Analysts are calling for a beefed up international response in the effort to end civil wars in the neighboring countries of Sudan and South Sudan. Critics accuse the government in Khartoum of using violence to suppress grievances in the region of Darfur and in the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. And in South Sudan, government troops are fighting with rebel factions of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
US policy toward the two countries was the topic of discussion at a recent hearing of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organizations.
John Prendergast of the Washington-based Enough Project
said the crises in the two countries call for a more robust US approach to peace, democracy and accountability.
Prendergast said the US should expand from one to two envoys to the region – part of a strategy some analysts call a “diplomatic surge.” They say in the lead-up to South Sudan’s referendum on independence two years ago, three envoys were deployed: General Scott Gration, Princeton Lyman and then-senator John Kerry.
Currently, the US Department of State has one envoy to serve both Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Donald Booth.
"One special envoy," said Prenderagast, "no matter how capable Ambassador Don Booth is, pales in comparison to the current diplomatic requirements. The wars in both countries are so complicated they require their own envoys, and the interplay between the two conflicts and the broader region demands a deeper political team upon which the two envoys can rely."
Prendergast said the team would include currently serving senior foreign service officers, retired ambassadors and other regional experts.
He also said US policymakers should develop a unified approach to conflicts in the Sudanese regions of Darfur, the Nuba mountains, the contested territory of Abyei and in
the eastern states of Blue Nile and North Kordofan. So far, he says, Khartoum has used a successful “divide and conquer” strategy in subduing these areas and in dividing diplomatic efforts to bring peace.
Others want an even more personalized approach to US policy in the region – one they compare to diplomatic “shock treatment”:
"I would strongly recommend that President Obama address in public the issue of Sudan," said Walid Phares, the co-secretary general of the Transatlantic Legislative Group on Counter Terrorism .
"The reason is simple: people in southern Sudan, [including] those commanders on the ground, need to have a very important personality that would address them from Washington, [who] would ask them for a ceasefire. In a civil war, they are not going to listen to diplomats; they are going to listen to the highest personality, especially Mr. Obama. He is well seen in Africa, well seen in Sudan."
Phares suggested the administration bring into the effort former president George W. Bush, who met personally with South Sudanese leader and current president Salva Kiir during his administration.
Phares also offered suggestions for dealing with the Republic of Sudan and President Omar al-Bashir, whose administration is at war with several ethnic groups.
"We need to invite to Washington representatives of the Beja, Nubians, Darfuris, and of other areas in Sudan to come to US…so that the American public can understand their claims and their difficulties," he said. "I would recommend a Congressional hearing where representatives from Sudanese NGOs are sitting at this table. The president [Mr. Obama] should call on Mr. Bashir and tell him he is under ICC indictment and is responsible for the security and the rights of these four African communities in Sudan. "
Special Envoy Ambassador Donald Booth said the Obama administration has reached out to former high-ranking officials, and will continue to do so.
"Some of them did intervene, " he said, "and made calls out to the government of South Sudan to try to put an end to the conflict [including] former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who tried to engage President Kier, and former president Carter did as well.
We’ve had many calls to Salva Kiir and to Riek Machar by senior administration officials, and we are calibrating when we need to use which official to move a particular issue at a particular time.
"So, that’s something that is certainly on the table…and will be used when we consider what would be the best way forward at that time to move us off of a sticking point or break any logjam. "
Prendergast also said the US should increase support to groups that promote democracy, including NGOs, youth and women’s associations, and political parties, such as the coalition of opposition parties in Sudan, the Sudan Revolutionary Front.
"Democracy in Governance Programming is globally going down;" he said, "but in Sudan and South Sudan, they need to get in there and support and be in solidarity with civil society groups, opposition parties, the independent voices, the media, those who are pushing for solutions is more vital than ever. So figuring out a way we can get more resources and support to the independent sector in both countries …with Congress’s support, more could be done in that regard. "
Prendergast said Congress should be asked to authorize the State Department to provide training on negotiations, political platform building help and humanitarian aid delivery assistance to the opposition Sudan Revolutionary Front. Current law prohibits State from providing material support to groups like the SRF which carry arms.
Officials with the Enough Project say they’d like to see more support for independent media like Radio Dabanga in Sudan’s Darfur region. They say it could potentially expand its coverage beyond the province and also transition into television.
Prendergast also called for a “General License D” from the US Office of Foreign Asset Control– a clarification on laws governing exports to Sudan. Today, many companies follow restrictions passed years ago, which are preventing the Sudanese from purchasing US-made information and personal communications tools.
Among them are Skype, Paypal, mobile aps stores like Google Play, and anti-virus and anti-filtering software. These tools support the free flow of information, and would allow Sudan’s over seven million internet users to communicate with the rest of the world.
Prendergast said in both countries there must be more accountability and justice.
Accountability and reconciliation
He said no one’s been held accountable for any crime against humanity in either state, although the International Criminal Court in The Hague
is pursuing the cases of some Sudanese officials in Khartoum.
Prendergast suggested another mechanism for ending impunity in South Sudan.
"We suggest a hybrid court, or mixed court," he explained, "where the justice system of a country, particularly an embryonic country two-and-a-half years old, is dwarfed by needs some international support to build up the capacity of the judicial sector to try the worst case of these crimes would be terribly important. "
Prendergast said bringing peace to the region will mean closer international collaboration.
the United States could lead a coalition that would, if necessary, consider targeted sanctions against leaders from both countries.
Besides isolating high ranking officials, the strategy could include stopping the sales by Khartoum of “conflict gold” as well as linking debt relief to ending conflict and initiating democratic reforms.
He said the US should support the African Union proposal to use targeted sanctions against South Sudanese officials who are suspected of committing war crimes.
A broad effort with the participation of the regional group IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, is working to end the conflict in South Sudan.
The violence in both Sudans has left tens of thousands of refugees in the region, and more than a million internally displaced people.