This morning, I attended a little panel discussion at the Church Center in New York City on the situation in Sudan and the consequences of the decision by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to seek an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The venue was small and two of the speakers were Darfuris, making it a good arena to hear some important points of view.

While most of the discussion went back and forth between the usual blend of tentative optimism and fear of disaster, there were a couple very informative points that I’d like to pick up on.

First and foremost, all of the panelists agreed that what’s missing in the international community is any form of CONSISTENCY. With the possibility of an ICC indictment against key government leaders, there is a real chance for the international community to get its act together and come up with a strategy. The United Nations Security Council has the option of suspending any possible indictment under Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which could be turned into leverage against the government to make them engage in the peace process and follow through on their commitments under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. While many human rights groups are against politicizing the ICC like this, there is a very real tension between justice and peace (and humanitarians not being kicked out of the country) which could be resolved to some extent by a well-thought out application of Article 16. Of course, this sort of consistency and coherency on the part of the international community has yet to be seen and probably won’t be in the near future due to the chaos surrounding elections in the US and Canada. Additionally, the panelists seemed to think that Bashir probably wouldn’t shape up even if Article 16 were invoked.

A second point that was brought up that really interests me is the fact that the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South created a little bit of space in Sudan for civil society and opposition groups in the country. I believe it was Fabienne Hara from the International Crisis Group who made the point that, for all the international community hates the government of Sudan, they do very little to engage Sudanese human rights groups, good governance groups, civil society, and opposition groups. An organization like Stand actually may have a chance to lead the way on this by getting to know respectable groups operating in Sudan (of which I don’t know any yet) and figuring out how to support them. This point was further driven home by Salih Mahmoud Osman, a prominent Darfuri lawyer, recent speaker at McGill, and friend of Irwin Cotler, who said that Western attention and support can actually protect civil society groups from government repression. It seems to me that the idea of engaging with Sudanese human rights groups is a no-brainer and should be something that even the Canadian government could do in the future. The only possible danger, brought up by a colleague at work later, was the possibility that many of these groups have a strong presence of the Sudanese security apparatus. I have no idea to what extent this is true but it certainly seems plausible. At the same time, however, it doesn’t kill my interest in pursuing the idea anyway. I have a few business cards and could possibly follow up on this so please leave comments to express your opinions on this issue.

Other than those two points, there were many interesting insights into the state of domestic politics in Khartoum and the future of elections, but I’m tired right now so you don’t get to hear about it. Feel free to send me a comment or email if you would like more info.

2 comments on “Perspectives from Sudan

  • Hey Ian, great blog. I’m sure it will catch on soon enough…
    Just a couple quick comments/questions. I have always thought that engaging the Darfur community is a great idea. However, getting involved with them I would think may have the opposite effect. For example, supporting a group operating in Sudan may be dangerous for them, if their support is traced to STAND, and the government is opposed to STAND’s message. I think input from Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit communities is essential, and this may be paranoid, but building a relationship could be dangerous for those in Sudan.

    Also, this is off topic, but I was recently at a talk where a member of the Fur community said what was needed most in Sudan was unity. The CPA was barely holding last I checked, and I thought this was a good point but ironic considering there is an upcoming referendum on separation in 2011. Apologies for any mistakes, my news may be outdated! Keep up the good work.

  • hi Dane,

    Thanks for the comment. I think that’s a valid point about engaging the Darfur community. The point I was trying to make is about working together with Sudanese rights groups that are already criticizing the government – and there are a few of them. Most of them seem to me to be made of Khartoum elite or Southern elite, with very few Darfuris involved (probably because of the economic, political, educational, and social marginalization of Darfur for decades).

    I still think you have a good point. The Government’s presence is everywhere, but it might be worth letting the groups themselves make the choice as to whether they want a relationship with us. I am not talking about ethnic groups (Fur, Zaghawa, Masalit) but rather actual civil society such as Sudanese Lawyers for Human Rights or Khartoum Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (I can’t remember the actual names, so don’t quote me on these please). This could be especially effective if we ask the Canadian government to support civil society in Sudan while also publicizing key individuals, which may protect them from repression. It’s hard to say what the best course of action is, but I personally would like to see more engagement with Sudanese people who are currently working to make Sudan a more equitable, peaceful,just, and open society.

    Thanks for the comment.

    PS. A vast majority of the South want to secede – unity is a very very distant goal.

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