Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 25 May 2004

Government lies will not solve the Sudan’s crisis

A Critique of the Umma-National Congress Agreement on DarFur

by Mahgoub El-Tigani

The Sudan Government is not telling the truth about the atrocious position it has earlier generated and shamelessly escalated in the South and then forcefully reiterated with more crimes against humanity in DarFur.

May 25, 2004 — Instead of full adherence to the international human rights law and the moral obligations strictly required for good governance by national and international norms, the government resorts to official lies to support the hypocritical policy of publicly negating the army/militias’ repression of DarFur. This occurs while it continues to restrict the external relief assistance and the participation of DarFur intellectuals, women activists, and human rights groups in the effort to resolve the DarFur’s Crisis, in particular.

Top government officials including ministers of foreign affairs, defense, interior, information, and the so-called "humanitarian" affairs among many other security officials of the ruling regime have been regretably joined by the SUNA state news agency director Dr. Rabi’ ’Ibaid. The government top news official announced (Jazeera, 24 May 2003) "the accusations of international organizations are not true. The minister of foreign affairs affirms that outlawed groups are the only ones responsible for violating human rights violations, and the government is committed to the cease fire agreement. The president established a fact finding committee that started its work yesterday. SG is truly acting on the path of establishing peace and stability in DarFur."

It was unclear whether Dr. Rabi’ considers the Janjaweed militias outlawed groups or not. At any rate the SUNA director and the other top officials of the ruling regime should have known that only a few weeks ago their foreign minister officially confirmed the Janjaweed outlaws "are protected militias by the government." The minister further announced (Sudan Tribune: May 14, 2004) that "pro-government militias in strife-torn Darfur region would not be disarmed as long as weapons remained in the hands of rebel forces? Those who want us to interrupt the actions of the militias now must understand that this is not possible."

Based on an investigation short of condemning the Sudan Government in name, as reported by the AL Head of African Department Ambassador Sameer Husni, the AL issued a report expressing grave concerns about the human rights violations committed as a result of "abuses of the Sudanese local administration in DarFur." The report accused the Arab tribes in the area of launching attacks against the local tribes. Nonetheless, the foreign minister elusively depicted the "local issue" of disarming the government-supported Janjaweed militias as "a global problem [that] could not be undertaken by the Sudanese government alone"!

Despite the AL report’s strange obliteration of the Sudan’s central government’s un-removable accountability for the atrocities of the DarFur’s government administrators (who solely are no one but the NIF government military and administrative carefully selected personnel), the AL condemning findings apparently are the first ever issued by the AL against a Member State.

The Ambassador Husni fact finding committee’s unique and factual evaluation, furthermore, has not been approved by the AL Summit whose final communiqué never mentions a single word about the fact finding committee but, instead, expresses the AL "support to the Sudan and its sovereignty, unity, and safety." Obviously, the Summit fails to assess whether the DarFur Crisis is "government-made" according to the Husni Report or is "the global agenda (!)" the foreign affairs minister claims. Failing his own fact finding committee however, the Arab League Secretary General Dr. ’Amro Mousa commends "the AL, AU, and the other regional and international efforts to put an end to the crisis."

The largely non-procedural politics of the Arab States, as clearly shown in the Arab League 16th Summit, added to the historical fear of democratic transition and the hesitation of a majority of Arab regimes not to act upon the slightest thread of state reforms or to respect accountability before the general public by ensuring the freedom of the press, women’s participation in national decision making, independent judiciary, and the other vital tools of democracy have practically extended the opportunity for the Sudan’s repressive regime, as well as its counterparts in the whole geographical region, to prolong elusive attitudes towards the urgent needs of the just and permanent peace, social development, and democratically approved constitutional rule.

Jihad al-Khazin of al-Hayat (May 25, 2004) eloquently questions this democracy phobia: "The Arab Summit emphasizes reform from inside versus the New Conservatives’ America Democracy Project in the Middle East as reform from outside. Question is: why is it the reform from inside never came before it was motivated by the pressure for reform from outside?"

This appealing evaluation of the Arab States non-convertible poor performance in democratic governance affairs should not be reconciled, watered down, or made into "salvaging" announcements by political opposition groups in any AL Member State for political deals, let alone saving the ugly face of atrocious regimes. The only beneficiaries of such reductionism are the ruling regimes themselves at the expense of the victimized peoples of the countries in question. In other words, political deals must not furnish the ruling junta wherever they might be with popular means to put the blame in official fact finding reports on ethno-regional tribalism for the sake of new forms of adapted repression and political tribalism.

In the case of Sudan, what is most required from Sudanese opposition leaderships whether in the NDA, Umma, or other groups is to carry out a consistent, principled, and popular critique of the NIF ruling regime accompanied with firm accountability of the wrongs still unabated all over the country by the NIF rulers or by any other warring group, Janjaweed, regular forces, or rebel or opposition groups. Most importantly, the democratic opposition must never save face of the repressive regime at expense of the victims’ interests and human rights, which include above all honest application of international human rights, the best of Sudan Laws, and the pre-NIF judicial precedence in addition to legitimate compensations for the injuries inflicted upon the innocent populations by the regime’s armed forces and militias or by the rebel groups in the South or in Western Sudan, as well as the other marginal areas, and the trial of all culprits by constitutionally approved independent judiciary.

Interestingly, the Umma Party, which since the Djibouti Declaration (2000) brought its own leadership to a state of "cold" co-existence (i.e., non-participation in governance affairs with the NIF ruling junta), signed an agreement with the NIF ruling party (May 22, 2004) "based on a common vision and the willingness to share with all other groups the responsibility of redressing the crisis." Here, the ruling party expresses a willingness to share "responsibility" with "all the other groups." But the same party has never agreed in an honored way to exercise real sharing of governance with the democratic opposition. In fact, the government flatly rejects the NDA’s participation in the peace talks. It appears at this point that the Umma Party has virtually saved the ruling junta part of the national, regional, and international pressure that is increasingly moving the government, reluctant as it was, in different ways to act with sanity despite the foreign affairs ministry and others’ immoral lying about the DarFur Crisis.

With this new deal, the Umma might be hoping to assume a leading role side-by-side with the government to control the DarFur Crisis. The Umma plan, however, is subject to the same determination of the ruling junta to maintain upper hand politics over all opposition parties and civil society groups unless they comply or at least come to terms with its own policies.

In general, the Umma-National Congress agreement does not clearly refer to the role the Sudan Government central administrations, including the signatories themselves, historically played to spread arms all over DarFur, Kordofan, and the South to curb advancement of the SPLM/SPLA influence in these regions or others since the closing years of the Nimeiri dictatorial rule (1983-85). The statement calls for "national consensus," which in actual fact has never been honored by the NIF military regime, and realizes the need "to convene a national conference with broad national representation as a necessary step to address the Crisis."

The agreement calls for immediate commitment to a permanent cease fire, lawful prosecution; and legal recognition of the right to agriculture and pasture in accordance with the law of the land and the other conventional norms, insurance of relief assistance for the war-affected people, and the convening of a comprehensive political conference for all political parties, civil society groups, tribal leaders, intellectuals, academicians, and the other concerned personalities for the DarFur socio-economic and political development to participate in the conference with the representatives of the DarFur armed groups.

The agreement, however, retains major features of the non-democratic conservative politics that are primarily responsible for the Sudan’s and the DarFur’s crises. The Umma-NIF Ruling National Congress Agreement: 1) ignores the need to ascertain the role played by central governments in initiating and escalating the DarFur Crisis with all kinds of poor political and economic policies, immoral ethno-social preferences, and wrongful administrative ill-practices; 2) omits specific reference to the independent judiciary to put to trial the culprits and to compensate the victims; 3) ignores any specific mention to the strategic status and role of the DarFur civil society groups and the independent national and international human rights organizations to resolve the Crisis; and 4) ignores further the urgent need to ensure in affirmative terms full participation of the DarFurian intellectuals inside the country and abroad, including professional, activist, and unionist women (leaders or groups) in the presidential fact finding committee together with the Bar Association, and the provision of observer status to the internationally recognized regional and international human rights groups.

It should be remembered the negative practices of the regime have finally culminated in the NIF ruling party’s sole responsibility with the armed militias the government officially supports for the unprecedented massacres, displacement, and misappropriation of the Sudanese African land, animal, and other property committed by NIF rule all over the region. Aiming to reduce the major responsibility of the NIF thugs in the DarFur Crisis, the Umma-National Congress vision into the DarFur state-made crisis deliberately falls short of the full admission of the central government’s racist attitude towards the Sudan marginal regions.

Apart from these negative aspects of the Umma-NIF ruling party’s political "deal," it is fair to acknowledge the agreement’s recognition of national peaceful dialogue to help resolve the conflict. Calling on "unity of the Sudanese Will," the Umma-Congress vision emphasizes "the collective responsibility of all parties to maintain the high national interests of the nation" since unified national work is "a real guarantor of the interests, sovereignty, security, and welfare of the nation." The question, however, is the extent to which the NIF ruling party would be willing to go when it comes to real participation with open criticisms of the regime’s atrocious records by "all groups" and the public increasing concerns for prosecution of the regime’s top officials and the real change of government leadership and structures whether in DarFur or the whole country?

Interestingly, the Umma-National Congress statement presents a "possible summary of the causes of the Crisis." The causes include the impact of "armed robbery, tribal cleavages and resources’ conflict, environmental deterioration, migration from neighboring states, available weapons across the border, sedentary-Bedouin disputes, and injustices in services and development sectors. These problems existed for long years and were further developed through the occurrence of other problems and [socio-cultural, ethnic, economic, political?] phenomena."

The National Congress-Umma statement does not name these "other problems [or] phenomena." Equally important, the two parties have not clearly admitted their own responsibility in the existence and the development of these "other problems and phenomena." Many DarFur intellectuals and Sudanist scholars, however, specifically refer to the armament of certain tribal militias by the Umma and the National Islamic Front (the NIF present-time National Congress, including the NIF opposition faction of Hassan al-Turabi) in the mid and the late 1980s to fight the SPLM/SPLA in southern DarFur.

The agreement speaks about "the conversion of the DarFur Crisis from a traditional conflict on resources and a tribal dispute to an open rebellion due to the occurrence of other factors that were not known before the present time crisis such as 1) the growth of tribal and regional orientations; 2) the growth of school leavers and a graduates’ high unemployment; 3) the culture of violence and arms’ abundance; 4) a general belief that government negotiates only with armed groups; 5) armed militias; 6) political maneuvering; and 7) the engagement of neighbors and international interference [in the Crisis]."

The agreement then mentions "the efforts and policies" to resolve the Crisis most important of which is the Nirteti conference; the al-Fashir consultative forum on February 4, 2003; talks of the al-Fashir Committee with different tribes; the Abshi talks sponsored by the Chadian Government that led to the Sudan Government-Sudan Liberation Army cease fire agreement on December 3, 2003; and the mediation by individuals and tribal Shura councils."

The Umma-National Congress agreement stresses the significance of the presidential decree (30/2004), which established a preparatory committee for the government’s planned conference of development and peace and the (government’s) national council’s initiatives; the Umma initiatives, especially the national committee for DarFur (June 2002) in collaboration with the other political parties, the committee on national alignment (March 2003), the comprehensive vision on DarFur (December 2003), and the people’s initiative to contain the crisis of DarFur (February 9, 2004).

The Umma-National Congress agreement refers to the Injamina Agreement. However, the agreement considers "the military action to crush the rebellion following the attack on Tina in March 2003 and the military operations occurring after violation of the Abshi Agreement" as part of the "efforts and policies to solve the Crisis." This is surely a wrongful evaluation of the massive military brutalities of the Sudan Government that escalated the humanitarian crisis of DarFur up to its current unprecedented levels and thus made of it "one of the worst catastrophes of the day" in the words of the UN official reports.

The Umma-National Congress agreement theoretically condemns violence and war escalation; rejects the political use and abuse of ethno-regional or tribal cleavages; emphasizes amalgamation of the Sudanese to establish the unified nation; adopts a national political solution for the crisis as an internal issue; and hopes to accommodate positive regional and international effort against harmful foreign intervention. The fact finding reports by the Arab League and the United Nations as well as concrete allegations by national and international human rights groups based on the DarFurian sources, however, contradict the government’s claim "it has nothing to do with the violence of the Janjaweed Arab atrocities or the local administrators against the Sudanese African citizens of DarFur"! The agreement affirmatively mentions the "role played by the armed forces to crush the rebellion," which is nothing but extreme State violence in place of peaceful political solutions,

The agreement correctly notes that "most of the major social and political forces, tribes, and intellectuals 1) are not supportive of violence and 2) ask for a dialogue on the issue of political, administrative, and developmental reform and the need to find just solutions." What needs to be done includes "urgent measures to stop sedition to be able to bring about the required development to which conference members must be committed to implement before advent of the rainy season." Nonetheless, the agreement fails to incorporate the potential input of the Darfur opposition intellectuals and women groups by simply generalizing conference membership.

Of particular interest, the agreement refers to "the outcome of the official effort and the situation in the present time." Here, the agreement addresses "the repulsion of the rebellion military operations and locations by the military action of the government. Still, armed movements move on with political objectives ? and international elements became part of the striving to resolve the conflict." This is another wrong adoption by the Umma leadership, being the partner of the NIF ruling group in this agreement.

The Umma Party certainly knows about the government’s elusiveness that unethically negates the direct responsibility of the ruling regime in the Sudan’s Crisis, in general, and the DarFur Crisis, in particular. The Umma Party should have carefully assessed the shameless elusiveness of the Sudan Government that puts the blame of the DarFur Crisis (in collaboration with the Arab League and the other African and Muslim States in the Human Rights Commission) on "local tribal sources, local administrators, and foreign intervention" instead of the Khartoum’s central government, namely the presidency, the army command, the national council, and the ruling party.

*Member of Sudanese Writers’ Union (in exile) and the president of Sudan Human Rights Organization Cairo-Branch.