, ammunition, and food for
years---and which have been the military instrument of some of the
greatest civilian destruction, especially in the oil regions. Many
militias are actively in negotiations with the SPLM/A to return to the
southern cause; but some, including some of the most ruthless, remain
potent spoilers of any peace, and may be used by Khartoum for precisely
this purpose.
Khartoum undertook to disarm its militias in the breakthrough "Agreement
on Security Arrangements" (Naivasha [Kenya], September 25, 2003). The
language could not have been more explicit: under [7] "Status of Other
Armed Groups in the Country" (i.e., armed forces other than those of
Khartoum and the SPLA), Khartoum agrees that:

"No armed group allied to either party shall be allowed to operate
outside the two forces [Khartoum’s and those of the SPLA]"

Further, Khartoum has agreed "to address the status of other armed
groups in the country with the view of achieving comprehensive peace and
stability in the country and to realize full inclusiveness in the
transition process" [Section 7 of the "Agreement on Security
Arrangements"].

What this makes abundantly clear is that any meaningful peace support
operation must have the staffing, communications, and transport capacity
to ensure that Khartoum complies with these commitments. Access to all
areas of Sudan must be immediate and unimpeded (a state of affairs that
would be in marked contrast with what has greeted various efforts of the
CPMT and the VMT). If UN peacekeeping forces find evidence that either
party is not in compliance with this key part of the "Agreement on
Security Arrangements," then the matter must be referred immediately to
the UN in New York---and to the Security Council if the lack of
compliance becomes a serious threat to returning civilians.

This will be a large and expensive operation, requiring detailed and
comprehensive planning. But it is essential. There is no peace on the
cheap in Sudan, and the moment of greatest peril to a peace agreement is
precisely the one in which the resources of the international community
will be most needed. One clear sign of support for such a peace support
mission would be an explicit, public declaration now by the US and key
European countries of full support for and financial commitment to such
an operation. Those planning for peacekeeping efforts at the UN must be
given a clear signal that this operation will not scaled back or allowed
to wither for lack of donor commitment. Other countries, such as Japan,
India, and South Africa, should also make their commitments known now.
Such commitments would also do much to forestall a lack of cooperation
or obstructionism by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime, which is
already sending a number of dangerous signals about peacekeeping. The
Associated Press has recently reported troublingly ambiguous comments
from NIF President Omer Beshir:

"Concerning the joint armed forces, el-Bashir said he would accept
foreign observers but that a peacekeeping force is not necessary now
that the warring parties have signed cease-fire agreements and are
working toward a peace deal." (Associated Press, November 10, 2003)

This writer has recently commented on the absurd disingenuousness of
Beshir and the NIF referring to the efficacy of "cease-fire agreements,"
given their continuing and flagrant violation of these agreements (of
October 15, 2002 and February 4, 2003). In fact, these
violations---including proscribed offensive military redeployments, and
the continuing militarization of the oil road south of Bentiu in Western
Upper Nile---highlight the importance of the very peacekeeping forces
that Beshir declares unnecessary. It is not clear what distinction
Beshir means to draw between "foreign observers" and a "peacekeeping
force," but it is essential that UN planning be done on the basis of the
realities as they exist on the ground. Given Khartoum’s relentless
record of violating signed agreements, there can be no other basis on
which to configure and deploy a peace support operation.

This is most obviously true when we consider the extremely perilous
circumstances in which southern Sudanese will make their way homeward in
the immediate wake of a signed agreement, especially those from among
the roughly two million displaced persons presently living in camps and
slums around Khartoum. These people must not only travel long
distances, with precious little in the way of resources, but they will
be highly vulnerable to military assault. The most obvious transport
corridors will become points at which population concentrations are most
likely to be attacked and stripped of their assets, and perhaps killed.
Without such assets, including food, returning displaced persons will
find the journey home that much more difficult and that much more likely
to result in malnutrition, disease, and death. With hundreds of
thousands of civilians on the move, over vast areas of Sudan, the
immense task facing a UN peace support operation comes more fully into
view.

Peacekeepers must be deployed to a wide range of points at which people
will cross over military lines and points of particular vulnerability,
from Eastern Upper Nile to Bahr el-Ghazal in the west, with Abyei and
the Nuba Mountains particular areas of concern. They must be deployed
in areas where the remaining armed militias are most likely to assert
themselves militarily, primarily in Upper Nile. They must be deployed
to the many flash points where competition over scarce resources, vastly
diminished by years of war, will require some supplementing of
traditional forms of economic arbitration and adjudication. And
peacekeepers must be in close touch with humanitarian organizations to
ensure that a lack of adequate food, water, and medical supplies doesn’t
exacerbate the potential for conflict, especially inter-tribal conflict.

At the same time, human rights abuses, past and present, must be an
essential concern of the peacekeeping forces. It will take years for a
fully adequate legal and justice system to be developed in southern
Sudan after so many years of a war that has been catastrophically
destructive of the fabric of civil society. But the international
standards for human rights must be represented fully and robustly by the
peacekeeping forces; without such concern at the center of the
peacekeeping mandate, the threat of gross abuses looms all too clearly.

To catalog even these tasks---and there are many more---is to see how
critically important is the timely deployment of a UN peace support
operation. And yet, again, there is no evidence of anything like
adequate planning for or funding commitments to this most important
feature of any peace agreement for Sudan.
Sudan’s war has dragged on for over 20 years, a deep disgrace in itself
to the international community. That Sudan at its moment of historical
truth, on the verge of a peace agreement that seemed almost
inconceivable a year and a half ago, should be without the timely
transitional aid and a fully adequate peace support operation---this is
beyond disgrace or forgiveness. It is a failure that must be compared
with the most hideous moments of inaction and moral blindness in the
20th century.

Without aid and protection, the people returning to and relocating
within southern Sudan in the wake of a peace agreement will be in the
acutest peril. If their only protection consists of Khartoum’s
signature and "good faith," they may very well find themselves in new
"killing fields," enduring human destruction bearing comparison with
the Rwandan genocide, and thereby reminding us yet again just how
hopelessly enfeebled that fatuously brave declaration---"Never
again!"---has now become.

*The writer, a professor of literature at Smith College, has written extensively on Sudan.



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