Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 10 April 2015

Sudan: the African Union and the World must stand up to Bashir


By Ahmed Hussain Adam

Sudan is at critical crossroads. Its long-standing crisis has reached a devastating stage and caused enormous human suffering. According to several UN Security Council resolutions, the situation in Sudan constitutes a real threat to regional and international peace and security. On March 29th and 30th, the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) was scheduled to hold a pre-national dialogue meeting on Sudan in Addis Ababa. The meeting was intended to bring together representatives of Sudanese stakeholders, including those in Sudan’s government and the main opposition forces, to discuss Sudan’s national crisis. At the last minute, Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir declined to send a delegation to participate in this meeting, rendering the dialogue a failure due to the absence of Sudan’s government. The AUHIP chose not to expose or confront Bashir for undermining the pre-national dialogue; instead, the High-Level Panel announced that it had held consultations with the representatives of the Sudanese opposition.

The international approach to date has failed miserably to bring about peace and democracy in Sudan. Bashir’s absence should be a clear signal to the international community that he has no intention of taking part in, much less leading his country toward, said peace and democracy. Will the international community try again to finally end the genocide and other heinous crimes? If so, it must take bold and robust action to support meaningful change in Sudan.

It is evident that Bashir is not interested in a national dialogue; his plan is to carry out another rigged one-party election to legitimize his genocidal and totalitarian regime. The elections, scheduled for mid-April, will deepen Sudan’s crisis rather than transforming it into a genuine democracy. Sudan is effectively at war with itself. The opposition forces and the majority of the Sudanese people plan to boycott the coming elections, arguing that the current state of war, systematic human rights violations, and utter denial of basic freedoms do not allow free and fair elections. They have branded the elections as “the elections of blood.”

Bashir also calculated that he did not need to show willingness to engage in dialogue at the Addis Ababa meeting since he has joined the newly formed Saudi-led war coalition against the Houthi Group in Yemen. The regime in Khartoum is apparently expecting financial, diplomatic, and military support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries for its new role. Reports indicate that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has promised Bashir to help to lift the U.S. and international sanctions against Sudan. Bashir’s track record has shown that he will exploit any regional or international support in order to enhance his grip on power and commit more crimes against his own people.

The Sudanese government’s rejection of the opportunity to attend the meeting in Addis Ababa should be considered an insult to the African Union and its international partners. This move clearly undermines regional and international efforts to realize a comprehensive, peaceful, and inclusive political settlement in Sudan. The failure of the national dialogue will impel Sudan into a spiralling descent toward deep chaos and unspeakable violence.

Since 2004, the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the African Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) have issued more than 20 resolutions, presidential statements, and communiques on Sudan. However, the conflict continues to unfold, and the Sudanese people suffer and are either killed or survive at high cost. The question is whether the failure of the Addis Ababa pre-national dialogue meeting will prompt the international community to rethink its current approach and act more vigorously to respond to Sudan’s crisis. In other words, will the international community honor the oath each UN member state pledged to protect international peace and security, even if that means standing against Bashir?

For a long time, the international community has been considering Bashir a part of any political solution in Sudan. However, despite the international efforts for an inclusive political solution, Bashir has repeatedly shown his lack of political will and commitment to any peaceful and negotiated settlement.

While Bashir reaps economic and political benefits from keeping Sudan in conflict, his scorched earth policies bring devastation to the rest of the country. His regime’s genocide has claimed some 400,000 lives in Darfur alone. Where outright murder has failed, Bashir has been systematically starving civilians by denying humanitarian assistance in Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile states. Where murder and starvation have both failed, Bashir has undermined basic human dignity, using rape as a weapon of war. Human Rights Watch confirmed that 221 women and girls were raped in the Darfur village of Tabit by government armed forces.

Large portions of the country remain in constant unrest, which is spilling over into surrounding countries and undermining any chance of economic development. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), and around 500,000 people have been newly displaced in Darfur since last year. Since 2003, more than 369,000 Darfurians crossed the border into Chad and the Central African Republic and became refugees. An additional 1.7 million are either “internally displaced” or “severely affected” by war in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile states, and according to the World Bank, half of Sudan’s population is living below the poverty line.

The AU High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan (AUHIP) has also failed to mediate or facilitate peace in Sudan. Bashir is using AUHIP to bide time, mislead the Sudanese stakeholders and international actors, and improve his public relations while undermining peace efforts. The AUHIP has neither the capabilities nor the leverage to assume the task of leading a credible mediation in Sudan. On the other hand, the other members of the international community, including the United Nations, European governments, and the United States, support the status quo over a meaningful change in Sudan.

In 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. It is evident that the AU is still protecting President Bashir from justice, shielding its club member Bashir from international scrutiny. How will the AU now respond to Bashir’s blatant dismissal of their dialogue meeting in Addis Ababa?

The AU has a unique and as yet unrealized opportunity to show the world an African solution. The AU should honour its founding principles and stop giving Bashir political and diplomatic protection. It should expose Bashir’s delaying tactics and place the future of Sudan—as a prosperous, peaceful and democratic nation—in the hands of its people, crowning the foundation the AU has already built.

The international community should stop playing Bashir’s game of deception and procrastination. It is imperative that the international community adopt a new approach that supports comprehensive peace and an inclusive and managed democratic transition in Sudan. Such a solution cannot be achieved without clear benchmarks and punitive measures.

The UN Security Council should cease its divisions and act robustly to stop the genocide and secure a peaceful, inclusive, and managed transition in Sudan.

The European governments and the U.S. should not allow Bashir to play the counter-terrorism collaboration card for his own personal survival, at the expense of the people of Sudan. Bashir and his inner circle should feel isolation as the result of targeted diplomatic and economic sanctions.

It is imperative that the AU and its partners neither participate in Bashir’s elections nor recognize their outcome. The international community should support the opposition forces to institutionalize an inclusive and credible national alliance and recognize it as the sole representative of the Sudanese people. Come mid-April, Bashir should not stand at the podium as the winner of a rigged election, but stand for trial before the bench of the ICC to receive justice. There will be no credible national dialogue or democratic transition in Sudan if Bashir remains in power.

The people of Sudan are resilient. However, after years of intractable internal conflicts and genocide, the constant threat of ineffable violence and elusive justice, their ability to achieve peace and change requires the support of the international community. The people of Sudan must not become a forgotten people because of a status quo approach to international politics, nor because their troubles are too complex, nor because their lives and deaths are too distant from international players who hold in their hands the power to bring about change.

Ahmed H. Adam is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for African Development (IAD), Cornell University. Adam is also a research fellow at the American University in Cairo, Department of Public Policy and Administration. He is currently writing a book manuscript titled: Darfur Betrayed: An Insider Perspective.

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