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SUDAN: Rights Groups Fear Quid Pro Quo for Peaceful Transition

Aprille Muscara

WASHINGTON, Feb 7 2011 (IPS) - Amid renewed pockets of unrest throughout Sudan and continuing violence in Darfur, government officials in Khartoum announced Monday that a whopping 98.83 percent of southern voters – numbering more than 3.8 million in a country of over 42.3 million – cast their ballots in favour of secession during last month’s highly anticipated referendum.

The results were received positively by Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir – a seemingly encouraging sign for the country’s potential normalisation of relations with the international community.

“[W]e accept and welcome these results because they represent the will of the southern people,” al-Bashir, who is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, said in an address aired on state television.

“Now, all parties have a responsibility to ensure that this historic moment of promise becomes a moment of lasting progress,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement Monday.

With the successful completion of the referendum and al- Bashir’s acceptance of the results, the road to peaceful secession seems to be paved, but many contentious issues remain unresolved.

“The peaceful conclusion of the southern Sudan referendum for independence is an historic accomplishment, but recent troubling events underscore the importance of continued U.S. engagement in the north and the south,” said Amir Osman, senior director for policy and government relations for the Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition (GI- NET/SDC), in a statement Monday.

Last week, seemingly inspired by the mass demonstrations of Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, hundreds of restive Sudanese youth took to the streets in protest of rising food and fuel prices and human rights abuses. Many were beaten, tear- gassed and arrested by police.

And in the volatile region of north Darfur, which is in the western part of the country, renewed fighting between government and opposition groups have prompted thousands of families to flee their villages, according to rights groups.

“The Comprehensive Peace Agreement must be fully implemented and outstanding disputes must be resolved peacefully. At the same time, there must be an end to attacks on civilians in Darfur and a definitive end to that conflict,” Obama said.

“For those who meet all of their obligations, there is a path to greater prosperity and normal relations with the United States, including examining Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” Obama said.

With the stakes of the referendum so high – namely, the threat of a recommenced civil war, which raged for over two decades, took an estimated two million, mostly southern, lives, and was finally halted by a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) six years ago – Western policymakers have incentivised the full implementation of the CPA.

In seeming exchange for Khartoum’s lawful and peaceful compliance in allowing the embattled, resource-rich south to break away if it so desired, a number of compelling carrots are being dangled.

One of them is the promise to reconsider Sudan’s classification as a country that systematically supports international terrorism. As a result of this designation, the eastern African nation is subject to a series of restrictive sanctions.

“Removal of the State Sponsor of Terrorism designation will take place if and when Sudan meets all criteria spelled out in U.S. law, including not supporting international terrorism for the preceding six months and providing assurance it will not support such acts in the future, and fully implements the 2005 [CPA], including reaching a political solution on Abyei [a contentious region bordering Darfur, south Sudan and the rest of the country] and key post-referendum arrangements,” added Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a separate statement.

The Financial Times also reported Sunday that French and U.S. officials agreed to a summit to be hosted by the African Union, in which a one-year deferral of al-Bashir’s ICC indictment would be considered.

Any postponement would have to be mandated by the United Nations Security Council and be made on the grounds that a delay is required to preserve international peace and security, according to article 16 of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC.

Rights groups argue that suspension sets a dangerous precedent, threatens the Council’s credibility, and robs victims and their families who have been subjected to heinous crimes of potential justice.

“A deferral of the ICC’s judicial role risks denying redress to the victims of horrific abuses and must be invoked with extreme caution,” three Human Rights Watch officials wrote in a letter to the U.N. Security Council in September 2008, amidst a diplomatic campaign by Khartoum for an article 16 delay for al-Bashir, whose warrant was requested that year and issued the following spring.

“Khartoum has time and again made commitments to Security Council members and the international community that have proven to be worthless,” they said at the time.

With the CPA set to expire in July of this year, pressure is mounting on all parties to comply fully for a peaceful transition.

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