Washington, DC — After decades of neglect, world attention has recently focused on Sudan, Africa's largest country with a land area about one-quarter the size of the United States. A peace agreement has been signed between the government of President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir in Khartoum, which dominates the north of the country, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the south, headed by John Garang..
A pledging conference attended by leading donor nations and institutions opened today amid hopes that new resources will become available to finance the country's reconstruction after 22 years of war. But the disastrous situation in the Darfur region threatens to overshadow and derail that process. Charles Snyder the leading U.S. negotiator for Sudan, discussed the problems and prospects in an AllAfrica interview. Excerpts:
What do you expect will come out of the donors conference?
The Oslo Conference has been a long time in the planning. It reflects a great deal of European interest in the Sudan issue going back over the last decade, and the idea of the Oslo conference was to reinforce and celebrate, if you will, the kind of good news of the comprehensive peace agreement.
Now Darfur of course has made that a more mixed story than it would have been. But the idea all along of the Oslo Conference was to pledge for the new development plan for the North, South and all of Sudan. There will now be some attention devoted to Darfur specifically but the idea is nonetheless to work on the joint assessment plans that the two Sudanese parties, North and South, have come up with for how do they develop over the next six years. The idea is to have the donors put their money where their political mouths have been. And we are still optimistic that, despite Darfur, we'll get fairly significant pledges.
The U.S. is hoping to make a substantial pledge, as you would expect, given our role there. But I am not going to steal the deputy secretary's thunder, and since he's going to Oslo. The Europeans, we expect, will do quite a lot. There are probably twelve development Ministers alone from Europe coming; Andrew Natsios [the USAID administrator] as well as our deputy secretary of state and a smattering of heads of state from Africa. It should be a significant conference.
The Sudanese government has rejected the UN Security Council resolution, which asked the International Criminal Court to try those whose are alleged to have committed war crimes and human rights abuses in Darfur. How will this impact the efforts to end the dying?
I think we all knew going into this Security Council vote that the Sudanese had said quite clearly that they didn't accept outside jurisdiction. It was their idea that their courts could do this. Barring that, of course, there was some talk about looking into an African tribunal or something that would be more African. They [indicated they] might consider that. But they had rejected from the beginning anything that was purely non-African so it is not a surprise.
It is not a difficulty yet because I think the big test will come as we see the ICC move forward, as we see the prosecutors examine the evidence. When presented with the facts in that regard, then we'll see if the Sudanese government is at all amenable to a rational process or not. And I think until we get there, for political reasons, they will continue to reject it. They don't know who is on the legendary list now of 51 people [recommended for trial]. They don't know whether this is going to be a political confrontation with them as opposed to a legal confrontation. And I think if those questions are answered in anything approaching a reasonable manner, we will be able to put a good deal of effective pressure on them. It's a little too soon to make a final judgment. It won't be easy, that's for sure.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has passed along the list of 51 names to the International Criminal Court. What is the origin of the list?
It comes from a Commission of Inquiry. When Congress passed that joint resolution last year calling the situation in Darfur genocide, Secretary Powell was already wrestling with this issue. He then decided actually to dispatch a team to Chad, including somebody from the American Bar Association and some people from other traditional NGOs that deal with legal and justice matters to see what the evidence was. They interviewed 1,136, I think it was, refugees. And they decided that there was intent, and therefore Powell made the declaration of genocide. That was the issue for us. It was not `Were these crimes not horrendous and massive violations clearly aimed at an ethnic group?' But one of the conditions of the Geneva Convention is intent. And while there was clearly intent among some of the local parties, maybe some of the local leaders, the idea of intent as it went to the government wasn't clear-cut for us. After the refugee interviews, Powell decided that that was the case.
Then we had the problem of making this first declaration of genocide under the Genocide Convention. We have to be sure about the precedence and that we didn't open the door for this to turn into political foolishness of some sort. And so the secretary of state made the point that, if only the United States says it's genocide, just like it was only the United States for a long time sanctioning in many ways, it can be dismissed as the U.S with a political objective.
So we took it to the UN, and Kofi Annan decided to appoint a commission of inquiry, which went out and did its work. That resulted in a list of 51 names, which none of us have. The names have not leaked, although there is speculations that it includes some people from the government, some of the tribal leaders, some of the military, some of the rebels.
The United States government abstained from the Darfur resolution because the Bush adminstration opposes the International Criminal Court. What impact is this likely to have on implementation of the resolution?
I don't think as a practical matter it will. The ICC is a self-contained operation that has its own prosecutors, its own court space. Clearly, when presented with human rights violations - significant war crimes and human rights violations - we'd have to look at what we could do. I think we need to answer that question in practice as opposed to in theory. I don't see any impediment mechanically to us deciding to do what we can on a case-by-case basis.
What actions does the U.S. government want to see to stop the killing in Darfur?
It's the same thing we've been saying all along - that the primary responsibility is on the government to change things on the ground. Secondarily, it's up to the international community to facilitate those that are trying to solve the problem on a practical basis, the African Union in this case. We're saying to the Sudanese government: `You've got to do more. You've got to arrest these perpetrators. You know who they are.' They took a small step in that direction by arresting 15 people, I think it was, the other day. It's too soon to say whether or not that was a political gesture, a false start or maybe the beginning of something more serious. We would hope it's the beginning of something more serious.
It doesn't bother me that they've seemed to have gotten 15 low-ranking people, because, if you're going to build a case in many instances like this, what you have to do is get the smaller fish to turn on the medium-sized fish to turn on the bigger fish. What indicates it might not be serious is the long, bad history of the Sudanese seeming to do everything with a lack of enthusiasm and a little late. We'll have to see how this turns out.
How would you evaluate what the African Union has been able to do to date and what more would you hope they could do?
The good news is that the African Union, despite its relative newness - since it just replaced the OAU two years ago - has stepped up to this problem. Where they are on the ground, they are making a difference. And that's the universal report. Jan Pronk [from the United Nations] has said that. Our own people who've gone out on the ground have said that. The Europeans say that. Where they've been on the ground, for instance, we've seen the violence dissipate, particularly this alarming growth in rapes and violence against women who are trying to gather firewood outside the camps.
Unfortunately, they're having a lot of teething pains and we in the international community are supporting them as best we can. The problem really is there are not enough of them. The real test will come when there's enough of them on the ground .
One of the fears I've got, is that the Janjaweed and whoever else is doing this - and it's more than just them - still have plenty of free space to roam, and they may just be moving away from where the AU is. The violence and the rapes are still going on, but they're just not in the zone where the AU is. If we put more AU on the ground, we may finally find out if the Janjaweed are going to be more than a bandit problem, if they will push back. I don't think so. The history of this kind of operation is that it disappears when confronted with a superior force. But we're not there yet. And we haven't got a lot more time to wait.
People have been saying for a long time that more AU troops are needed. Why isn't that happening?
The AU is going through these teething pains and the support and logistics capability in a place that's the size of the United States east of the Mississippi with no infrastructure, no air fields, no roads to speak of - even the waterways are not particularly conducive to the rapid movement of anything, never mind a sophisticated military force - has slowed this down. The truth of the matter is, the AU has met the standard they set for themselves in terms of the protection force and by and large the observers.
What hasn't shown up is the police force. The AU has been unable to generate a sufficient number of policemen to get out there. The South Africans sent a police chief and better than 50 men. The Nigerians have done the same thing, so the number of police is over 100. But the police operation is much more complicated and potentially much more effective than the military one. We are now in the process of constructing things to facilitate police deployment so they'll be closer to the actual major refugee camps. And the South Africans and others have come up with renewed pledges for more police. So we're optimistic that between now and, let's say, the beginning of June, we'll finally see this police number close.
The South African police chief who is out there has impressed everybody. He may not have gotten out there as fast as we wanted him to get out there, but he's there and he's making a difference. And so I think we have reason to hope, but I think the hope has to be informed with a renewed sense of time.
If we get this police number closed, we may start to have a real impact on the criminal activity that we're seeing now. They'll be the ones in the camps, trying to reinforce and enhance the order in the camps. The police obviously can't stand up to well-armed groups like the Janjaweed, but they can stand up to the camp bullies and opportunistic banditry that's going on. And I think, based on the statistics I'm seeing on rapes and things like that, some of this around the major camps has become this more opportunistic thing, as opposed to more organized [activity] by a heavily armed group.
So there's reason to believe that police on the ground will make a difference. This needs to happen within the next few months. I don't think that we can afford to let this increase drag out over a year-and-a-half, which is what this has taken.
It is my impression that there been troops from a few African countries ready to go to Darfur but there hasn't been lift capacity to get them there?
There have been these persistent reports that the logistics was not ready for the troops, but that hasn't been the case for several months. Nobody that wants to be on the ground is not on the ground.
Overall, what is your assessment of the humanitarian situation in Darfur?
If you look back at where we were in August, it's much better. If you look at where we were in November, December, it's a little worse.
Why have conditions worsened since late last year?
Because the situation in the camps changed. As you keep people off their land longer, they become more dependent on aid streams. They're living in conditions that allow disease vectors to begin to catch up with them. You're getting the odd outbreak here and there of the usual diseases like cholera. The solutions are obvious - better water supplies and things, and that's being taken on. Vaccinations for measles are going on. We're in a race between the declining situation of the population and the humanitarian effort to turn that around, complicated by the continued violence and attacks. We had one of our own aid workers shot. We've had attacks on the occasional aid convoys, and we had the UN pull out of a sector for a period of a week because of the instability.
The April ceasefire, April a year ago, has never really taken practical effect. It's been very sporadic. The African Union has tried several times to breath life into this, but the parties need to do better, and that includes the rebels, as well as the Janjaweed and the government.
So we're back to the question of what the government in Khartoum needs to do about Darfur.
Khartoum needs to do more than it's doing. The arrival of the SPLM finally in Khartoum finally over the weekend may make the beginnings of some changes there. Their presence in the government, their presence in some of the ministries, may begin to turn some of these things around. Maybe John Garang will be taken up on offers of men to help in Darfur. It could be the presence on the ground as a new element in the new Sudanese government may begin to turn things around.
The rebels, Lord knows, have legitimate grievances and legitimate aspirations, but their lack of discipline on the ground is making it too easy for the other side - whether they're Janjaweed or government-supported Janjaweed - to do things and stop the international community from crying out as clearly as we would if we could be absolutely of the point of view that the rebels are not at fault in any of this. We're not there yet.
When the mediation meeting took place a month ago in Njamina [Chad], there was some hope that the Sudanese government would put some new items on the table, and they did. Bashir put a serious offer on the table, and he pulled the Antonov bombers out [of Darfur]. He restricted the use of helicopters, restricted reconnaissance. And we've not had any reliable reports they've done anything but that since then. They've been flying around, but it's been reconnaissance here and there or movement of supplies.
He offered to pull back to the December 8 lines. The rebels accepted that. He offered a Nuba mountain style ceasefire. The Nuba mountain ceasefire allows them to be in zones. He put that on the table. The rebels were not represented at a high enough level to take any of those things off the table, and so it deteriorated to another offer that failed.
We've pocketed it. We know what he said, and we keep saying to the rebels: `This is on the table. You need to find a way to take it, because what we need from you is to make this ceasefire work. If we can make the ceasefire work, you can have a year or two years or whatever it takes to talk politically, but the ceasefire has to work because your people are being disadvantaged and frankly, we don't see any military advantage to persisting in this. Not when you could have a reasonable ceasefire.'
So in the coming weeks the SPLM will become real participants in the Sudanese government?
What they're there to do is, one, to prove there's reality to this comprehensive peace agreement. From a practical point of view, it's to begin interim constitution commission meetings. We've been hopeful that, once it started, it might only take six or eight weeks. They've been over this ground in the negotiation; they're not starting from scratch with this interim constitution process.
They are starting from scratch in terms of making it public and in reaching out to the other parties both in the south and in the north, to make this more acceptable to a broader Sudanese audience. So this will take some time to sell that, and maybe to change the last few words and rearrange the last few paragraphs.
The idea was to make this more than strictly an agreement between the National Congress Party [in Khartoum] and the Sudanese People Liberation Movement [in the spouth]. This is an agreement between a marginalized area and a center. That's really the problem in Sudan. Whether in Darfur or in the Beja, the problem has always been that power and wealth have been centered in Khartum and maybe 200 miles around it. The rest of the areas have been disadvantaged. The features that Garang negotiated - the power sharing, the wealth sharing, the federalism - are all answers to a marginalized periphery versus center problem.
Where the population really gets invested in this is when they do the election, which is between the third and fourth year. That's when, for the first time the old parties, and any new parties that emerge, including, I assume, some of these Darfurian rebels, will be able to demonstrate their popular support in a way that will change things in the legislatures - the legislatures in the provinces, but also in the center.
For a number of reasons, because of the six-year transition agreement, the presidency itself is held until the end, so that the top man, if you will, the man with the most to lose in a new Sudan to some degree, will be in place until a lot of this change takes place. But it's really possible if the DUP and the Yuma parties still have their old robustness, and the labor unions that used to be so significant in old Sudan, if they begin to reappear as political actors, there's every reason to believe that they can demonstrate that power. And then, the very last thing after the referendum for the south, they move on to a presidential election.
The last real election was '86, the last civilian government was thrown out in '89. These institutions have all atrophied over 14 years. They need the time to revitalize themselves. We in the West need time to help them revitalize. The Arab league needs the time, since a lot of these are Arab parties, to re-establish them as real parties. So the fact that this transition is slow, maybe slower than some want, has some good news hidden in it, and all that begins with this constitution process, flawed though it is. It's a way to take down a hard-line government, expand it and open it, in a fashion in which there may be a new Sudan when we're done, that will be less violent and a hell of a lot more prosperous. And hopefully begin to find a way to reconcile the huge number of ethnic groups inside Sudan in some kind of a system that represents them. Maybe not perfectly, but much more perfectly than now.
So that work is starting. What comes next?
Once the constitution is passed, ratified, then for the first time John Garang's position as the leader of the government of the Southern Sudan, and his position as vice-president exists. That's the moment in which the government really becomes a transition government. They've already begun discussing how they share the cabinet spaces and power, and they've learned from past agreements that failed. The old Addis agreement called for a universal sharing of all the cabinet positions. This one actually divides the cabinet positions up into five or six boxes, in which there are four or five cabinet offices. And they've agreed to split these positions more or less fifty/fifty in some of the key boxes.
I would hope that the smarter politicians would find a way to bring in to this coalition some of the other smaller parties, give them some of these seats, [looking ahead] to the fact that this government has to stand for a real election three or four years.
What is the time frame for getting the constitution and new government into place?
The 'pre-interim period', as we called it - the six months before the six years - was supposed to start from the day of the signatures - January 9. Theoretically they're supposed to be done by July 9 with the constitution and with Garang being in position and the transition government being in place. My guess is they're running about two months behind.
Even though the constitution-writing formation process is behind, the forming of the cabinet - since they're having these discussions anyway - could move rapidly [and] make up some of the time lost, though not necessarily all of it. I'm thinking we're not going to hit July 9, but I'd be unhappy if we didn't hit early September.
How will Darfur impact the Oslo conference?
Darfur has to some degree injected a large 'but' clause, with some donors now saying: 'I'm prepared to give "x" number of dollars, but I won't release some of the infrastructure money until I'm convinced that the Darfur situation is on the road to resolution.'
I doubt that anybody will take the view that it has to be resolved. That would be probably a bridge too far in Sudan in its current circumstances, but I think there has to be a clear sense its on its way to resolution. I think you'll see some serious pledging going on in the south, because there's no reason to believe with the peace and tranquility since that was a disadvantaged area, that some infrastructural projects couldn't proceed. But again unless you're approaching this holistically, including Darfur, and the northern part of the country, there are limits to what you can do to real infrastructural development, that doesn't risk making the situation even worse. You'll see a very mixed picture - good in terms of money pledged, but also some conditionality.
What role do you foresee for private sector involvement in Sudan?
The real tragedy of Sudan will be if we don't get Darfur under control and don't take advantage of this probably once-in-a-decade opportunity to jump-start Sudan, probably all the way into the lower middle-income class. The country is potentially rich, thanks to the oil wealth, and to some degree actually to its wealth in its people. Sudan is one of those places where there are refineries. Sudan is a country that can manufacture its own weapons and ammunition. Not that that's a good thing, but that kind of sophistication and technique can also be applied to manufacturing automobiles and other kinds of things.
Sudan can be a real success story, but what it needs is the kind of debt relief and World Bank assistance that it won't get unless Darfur is turned around and unless the abuse of the populations in the marginalized areas ceases. That's the big 'but' across the board.
We're the largest debtor to Sudan. We will not do anything about that until we're convinced that Darfur is headed on the way to success. And without that, a lot of the international financial institutions won't provide the funds to build another pipeline, double the size of the pipeline, put the port facilities back into shape, put in a road system.
Sudan could actually become the bread basket of the Middle East, never mind the oil merchant in the horn of Africa. There has not been a sophisticated assessment of the oil probably in 15 years, since Chevron left. I suspect the oil pool is larger than the current statistics everyone's using. So there's a reason to believe that the wherewithal to drive this is there.
How much of a factor, or how serious, is the HIV/Aids situation there?
It's a very mixed picture in Sudan. It's not a major problem in the north. Considering the population, it's not the kind of problem you would expect. It's not even as large a problem as you would expect in the south, given the chaos over the years. It's a case where a decent medical infrastructure being put in as part of this development project could actually help them get ahead of this crisis.
We still have a chance to get ahead of it, but it depends on getting pledges at the Oslo conference, getting the health and education sector empowered, getting the women's issues, and the empowerment of women, which we've found in many places to be one of the key things in to turning the HIV/Aids thing. All those development projects are really the answer, because it's not yet out of control in Sudan. We have a chance to do the right thing here.
You mentioned the constitution. How much consultation with civil society was done in its drafting?
It's based on the existing Sudanese constitution, which went through the fire in the '80s, was then modified when the Islamicists came in, who turned it into a more Islamic constitution. But many of the underlying features, many of the paragraphs, actually are still untouched.
There's never been anything wrong with the underlying Sudan constitution. The problem has always been the execution and implementation. The Islamic features are modified by the agreement that's been made, the comprehensive peace agreement. One of the first problems they solved is the Sharia problem, which now has to be codified and pieces of the constitution changed. That's what this interim committee is supposed to do.
Is state-sponsored terrorism still a problem in Sudan?
They've done almost everything we've asked them to do on the terrorist front. We're fairly well satisfied with that. From a practical point of view, in terms of international terrorism, I give them a better than `A' grade. But again, you've got that "but" problem. With Darfur not being resolved in a satisfactory fashion, there's a question mark over the whole counter-terrorism thing.
Snyder, who heads the Office of Sudan Programs in the State Department, served previously as principal deputy assistant secretary of State Africa and then as acting assistant secretary during late 2003 and early 2004.