Briefing Note by Sudan Democracy First Group
29th November 2015
On 23rd November 2015 the African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) announced the suspension of negotiations between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) on the one side, and between the GoS and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudan Liberation Movement Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) on the other. The failed negotiations, which lasted from 19th to 23rd November 2015, were aimed at addressing three main agenda items: the delivery of humanitarian aid; the cession of hostilities; and the framework for a preparatory meeting for a comprehensive national dialogue process. Despite the failure to reach any agreement on cessation of hostilities or on humanitarian aid—basic conditions for opening up the political dialogue—the AUHIP announced that the preparatory meeting on the political process would be convened during the first week of December.
The day after the suspension of the talks the GoS accelerated its military offensive with the announcement by the Chief of the GoS delegation and the Minister of Defense of a new phase of expanded military deployment in the three war regions, and the end of the temporary ceasefire. The same week, further to unfair trials, death sentences were handed down against 19 prisoners of war from SLM/MM, and number of civilians from Darfur, joining JEM prisoners of war previously sentenced to death. The GoS’s campaign of repression, and denial of fundamental freedoms to those involved in political and civil society work in Sudan, also continued. In stark contrast to the GoS’s statements about the creation of an enabling environment for the continuation of the Wathba National Dialogue process, there has been a new round of arrests of political activists, civilians and university students. This includes the detention of leaders of the National Consensus Forces (NCF) and the forced confinement of political opposition forces inside the premises of a political party. In addition, leaders of the Civil Society Initiative (CSI) and the NCF have had their travel documents confiscated and were banned from travelling. These actions of the GoS are likely to block any opportunity to make progress on a comprehensive and all-inclusive political process that can contribute to achieving peace and democratic transformation.
The most recent round of negotiations was based on the recommendations of the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) Communiques (539) and (456). Addressing the two negotiating tracks (Darfur, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains), the session focused on three core elements: delivery of humanitarian aid, cessation of hostilities, and the preparatory meeting for the comprehensive national dialogue.
The question of delivery of humanitarian aid to Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains had topped the agenda in all previous negotiation sessions without agreement. During the most recent round, the AUHIP had tabled its vision of the humanitarian process within a draft agreement. The AUHIP had stressed commitment to international humanitarian standards, removal of obstructions to delivery of humanitarian aid, and formation of joint humanitarian committees. Unfortunately, the AUHIP did not name the locations through which the humanitarian aid would be delivered, which had been the most contentious issue between the negotiating parties.
For its part, the Government of Sudan (GoS) delegation continued to insist on controlling the entry points for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the internally displaced (IDPs), demanding that delivery be through Khartoum and other GoS-controlled areas under the supervision of the UN and NGOs operating under the close supervision of the state apparatus. In Darfur, the GoS delegation insisted on maintaining its grip on humanitarian aid through the GoS’s Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), refusing to consider the establishment of joint humanitarian committees (with parties to the conflict) intended in particular to improve the humanitarian situation in the camps and among the IDPs in areas outside the control of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in Darfur.
In its proposal, the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) delegation had suggested multiple corridors—including entry points from neighboring countries and inside Sudan—for delivery of humanitarian aid to IDPs in the two areas. The proposed multi corridors envisaged facilitating access to IDP settlements in both the GoS-held and SPLM-N-held areas in Blue Nile and South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains, as well as self-settled and often forgotten IDPs sheltering in other areas of Sudan.
The Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) emphasized the importance of facilitating the return of those humanitarian aid organizations expelled by the GoS from Darfur: these organizations were experienced and had had effective partnerships with UN bodies. SLM-MM and JEM also asked for a more transparent and engaged role for the United Nation and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in order to improve the humanitarian situation. The two movements also proposed formation of joint humanitarian committees to carry out these tasks.
The GoS delegations in both of the negotiation tracks rejected all the proposals presented by the SLM-MM, JEM, and SPLM-N. The latter three parties in turn rejected the GoS asks.
There is deep mistrust by the armed political movements of GoS proposals for humanitarian aid delivery through SAF-held areas. This not only stems from the GoS’s tight security and political control in these areas, including of humanitarian actors: it also relates to long-standing anger over the GoS’s role in hampering – and in some cases denying – humanitarian accesses to civilians in the conflict areas. The GoS severely restricts the movement of international humanitarian aid organizations and independent local organizations. In 2009 the GoS expelled 13 international aid organizations from Darfur, and later forced the withdrawal of others due to its efforts to interfere and control humanitarian operations. Further the GoS has been involved in the cover-up of the grievous violations, such as mass rapes in Tabit village, Northern Darfur in October 2014. The GoS is also known for its tactics of abusing humanitarian operations to infiltrate and deploy its security agents disguised as humanitarian workers in the rebel-held areas, exploiting aid delivery for security and military purposes.
There are also psychological and social factors that prevent the victims of wars from accepting humanitarian aid delivered through government channels by an actor which is perceived as the primary instrument of their suffering. There has been a deliberate GoS policy to starve civilians by means of denying humanitarian access and attacking humanitarian assets and modes of livelihood, including bombing of marketplaces and fields at planting time. This is in addition to the continuous violations of human rights and humanitarian law which have marked the conflict, as well as outrageous crimes, oppression, and security crackdowns outside the conflict zones. All of this conduct is accompanied by an official discourse of hated, exclusion and racism towards the people of Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains.
The failure to reach agreement on humanitarian access is making a very difficult situation in the conflict-affected areas even worse. An urgent solution is needed, especially after the failure of crops during this farming season across the three conflict zones. This has caused the IDPs loss of their only source of food. Moreover, the deteriorating humanitarian situation has resulted in high rates of malnutrition and outbreaks of diseases, even as GoS air bombardment continues, which has created new waves of displacements in Darfur, the Blue Nile, and South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains. Failure to secure humanitarian access resulted in the death of number of civilians during the last two months due to shortage of food, a specter that haunts hundreds of thousands of IDPs across the three war zone.
Cessation of Hostilities
On 19th November the AUHIP presented a Draft Agreement (Draft) to the negotiating parties entitled “Cessation of hostilities Agreement”. This Draft included a cessation of hostilities for a period of six months from the signature of the agreement in order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and as a trust building measure for the preparatory meeting for a comprehensive national dialogue. The Draft included provisions addressing all elements of a ceasefire, including the positions and locations of forces, and movement of the armed forces; prohibited military actions during the course of the agreement, and the creation of joint committees for implementation and monitoring.
In response to the AUHIP Draft, the GoS proposed a one month period for cessation of hostilities in the areas under the two tracks (Darfur and the Two Areas), followed by a one month comprehensive ceasefire process involving disarmament and demobilization of the opposition armed forces. The proposal required that SLM/MM and JEM would become parties to the Darfur Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), while the SPLM/N would join the Wathba national dialogue in Khartoum to address the political issues related to the three war regions. The GoS’ delegation also insisted on provisions which would see its forces deploy along international borders, particularly towards boarders with the Republic of South Sudan, behind the current lines held by the armed political movements in Darfur and the Two Areas.
From their side, the SLM/MM, JEM, and the SPLM/N responded positively to the AUHIP proposals endorsing the Sudan Revolutionary Forces’ (SRF) roadmap for cessation of hostilities and humanitarian aid (September 2015), in line with a six months cessation of hostilities period. They also agreed to the detailed technical aspects of the AUHIP’s proposal on positioning of forces and monitoring the implementation of the agreement. The delegations in the Darfur track demonstrated additional flexibility in proposing that the existing and government-approved UNAMID mission could function as a monitoring body for the cessation of hostilities. The delegation also proposed including an exchange of prisoners of war (POW) within the agreement as a gesture of good will, and as confirmation to their previous unilateral initiatives in releasing a number of POW.
The position of the GoS delegation on the AUHIP’s cessation of hostilities proposal, and its rejection of the additional proposals from the armed movements’ delegations in the two tracks revealed a parallel agenda behind the GoS cessation of hostilities’ negotiation strategy.
It became apparent that the objective of the GoS was not to reach genuine agreement on cessation of hostilities but to achieve political, security, and military advantage through the process by: absorbing the armed political movements into the Wathba political dialogue monopolized by GoS; weakening the military capacities of the movements through the imposition of premature permanent security arrangements and disarmament and demobilization; and inserting GoS forces behind the movements’ military lines—an objective which the GoS has long failed to achieve during the whole period of fighting in Darfur and the Two Areas.
The resistance of the GoS delegation to a genuine agreement on cessation of hostilities became clear the day after the suspension of the talks when the Presidential Assistant and Chair of the Government delegation, as well as the Minister of Defense, announced the launch of a new military campaign and the expanded deployment of government forces and militias in the three war regions.
Preparatory Meeting for a Comprehensive National Dialogue
The AUPSC mandated the AUHIP in Communiqués 456 and 539 to facilitate a preparatory meeting which would lay the ground for a comprehensive national dialogue. The Communiqués stressed the importance of reaching a holistic solution for all Sudan’s crises, including through the convening of a national dialogue based on procedures and arrangements agreed by all Sudanese stakeholders in a preparatory meeting held at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Notwithstanding the GoS’s past rejection of the significance of the preparatory meeting, (manifested in its refusal of the AUHIP’s invitation for a February 2015 preparatory meeting, and the denial by President Omar Al Bashir of any role for President Thabo Mbeki in the national dialogue process), the AUHIP’s proposal to the parties during this negotiation round included a section on the preparatory meeting.
Although the AUHIP proposal welcomed President Al-Bashir’s call of the 27th January 2015 for a national dialogue (known as Wathba dialogue), the draft made no reference to the Wathba national dialogue which had been launched on 10th October, and which was widely boycotted by major political and civic Sudanese parties. The absence of any mention in the AUHIP draft of the ongoing Wathba dialogue was understood as deliberate. The AU mediation called for the participation of all Sudanese stakeholders in a preparatory meeting which would agree on the organizational and procedural issues, within three weeks from the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement, as a first step towards a comprehensive dialogue.
On their side, the SPLM-N, the SLM-MM and JEM reiterated their full support to AUPSC Communiqués 456 and 539, in particular those provisions related to the preparatory meeting and expressed support for the efforts and engagement of President Thabo Mbeki. Further, they showed their commitment to implementing the outcomes of the recent meeting of the Sudan Call forces held in in Paris between 10 to 13 November, emphasizing the importance of the participation of all Sudanese stakeholders in the preparatory meeting in Addis Ababa, in order to pave the way for a comprehensive national dialogue. In their response to the AUHIP’s proposal the political armed movements set out what they considered as the pre-requisites for such a meeting and an enabling environment for a national dialogue, including: respect for freedoms and rights; commitment to cessation of hostilities; delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in the war zones; and the identification of a clear agenda, and specific mechanisms, for a comprehensive national dialogue, including a process to address the particular issues of the three war regions (Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains).
The GoS delegation, however, opposed the draft proposal of the AUHIP and the positions of the armed political movements in the two-track negotiations. As they had done before, the GoS delegates rejected the call for a preparatory meeting on a national dialogue by the AU mediation and attempted to utilize the opportunity of the Addis talks to gain legitimacy for the ongoing Wathba national dialogue in Khartoum. It is understood, for example, that the GoS delegate conditioned signature of a cessation of hostilities agreement in Addis Ababa with the JEM, SLM-MM and the SPLM-N joining the Wathba national dialogue. The GoS also proposed that all other issues relevant to the particularities of the three war regions (Darfur and Blue Nile and South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains) be addressed and resolved as a part of that dialogue.
The position of the GoS on the AUHIP’s proposals on the preparatory meeting leading to a comprehensive national dialogue reflected the ruling party’s continued insistence on dominating and monopolizing all the options for a political solution to Sudan’s multiple crises.
The stance of the GoS, throughout 10 rounds of negotiations on Blue Nile and South Kordofan/ Nuba Mountains, and two rounds on Darfur under the AUHIP facilitation has further hindered humanitarian access to the conflict zones at a time of particular vulnerability. The GoS should be held accountable for the consequences. The current humanitarian crisis requires tough and immediate response from the people of Sudan as well as from the international and regional influential actors in support of the Sudanese victims of war. The right to life is non-comprisable, and all the Sudanese people as well as those who are concerned with Sudan’s crises all over the world should shoulder the responsibility for the consequences of the fruitless negotiations in Addis Ababa. Denial of humanitarian access is a war crime, and may also amount to a crime against humanity.