Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The futility of the ICC in Sudan

The relationship between the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has continued to deteriorate since the decision in December 2014 to shelve Darfur war crimes probe. The ICC ruled that Sudan had failed to arrest Bashir over alleged war crimes in the western region of Darfur and passed the case to the Security Council to take "the necessary measures they deem appropriate". This request came three months after the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she was suspending her criminal investigations of Darfur atrocities because they could not make progress without cooperation from Sudan and coercive pressure from the Security Council.

The pre-trial chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that Sudan failed to cooperate with the court by not arresting and surrendering president Omer Hassan al-Bashir to the Court. The chamber stressed that “if there is no follow up action on the part of the UNSC, any referral by the council to the ICC under chapter VII of the UN Charter would never achieve its ultimate goal, namely, to put an end to impunity.”

Sudan is not a state party to the ICC Rome Statute and has no obligation to cooperate with the ICC. Sudan cooperated with the court until the first arrest warrant against Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb and former state minister for interior Ahmed Haroun were issued in 2007. Despite findings of non-cooperation being referred by ICC judges to the UNSC, the council has declined to take action mainly over China’s likely move to block any resolution that would compel Sudan to cooperate.

Following this, Sudan’s information minister Ahmed Bilal Osman stated that, "The decisions of the ICC are not in any way binding to the Sudanese government and raising Sudan's case with the Security Council reflects the failure of the ICC.” He also went on to claim that "The ICC knows it doesn't scare Sudan at all." This clearly indicates the ICC’s standing in Sudan with Bashir and his fellow cronies continuing to thumb their noses at the court. 

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber I issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on 4th March 2009 on charges of genocide and war crimes in Darfur, along with defence minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, former state minister for interior Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb. The chamber claimed there were reasonable grounds to believe that Bashir is criminally responsible for five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. The same chamber, albeit with a different composition, issued a second warrant of arrest for Bashir on 12 July 2010, for three counts of genocide.

The biggest flaw of the ICC is that its effectiveness depends on the cooperation of governments. In the last six years, all the ICC and UNSC have done is pass the Sudan case back and forth between themselves with not one single suspect in custody.

Many experts are beginning to say that the ICC is a failed experiment. Given that the ICC operates in a hostile political environment with its personality clashes and poor management, it was only a matter of time before it faced serious obstacles. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to launch a campaign to discredit the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court, following its announcement that it would pursue a war crimes probe against Israel over its 50-day attacks on Gaza last year.

Is the lack of US backing the reason for its lack of credibility and failure to be taken seriously as an international organisation? More than a decade after its creation, the ICC is still struggling to find its foothold, jeopardising its already fragile reputation as a truly global court. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Peace talks fail in South Sudan

Peace talks in South Sudan broke down last Friday (6th March) following months of negotiations.UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep discontent after troubled talks to end bloodshed and fighting in South Sudan broke off without a deal. Friday's adjournment was the latest impasse in negotiations over the world's youngest country where a political row between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar triggered a conflict that has killed and injured thousands. 

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appealed for a resumption of the peace talks, "he strongly urged both parties to refrains from any attempt to escalate the conflict." US State Department deputy spokesman Marie Harf issued a sharp rebuke; "we strongly condemn the lack of political leadership to resolve this man-made conflict that has extracted a terrible cost over the past nearly 15 months." 

South Sudanese officials claimed that the peace talks hit a deadlock after the opposition made impossible demands. Although the government was aware of key demands, the opposition came up with more demands. According to Vice President Igga, the opposition demanded the release of the African Union commission of inquiry about the conflict, recognition of the two armed forces in the country during the transitional period, dissolution and reconstitution of the national parliament to expand to the state and county levels including a provision that obliges the government to pay for debts incurred by the opposition while fighting the government and wanted federalism adopted during the transitional period. 

The rebels demanded the dissolution of the country’s constitutional review and election commissions and those officials who will run these two institutions should be newly appointed. They want the national elections commission to be jointed managed and run by the transitional government and the United Nations. “In the wealth sharing, the opposition demanded creation of generation funds, community funds for where the resources are sourced and produced. They demanded more for states where resources are produced,” said Igga.

With the failure of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediation, the real question is what to be done to encourage parties to continue pursuing the option of peace instead of war. According to some analysts, war is the only option available to the warring parties. With dry season and apparent military preparation of the warring parties for the dry season, one expects escalation of fighting, particularly around the oilfields areas of Upper Nile and Unity States. There will be more human suffering, displacement and increased food insecure population or even famine if humanitarian access is restricted.

Besides this increased human suffering, the targeted sanctions of UN on individuals obstructing peace will now be enforced. Although these sanctions will target individuals, they will indirectly affect the people of South Sudan if individuals affected hold key positions in the government. However, experience from previous sanctions imposed by UN or USA shows the difficulties in implementing them and in most cases they tend to harm more the normal citizens.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Death of Political Parties in Sudan? Part 2

Part Two

Changing politics 

Although much of the political landscape has changed in the past 25 years, many of the faces have not. Many of these political figures who are currently in their 70s and 80s, have remained at the helm of Sudanese politics from the various civil wars, successive peace agreements to the oil boom. These political figures seem unable to relinquish the power they command.  

For the President, the threat of an ICC indictment hangs perilously over his head whereas for the opposition leaders it would seem like one last chance at glory; too good to pass on.  This has more than anything had a disastrous effect on their parties. They are not beyond knowing the value of new blood. Not long ago al-Sadig al-Mahdi said that he would step down as head of the Umma Party; he remains its head even in exile in Egypt. 

In 2013 President Bashir promised not to run for the 2015 elections, but then reversed his decision a year later. The decision was heralded by former political foe Hassan al-Turabi leader of the Popular Congress Party – further blurring the lines between parties.

Threats of incarceration and egos aside, the failure of these parties, whether in power or opposition, to cultivate a younger more invigorated generation with fresh ideas has left the old guard without anyone to take the reins. In addition, the uncertain security environment has not allowed any room for anyone outside the traditional parties to emerge as an alternative leaving Sudan’s political future dangerously uncertain.  

The current fate of Sudan’s neighbours inspires little hope. Despite steps taken by the opposition and the armed forces in Paris and Addis, no one wants to see a Syria-scenario in Sudan. In September 2014 the National Consensus Forces – an alliance between the political and armed opposition groups – announced a ‘Sudan Call’ for the government to withdraw from power, and under a transitional authority to ensure policies that would increase freedom put in place. While the unity of armed groups under the Consensus Forces is a positive step away from the compartmentalisation of Sudan’s issues, it is not unlike the demand of opposition groups in Syria – so much so that al-Mahdi one of the chief architects and signatory of the ‘Sudan Call’ has warned against a Syria scenario arising from continued conflict. 

But Sudan’s parties are older and well established and the proliferation of arms has yet to engulfed larger cities so Sudan will not become Syria anytime soon. In a more amiable environment Sudanese political parties have in a dynastic fashion sowed the seeds of their own demise which will through the absence of even their nominal representation pave the way for autocracy and a true manifestation of one-party politics.

This is a closer reality.

While there are those who would contest the use of the phrase one-party-rule in relation to Sudan today, one must consider not merely the number of political parties but their efficacy on the political stage. 

The government needs opposition groups to present a picture of plurality and the opposition groups need the government as a rallying point to cling onto remaining constituencies. But behind the smokescreen the government has been able to co-opt its key threats into the government, sons of political rivals, erstwhile opposition groups or even armed groups – while the opposition has been publically losing ground. It is easier for the government to buy its enemies by keeping control of economy, opportunities and the military.

Beyond the political arena 

The NCP’s rule has gradually dissolved the ability of political affiliation to be non-determinant on opportunity and everyday life made it increasingly difficult to remain neutral. Therefore membership or at least an affiliation to the NCP also becomes a means of survival. 

The curtailment of the freedoms of assembly and association and successive clamp-downs on press freedoms mean that activists and other civil society actors are also unable to attract support as they once could in the university halls, trade unions or the press.  The Islamist organisation which birthed the current ruling party is aware of the influence of organised groups, has attempted to restrict the power of these groups. Now in power that strategy is a policy.

The coming together of activists and protestors in the September 2013 demonstrations while significant garnered no political mass.  There was no Tahrir Square-style coming together of different groups and the old guard was conspicuous in their absence. At a 2013 Chatham house talk al-Mahdi gave the impression that major parties were not interested in joining a national protest seeking instead to try other avenues.  By staying back and not joining forces with activists and protestors these increasing diminishing parties are able to ensure that they will be the only avenue for opposition. 

For more than twenty years, no event has had as much effect on Sudanese activists as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Although opposition parties and individuals alike were very much sidelined by the CPA, it did manage to open up unprecedented spaces for freedoms, enshrining in  constitution rights that had been long-denied.  However along with its other failures it did not lend any permanence to the space that had been carved out and after the session of the South in 2011 when the CPA no longer held any value for Khartoum, the roles of the NCP and the opposition were fossilised as we see them now: the NCP in centre stage and other parties whether in government or not, consistently 20 feet from power. 

Moving forward 

The National dialogue process which lasted a year resulted in further polarisation of the government and opposition parties.  This constant yo-yoing will give neither group credibility to go forward. However it has shown – much to the opposition’s dismay that the government still very much calls the shots in what is increasingly a zero-sum game. 

The main problem for the opposition is that while the NCP has evolved from a party of university Islamists on the fringes of society to have pervasive influence over politics, military and society, the ‘opposition’ parties have remained relatively the same, fossilised in leadership and paralysed by in-fighting and quickly losing the momentum to keep going. While party leaders should not bare the entire brunt of this trend, it is they and only they – whether residing in London, Cairo or elsewhere – who can put in place the mechanisms to keep the party wheels rolling in their absence; or to reinvigorate the party faithful in times of great stress instead of courting external support. 

In any case those hoping for external interference in Sudanese affairs would be very disappointed; the international community has shown very little appetite for intervention, let alone a military one. Opposition would certainly be more credible and effective if they were seen to be able to keep those within their ranks faithful to the party. These parties still have a significant role to play in Sudanese politics but they will need to look internally first.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Death of Political Parties in Sudan?

Part 1 

New Year’s Day saw the 59th anniversary of Sudan’s independence from the British.  With an unsurprising surge of nationalism Sudanese state-run television played back to back video clips of the footage of the Independence Day ceremony from 1956.   

Those black and white images of the Sudanese flag being raised at the presidential palace in the presence of the Governor General Alexander Knox-Helm, Al-Azhari (head of what would later become the Democratic Unionist Party) and the opposition leader Mohammed Ahmed Al-Mahjoub (Umma Party) is one that was free from the overshadowing presence of any one party. This is in deep contrast to the Sudan of today which seems unable to allow for celebrations amongst a similarly varied audience from among Sudan’s present-day political parties. 

One of the starkest differences is the relative secularity of Sudanese politics at a time when Muslim Brotherhood-style parties were confined to the Arkan Nighash (Speaker’s Corners) of Khartoum University compared to the present Islamised political landscape. Furthermore over time we seem to have lost the ability to distinguish between political parties. The number of parties has certainly grown exponentially; if the national dialogue 7+7 mechanism is anything to go by, there are at least 14 individually named parties in Sudan, each vying for a slice of the ever-shrinking political cake. However the influence of most of them, even combined, has waned drastically.   

These erstwhile strong opposition parties, once considered prodigal sons are now in their modern-day incarnations are perhaps misguided by those who would more accurately be described as cultists. These parties’ ranks formerly filled with a myriad of people who would gain status, a potential to rise in the ranks or simply as sense of belonging have through successive internal and national developments been degraded. Many Sudanese now seem to eschew political association, even privately. The largest of these opposition parties the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Umma Party (NUP), the Popular Congress Party (PCP) and the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) have steadily concentrated decision-making power into the hands of the few with some taking up increasingly patrilineal structures of leadership.  This has led to in-fighting, fragmentation, apathy from support bases and funding issues. As the world becomes less centralised these parties have critically also failed to grasp the imagination and support of the Sudanese people in the 21st century. 

Sectarian allegiances

Initially sectarian allegiances formed the lynchpin of support that some of the more traditional parties have enjoyed with the Umma Party drawing support from the Ansar or followers of the Mahdi (largely from Darfur, Kordofan or the Mahdi’s familial home of Dongola) and the DUP’s initial, and to some extent remaining, ties with the Khatmiyya sect, one of the largest sects in Sudan. However with the increasing correlation between NCP allegiance and economic opportunity, even sectarian ties within families have gradually been undermined. On a deeper level, the NCP carries with it not just a political ideology but also a religions perspective allegiance to the party has the potential to diminish even long-held familial sectarian beliefs. 

On the face of it the 2010 election results show very few votes cast in favour of these traditional sectarian parties; DUP (1.93%) and the Umma Party (0.96%).  However, t it is worth considering that potential large swathes of people would have heeded the call to boycott the elections all together accounting for the poor results.  This shows that the these political parties may well still yield considerable influence over their retained supporters; but quite how many of those remain and which demographics they represent is uncertain. It is also possible that general apathy resulting from decades of one party rule has played a large part in dissuading voters. 

The NCP and the Islamic Front which preceded it have largely replicated the initial idea of the Umma and the DUP, with Hassan al-Turabi as its supreme leader, insofar as a religious-based organisation could supersede traditional or ethnic ties and be more nationally relevant. While the NCP has learned from its counterparts the reverse is hardly true. Most of the larger parties have fragmented into opposing factions, while the NCP has largely been able to co-opt its break-away factions. Unable to question party leadership and betray any claim of democratic processes within the opposition parties, some instead have splintered into as many as four factions leaving supporters in the polity at a loss as to which to support.  

Loss of faith 

Even without the confusion of multi-faction parties, it is uncertain whether people can tell the major parties apart, particularly when long-standing, respected parties such as the DUP are seen to join forces with the government and undermine their secular ideology and alienate lifelong supporters. With the sons of both al-Sadig al-Mahdi (leader of the Umma party) and self-exiled Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani (leader of the DUP) joining the presidential entourage as assistants to Omer al-Bashir, hope of a reversion to distinctive politics under future leadership were quashed.  These appointments have come despite the arrest of party leaders, including most recently al-Mahdi himself and seemingly ad hoc moves by the government that ‘opposition’ parties see as degrading to the political process.  These include the recently added 14 amendments to, most problematically, an interim constitution which effectively increase the president’s powers.

2015’s Independence Day celebration was rather thin on multi-party representations. But not too long ago Independence Day celebrations at the palace saw Al-Mahdi and al-Mirghani decorated with the first class order of the republic. This is something that could hardly be entertained during the period of initial resistance to the coup d’├ętat of 1989.  The tacit approval of 2005’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 has cast the NCP as Sudan’s only legitimate political party and has disempowered the ‘opposition’ parties, casting them at best as supporting acts rather than genuine political counterparts. 

After the coup d’├ętat of 1989, when the opposition parties united under the banner of the National Democratic Alliance, political parties were able – at least in spirit – to provide credible resistance as per the NDA ethos. It was the first time this resistance was tested.  Due to recent tensions, exacerbated particularly by the continuing issues surrounding the beleaguered national dialogue process, a new national alliance of opposition groups was formed.  This time however with the backdrop of previous dealings with the government and the incredible loss of credibility of opposition parties, the National Consensus Forces alliance inspires less hope.  

Elections in April then seem to be a foregone conclusion. Even under free and fair elections it is possible that the NCP would be voted into power again.  Against the background of perceived weakness of opposition parties, the NCP has been able to capitalise on what many see as the hypocrisy of the ICC (and by extension the international community) against Omer al-Bashir and therefore, goes the narrative, against Sudan.  It has also been able to corner the market on jobs and opportunities increasing rather than increasing its support – regardless of how nominal it may be. 

This chronic waning of faith in the formal opposition and the boycott of the 2010 elections by the majority of the largest political parties precipitated a stark reaction from particularly Sudanese activists.  The group Girifna (Arabic for ‘We are fed up’ or more accurately ‘We are disgusted’) paved the way for public dissent leading to an increase in articles, online blogs and politically-motivated social networking and ultimately exposing the erosion of the political structure.   With armed groups still fighting in the peripheries, these developments will have also increased support for these movements and have weakened the narrative that armed rebellion works counter to the national interest.  This has no doubt played a part in the coming together of both opposition and armed groups under the National Consensus Forces.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

National Dialogue Process

Last January, President Bashir launched a national dialogue initiative in which he urged opposition parties and rebels to join the dialogue to discuss pressing issues including ending the wars in the peripheries, allowing political freedoms for individuals and parties, fighting against poverty and revitalizing national identity. The 7+7 committee includes members of the government and parties loyal to the government (7) and opposition parties (7). The National Dialogue Committee coordinates the activities of political forces that are participating in the dialogue process and is intended to be partially independent of the government.

Time line of key events in the national dialogue process - 2014

January - Bashir invites opposition parties to join national dialogue as promised. It has been boycotted by many of the main opposition parties. The Sudanese Communist Party, largely a party for older, intellectual and political elite (but still playing a relevant role) – as well as others said that first a conducive environment should be created and wars put to an end, before they would join the process.

April – A round table event with 83 political parties and the ruling NCP took place.  It was boycotted by National Consensus Forces (consisting of the Umma Party, the Communist Party and the Popular Congress Party) because conditions of ceasefires, justice and freedom were not met.

May - Arrest of Al Sadiq Al-Mahdi, head of the Umma Party, for claiming that Rapid Support forces (RSF) are engaging in criminal activity such as rape, pillaging and other abuses in Darfur and Kordofan.  The RSF are made up of militia loyal to the government that have been subsumed into the regular army but are officially part of the National Intelligence and Security Services. This was seen as the first tangible stumbling block to the national dialogue process.  Al Sadiq’s subsequent arrest could also be seen as silencing the most well known opposition leader and the one who, due to traditional sectarian allegiances, is most able to incite people to action.

August – Paris Declaration: Members of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP) and the rebel alliance Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) met in Paris to discuss concerns about the national dialogue. Both the NUP (individually) and the SRF, are not participating in the process because of their doubts about the government’s intention to initiate what they see as meaningful reform. On 8 August, they signed the statement known as the “Paris Declaration”, calling for genuine political reform and an end to the various conflicts. They also aim to unify opposition parties in Sudan. The declaration also asserts that the conditions for national dialogue currently do not exist in Sudan, primarily a reference to the continued detention of political prisoners.

September - Paris declaration signatories comprised of the SRF and the National Umma Party (NUP) and the national dialogue subcommittee for external liaison drafted and signed a framework plan for the national dialogue and constitutional process in Addis Ababa under the aegis of the African Union Hi-Level Implementation Panel (AU-HIP) chaired by Thabo Mbeki.

November - The ‘Sudan call’ was signed in Addis Ababa calling for the end of war, dismantlement of the one-party state, achievement of a comprehensive peace and democratic transition in the country.

The agreement was signed by the head of the National Consensus Forces (NCF), Farouk Abu Issa (former Foreign Minister under Nimeiri); deputy chairman of the SRF Minni Minnawi; leader of the National Umma Party (NUP) Al-Sadiq Al Mahdi and head of the Alliance of the Sudanese Civil Society Organisations, Amin Mekki Madani. Farouk Abu Essa and Amin Mekki Medani were promptly arrested when they arrived on Sudanese soil. They remain in detention.

December – Almahdi’s son, who is now a presidential advisor, meets with Bashir to discuss bringing groups back in to the process. But after a year of threats, clampdowns and mistrust it is likely that the process has been derailed.

National dialogue committee condemns arrest of key people in the dialogue process saying it is not conducive of an environment of trust.

Overall, the National Dialogue process is largely seen as either inefficient, or as a smoke screen designed to draw attention away from the looming election, which Bashir is set to win.  Others have called it theatre, acting out the script of national unity and dialogue despite a bad economy, fewer opportunities and continuing conflict. The overarching mistrust between the government and those with whom it aims to talk is hindering the legitimacy of the process at every turn.

Elections 2015

In 2010 Sudan’s first elections since the 1980s took place as part of the CPA, designed in theory to open up Sudan to democratic governance.  Instead, and quite predictably it opened up an opportunity for Bashir to legitimise his rule both domestically and internationally. Bashir’s NCP party won the election by a significantly (some say suspiciously) high margin. The main opposition parties, the SPLM under Yasir Arman, the Umma Party under Al-Sadig al Mahdi and Al-Mirghani’s Democratic Union Party (DUP) all boycotted the election.  This gave rise top the popular movement ‘Girifna’ (We are fed up) which saw the boycott as a cowardly move by opposition parties and called for a sea-change in the political landscape, currently dominated by the old guard. In their defence, the parties claimed that the election result was predictable and proved that not much had changed despite the post-CPA euphoria.

Due to the late stage pulling out of certain candidates, the ballot papers could not be changed so some candidates still got some votes:

Proportion (%)
Number of votes
Omer Bashir
Yassir Arman
Abdullah Deng Nhial
Popular Congress Party
Hatim Al-Sir
Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi

Looking ahead:
In April 2014, Bashir announced that he would run again in 2015 despite having promised that he wouldn’t the year before. He had stressed the need to inject fresh blood in the party, but had also left the door open saying that the matter would ultimately be decided by the Shura Council and the National Congress Party’s general convention. The party chairman Ghandour has recently come out as saying that Bashir is the natural candidate for the NCP for the upcoming elections.

Recently, Musa Mohammed Ahmed from the former Eastern rebel group, the Beja Congress has called on the NCP to delay elections and reach consensus on a permanent constitution. Others have similarly urged for a reconsideration regarding the election schedule, from Al-Mahdi’s Umma party to Mirghani’s DUP in regards to national reform and the beleaguered national dialogue process.

Yvonne Helle, the UNDP Country Representative and the EU (through training of election staff) both seem to press forward despite opposition parties’ hesitance about the timing and sequence of the elections (vis-a-vis the constitution etc).  Helle has said that the UN would send a special mission in December to meet with the NEC and government officials to outline areas for support in the 2015 elections, she has not committed to any financial support.

In November 2014, the NEC deputy director, Mukhtar Al-Asam, urged political parties and civil society organisation to agree on an election law and stressed the need for early preparedness ahead of the elections.  He pointed out that the constitutional organ’s mandate expires on April 2015 making it imperative for a new mandate to be given lest there be a constitutional vacuum.  There has been no official response giving rise to questions of whether the elections can happen come April of 2015.

There are several questions to consider including on finances, legitimacy, public trust, free and fair campaigning and continuing conflict:

  • Election commission: will the same people (NEC secretary general Jalal Mohamed Ahmed; NEC deputy director, Mukhtar Al-Asam) lead it? How will it gain credibility ahead of the elections, given that it is the same group who ran the last election?

  • Will the elections be as ill-planned like last time? Will there be public trust in the process and the implementation given the claims of corruption and fixing in 2010?

  • Is the result a foregone conclusion? Given that the conditions they have set have not been met and seem likely to not be met: will opposition groups boycott the elections again?

  • Can attempts to stifle opposition (extra-judicial arrests etc) be seen as scuppering their chances to win any seats?

  • What will the security situation be like when the elections take place? Can elections take place when so much of the two areas are impenetrable and therefore likely to be ignored come Election Day?

  • Where will the money to finance the elections, currently 800million Sudanese pounds (National Election Commission estimate), come from?
  • Will the EU and the UN continue to support the government while major opposition groups are objecting?