Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 1 July 2006

Darfur agreement is severely paralysed


By Jan Pronk*

June 28, 2006 — There is a significant risk that the Darfur Peace Agreement will collapse. The agreement does not resonate with the people of Darfur. On the contrary, on the ground, especially amongst the displaced persons, it meets more and more resistance. In my view it is a good text, an honest compromise between the extreme positions taken by the parties during the negotiations in Abuja. That is why the UN, like all international partners, has endorsed the agreement. However, in politics objective rational calculations will always be confuted by subjective emotional perceptions and aspirations. And those perceptions are that the agreement does not meet the expectations of the people in Darfur, has been forced upon them and, rather than meeting the interests of all parties somewhere halfway, only strengthens the position of the government and a minority tribe, the Zaghawa.

This perception is a new political fact. Neglecting it would only reinforce the resistance and kill the agreement. It is not yet dead, but severely paralysed. How to put new life into the DPA?

Three steps are necessary. First: timely implementation of what has been agreed. So far, nothing has been done. None of the deadlines agreed in the text of the agreement has been met. The African Union is in charge but it clearly lacks the capacity to lead the process of implementation. The deadlines are tight. During the talks in Abuja we warned against too tight deadlines, which could not be kept, but this was disregarded. The military positions of the parties have not yet been verified; the demilitarized zones, the buffer zones and the humanitarian routes have not yet been demarcated. As a result of this the humanitarian assistance to people in areas to which we did not have full access during he war, cannot be resumed, despite the agreement on paper. The preparations of the Darfur-Darfur dialogue have not yet started. It is no wonder that the people in Darfur get the idea that the DPA is just another text without substance, like earlier cease fire agreements, and is not meant to be kept. This only reinforces their rejection of the agreement. It is not yet too late to start implementation, but we seem to be running out of time.

The second priority is broadening the circle of support for the peace agreement. In its present form the DPA is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for peace. The present tactic to do so by soliciting the support of splinter groups and by sanctioning those who took the political decision not to sign will not work. We need the support of Abdul Wahid and his followers, who together represent at least two third of the displaced people in the camps. His group may lose some who associate themselves with the DPA (such as some of Abdul Wahid’s advisors who came to Addis and did so in a ceremony with much publicity) but at the same time it may gain support amongst people splitting off from Mini Minawi. Quite a few have done so. Minnie Minawi’s position may have been strong in Abuja, it is less so in Darfur. His commanders are brutalizing dissenters and his forces do not refrain from human rights violations similar to those of the militia they had fought against.

Efforts to broaden the support for the DPA should not result in losing partners who have already signed. For this reason we should stick to the text of the agreement, but be willing to add a lot. This can be done in all three fields: security, power sharing and wealth sharing. Credible international security guarantees, visible disarmament of the Janjaweed, more money for compensation and a tangible reconstruction of the areas where the refugees and displaced people lived before they were chased away will have to be added soon in order to turn the present agreement into a sustainable pact.

Broadening and implementation should go hand in hand. The necessary additions and refinements should take place in he framework of the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and in the DPA institutions, such as the Cease Fire Commission, the International Joint Committee (to oversee the security arrangements) and the institutions dealing with humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and he preparation of a transitory governance system. However, this requires a fast track towards making these institutions operational. It also requires an inclusive approach. Any further delay and any further exclusion of non-signatories who so far have complied with the agreement, without signing it) would bring us back to the unfortunate situation before 5 May.

Not all international partners are in favour of an all inclusive approach. Some say that Abdul Wahid have missed all opportunities to sign and should be penalized by exclusion from the benefits of the agreement and by sanctions. It is a reaction based on feelings of offence and annoyance. It is short-sighted and counter productive. Only one week before the agreement was reached Abdul Wahid hesitated whether he should sign while Minnie Minawi declared himself to be all out against. During that week the tables were turned. From the USA Zoellick and from the UK Hillary Benn came to the rescue of the agreement and were able to persuade Minnie Minawi that he should sign. Contrary to what some commentators have argued Minnie Minawi was not forced to do so. He took his own decision, under pressure, but in freedom, the same freedom that brought Abdul Wahid to his refusal. However, what the international facilitators had not understood was that the non-signing by the one party was a function of the signing by the other. Configurations within Darfur - identity considerations, tribal motives, historical grounds and power rationale - turned out to be more decisive than the relations with Khartoum. It would have been better if Abdul Wahid would have been persuaded to sign, even knowing that this would stiffen Minnie Minawi in his initial rejection.

This situation can not be reversed. The miscalculation of Abuja can not be undone by another mistake: exchanging Minnie Minawi for Abdul Wahid. It would result in the resumption of hostilities, civilian deaths, displacement, and human rights violations. This is no option. However, sticking to the position of Abuja, for which international mediators, facilitators and observers share the responsibility with the parties, is no option either. The flaw which has been built in the agreement has to be mended.

It is high time. In Darfur the people who are the victims of the war turn against the DPA. Those who are on the side of the government and of the tribes and militia which were responsible for the killings and the atrocities welcome the DPA. If the constituency of Abdul Wahid is not being brought behind the DPA, and if the UN is seen as working together with the government and with Minnie Minawi only, the UN risks to be seen as favoring the wrong side of the conflict.

A transition towards a UN peace keeping force is the third priority in a strategy to save the DPA. Without an effective UN peace force the security of the displaced people and other victims of the war can not be guaranteed. The AU peace force has done a good job but it is too weak. Without such a transition the government will continue to set the conditions for the implementation of the DPA on the ground. A transition towards a UN peace force will only be successful if it can reverse the present conditions of non-implementation and exclusion. That would require a unified approach and a unified command in the humanitarian, civilian, military as well as political sphere.

As I said: it is high time. However, we do need also some time to reflect in order to choose the right approach and to get consensus. A couple of days ago we were given some time. We did not ask for it. On the contrary, we got it against our wish. An official joint high level delegation of the UN and the AU which had come to Khartoum in order to discuss the role of the two organisations in the implementation of the DPA was told by President Bashir that he would not agree with a transition towards a UN peace keeping force in Darfur. “This is final”, he said and he repeated these words several times. It is a set back for the people in Darfur. But I do not believe that it is final. What is final will be dictated by the situation on the ground.

* Jan Pronk is the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Sudan. This paper is originally posted in his personal webblog http://www.janpronk.nl/index120.html.

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