Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is indicted for war crimes, has cancelled his plans to address a high-level meeting of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly's general debate, according to U.N. officials and diplomats.
"We understand he is not coming and we're glad he's not coming," said Christian Wenaweser, the U.N. ambassador of Liechtenstein and former president of the Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court. "We think it would have been bad for the United Nations to hose someone who has been issued and international arrest warrant."
The move followed several days of diplomatic efforts by the United States to convince Bashir not to come to New York, warning that it could not guarantee he would not be subject to arrest, according to U.N.-based diplomats. And it saved the Obama administration the embarrassment of hosting a visit by the world's most prominent alleged war criminal.
Bashir, who was indicted in 2009 and 2010 by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, announced plans to travel to the United Nations to address the annual gathering of presidents, prime ministers, and monarchs. He had even booked rooms at a hotel in midtown Manhattan.
The prospect of a visit by Bashir created a political dilemma for Washington, which is bound by a 1947 agreement with the global body to allow foreign diplomats safe passage to the United Nations, but has come under intensive pressure from lawmakers and human rights advocates to arrest the Sudanese leader.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), who has been active on Sudan matters for years, urged the Obama administration to arrest Bashir. "I recognize that the U.S. has host country obligations as it relates to the United Nations," Wolf wrote earlier today in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. "However, is there not a higher moral obligation to take concrete steps to bring an internationally indicted war criminal, with blood on his hands, to justice?"
The Hague-based court first issued an arrest warrant against Bashir in 2009, charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in orchestrating the mass killing of more than 300,000 people in Darfur. A second arrest warrant accusing him of genocide was issued in 2010.
Sudan, which is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, has refused to surrender Bashir to the Hague court. And Bashir has repeatedly defied the court's arrest warrant, traveling to at least a dozen countries, including China, Egypt, Kenya, and Nigeria. But it appears the United States won't be added to that list.
Ty McCormick contributed to this report.
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
The U.N. recently issued updated its guidelines for its senior officials on the etiquette of consorting with world leaders and lesser suspects that stand accused of committing massive war crimes.
Seems that would be a pretty obvious "no, no," but it's not as simple as it seems.
The latest regulations reaffirm existing U.N. guidelines restricting U.N. brass from most dealings with Sudan's leader, Omar al-Bashir, who stands accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of masterminding a campaign of genocide in Darfur several years ago.
But there are virtually no restrictions on dealings with Kenya's new leader, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who stands accused of orchestrating the killing, rape, and displacement of thousands of civilians from the cities of Nakura and Naivasha who were suspected of backing a rival political faction during the country's disputed election in 2008.
So, what's the difference between the court's treatment of Bashir and Kenyatta?
For starters, Kenyatta has recognized the court's legitimacy and appeared in The Hague to face the charges. Bashir hasn't.
The U.N. policy is crafted to reward suspects who cooperate with the Hague-based tribunal. Under the new guidelines, the ICC will issue a summons to a suspected war criminal who volunteers to face charges before the Hague court. But if a suspect makes it clear they won't appear, then the court will issue a formal arrest warrant, which places a legal obligation on governments that have ratified the treaty creating the war crimes court to surrender the individual.
The U.N., which signed a relationship agreement that requires it to refrain from undermining the ICC, reasons that contacts with cooperative suspects "do not undermine the authority of the court."
"U.N. officials may interact without restrictions with persons who are the subject of a summons to appear issued by the ICC and who are cooperating with the ICC," read the guidelines, which were presented to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month. A copy was obtained by Turtle Bay.
But the privilege can be taken away if Kenyatta halts his cooperation with the court. Kenyatta hinted at that possibility, declaring in his inauguration that Kenya intended to uphold its international obligations, but only if its relations with international institutions were based on "mutual respect" and affirmed Kenya's sovereignty. Since then, Kenyan officials have been pushing back. Last week, Kenya's deputy U.N. ambassador Koko Muli Grignon told the U.N. General Assembly that the ICC has no right to prosecute Kenyan nationals without the consent of the government, and that the case against Kenyatta and other Kenyan nationals should be transferred to a Kenyan court. The Hague-based tribunal, she added, "should be a "court of last resort."
Court observers find Kenyatta's remarks troubling.
"I think there is a concern that they may be backtracking," said Richard Dicker, an expert at Human Rights Watch, who noted that the ICC is only pursuing the case because "the Kenyan authorities have failed for several years to take action domestically."
For the time being, Dicker said, the ICC guidelines make sense for legal and policy purposes. First, he said, they affirm the "presumption of innocence" for the accused, including Kenyatta, who has not been convicted of a crime. The policy also serves as an incentive for suspects to cooperate with the court.
There are also practical considerations for making an exception for someone like Kenyatta. The U.N.'s African headquarters is stationed in Nairobi, providing support for peacekeeping, humanitarian, and anti-poverty missions throughout the continent. A breakdown in the relationship with the Kenyan leader could complicate the U.N.'s ability to do its work. In a sign of Kenya's importance, U.S. and European ambassadors attended Kenyatta's presidential inauguration. And Ban Ki-moon even sent a letter congratulating Kenyatta for his win.
The U.N.'s experience in Sudan, where the international body manages several major stability operations, has demonstrated how difficult it can be to shun a leader in a country's whose cooperation the U.N. depends on.
Ban's office chided the former chief of the African Union-U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari, for attending a wedding where Bashir was also a guest [*See note below]. Last month, a U.N. Development Program official in Chad participated in a diplomatic welcoming committee that received Bashir at the airport, which prompted a call by Tiina Intelmann, the president of the ICC's Assembly of State's Parties, to senior U.N. officials to express concern about the incident. UNDP acknowledged that it had erred.
"The Officer-in-Charge of UNDP's country office in Chad...was requested by the Chad Government to form part of a receiving line for Heads of State arriving at the airport," said UNDP spokeswoman Christina LoNigro. "There he was introduced by President [Idriss] Deby to the Presidents of Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sudan, and Benin. UNDP has taken this encounter, which runs counter to UN policy seriously, and has drawn the attention of all staff in the region to the policy."
Intellman welcomed the U.N. decision to release the guidelines, and said that member states of the ICC treaty body are trying to negotiate their own guidelines. She also voiced sympathy for the challenge posed by U.N. officials.
“The situations in which UN officials find themselves are quite complex,” she told Turtle Bay. She acknowledged that there are legitimate cases "where U.N. officials have to make essential contacts with indictees," highlighting U.N. efforts to promote peace deals.
So, what then is a U.N. official to do avoid an inappropriate encounter with an alleged mass murder? Here are some key pointers, from the new guidelines:
• It can be anticipated that persons who are the subject of arrest warrants issued by the ICC may deliberately seek to meet with UN officials in order to demonstrate their contempt for the ICC and try to undermine its authority.
• Contacts between U.N. officials and person who are the subject to warrants of arrest issued by the ICC should be limited to those which are strictly required for carrying out essential UN mandate activities.
• As a general rule, there should be no meetings between U.N. officials and person who are the subject of warrants of arrest issued by the ICC.
• There should be no ceremonial meetings with such persons and standard courtesy calls should not be paid. The same holds true of receptions, photo opportunities, attendance at national day celebrations and so on. If the person holds a position of authority in a state, every effort should be made to meet and liaise with individuals other than the person in order to conduct business.
• This being said, there may be a need, in exceptional circumstances, to interact directly with a person who is subject of an ICC arrest warrant. Where this is imperative for the performance of essential U.N. mandate activities, direct interaction with such a person may take place to the extent necessary only.
The current guidelines also include an explicit exemption for the U.N. secretary general -- who met with Bashir in Tehran in August -- and the deputy secretary general to meet with Bashir and other accused war criminals "from time to time" in order to discuss "fundamental issues affecting the ability of the United Nations and its various offices, programs and funds to carry out their mandates in the country concerned, including vital matters of security."
Court advocates like Dicker say the exemption can be justified if used sparingly. "Making clear that there are some exceptions is acceptable, but the devil will be in the details." He said any exception should adhere to "an appropriately narrow application or interpretation." For instance, U.N. officials must learn to turn down invitations to war criminals' nuptials. The trick, he said, is to insure this doesn't become "the exception that ate the rule."
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*Note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Ibrahim Gambari attended the wedding of President Bashir's daughter. It was the wedding of Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal. Bashir was in attendence.
It's not exactly the Cold War.
But U.S.-Russia relations have been getting pretty chilly in the U.N. Security Council lately.
On Tuesday, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, traded verbal blows over a stalled U.S. initiative to endorse a recent peace deal between Sudan and South Sudan.
The big power quarrel played out in a procedural skirmish over how the 15-nation council should be used to promote political reconciliation between the two Sudans, which have been locked in their own highly contentious squabbles over the nature of their relationship in the wake of South Sudan's independence in 2011.
Rice accused Churkin of trying to thwart the council's efforts to adopt a U.S.-drafted statement pressuring both Sudans to implement of set of obligations they have undertaken on everything from security arrangements to oil exports and trade, and condemning clashes between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces, including Khartoum’s aerial bombardment of towns in the south. Churkin fired back that Rice was "not reasonable" and her decision to divulge the contents of confidential negotiations was "rather bizarre."
The dispute reflected the deepening strains between the United States and Russia on a range of issues, including Syria, where the two powers have been stalemated, and Sudan, where Moscow has repeatedly stymied American efforts to press Khartoum. But it also highlighted the testy tenor of relations between Churkin and Rice, which some colleagues have likened to emotional exchanges between high-school kids.
For weeks, Rice had been struggling to secure agreement on a U.N. Security Council presidential statement that would recognize recent progress between the former civil war rivals in negotiations touching on everything from the demarcation of the border to control of Sudanese oil, which is mostly pumped in landlocked South Sudan, but transported, refined, and exported through Sudan.
Rice had crafted the draft in a way that could maximize pressure on Khartoum to withdraw its security forces from the disputed territory of Abyei, to provide access for U.N. humanitarian workers seeking to distribute humanitarian assistance in the conflict zones of South Kordofan and Blue Nile state. But it also deplored the presence of South Sudanese national police in Abyei, and urged both sides to refrain from hostilities.
Moscow had initially blocked the U.S. initiative on the grounds that it was too tough on Khartoum, but not tough enough on South Sudan. But on Friday of last week, Russia had reached agreement in principle with Rice to support the American measure.
The deal, however, was never concluded. Over the weekend, Sudan and South Sudan reached agreement on a deal setting the stage for the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the two countries and an oil pact that will allow for the resumption of oil exports for the first time since January 2012, when South Sudan halted production to protest what they believed were excessive transport fees charged by the Sudanese government.
Rice told reporters that she had intended to update the statement to reflect the latest agreement, but that Churkin abruptly introduced his own press statement welcoming the latest agreement and stripping out any language criticizing Khartoum's shortcomings on other fronts. Rice suggested that Russia, which has more limited interests in the Sudans than the United States, is performing the role of diplomatic spoiler in the council.
"We were close to agreement on that, and we were ready to update it to take account of recent events," Rice told reporters. "Unfortunately, perhaps in the interest of derailing such a PRST [Presidential statement], the Russian federation, which does not typically utilize the pen on South Sudan or Sudan, tabled a draft press statement, which only discussed a very narrow aspect of the substance of the larger ... statement and excluded language on the two areas, excluded mention of the cross border incidents, including aerial bombardment."
Churkin insisted that his intentions were pure, and that he was merely seeking to send a swift message of support to the Sudanese parties.
"Ambassador Rice chose to spill out to the media some confidential conversations we had today and actually did it in a rather bizarre way, from what I hear,' he told reporters. "I think the reaction of the U.S. delegation was not reasonable. And as a result of that we were not able to have any agreed reaction from the council today."
"This was not a constructive way to deal with the work in the Security Council," he added. "Trying to find all sorts of ulterior motives and come up with various outlandish accusations is not the best way to deal with your partners in the Security Council. I know it's not a good way to deal with the Russian delegation."
Some U.N. diplomats believe that Churkin is actually trying to provoke his American counterpart and that his tough line reflects an increasingly combative foreign policy approach being pursued by Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Russia is taking on an increasingly nationalistic foreign policy and Churkin's instructions reflect that," said one council diplomat.
But others fault the Americans for refusing to compromise with Russia in order to maintain pressure on Sudan and South Sudan to comply with their commitments. They say Rice's insistence on tough denunciations of Khartoum, while merited, have resulted in the council's inability to weigh in on many key aspects of the crisis since May 2012, when the council last threatened sanctions against the two sides if they failed to live up to their commitments. The United States "has been using a bazooka when they should stick with a pistol," said one U.N. insider. "Everyone knows how bad [Sudanese President Omar] Bashir is, but does it need to be put in every statement?"
A U.S. official countered that the U.S. has been even handed. "The United States is focused on resolving critical issues that risk another war between Sudan and South Sudan and have a huge human cost," said Payton Knopf, a spokesman for Rice, noting that hundreds of thousands of displaced Sudanese civilians are "enduring a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. We believe the Security Council should hold the parties accountable, as appropriate for fulfilling their obligations. When Khartoum or Juba is cuplable, we think the council needs to apply pressure, as needed."
Russia, meanwhile, has been nursing its own grievances toward the government in Juba since 2011, when the South Sudanese authorities detained a Russian helicopter crew. Moscow unsuccessfully sought U.S. support for a statement criticizing the South's action. Then, to make matters worse, last year, South Sudanese army forces shot down a U.N. helicopter piloted by a 4-man Russian crew, who were all killed in the incident. In that instance, the U.S. supported a council statement deploring the shooting, and demanding that those responsible for the shooting be held accountable.
More recently, Russia accused the United States of blocking a Security Council statement condemning a terror bombing near the Russian embassy in Damascus.
"We believe these are double standards," Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said last month. "And we see in it a very dangerous tendency by our American colleagues to depart from the fundamental principle of unconditional condemnation of any terrorist act, a principle which secures the unity of the international community in the fight against terrorism," he said.
A spokeswoman for Rice, Erin Pelton, countered that assessment, saying that the United States was willing to support the Russian initiative if it included a reference to President Bashar al-Assad's government's "brutal attacks against the Syrian people. If predictably, Russia rejected the U.S. suggested language as "totally unacceptable" and withdrew its draft statement."
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A U.N. subcommittee dealing with economic and social matters selected Sudan to chair a special session in Geneva in July on the promotion of humanitarian assistance, prompting European and other Western governments to request the decision be reversed and that Sudan be given a less controversial assignment, diplomats told Turtle Bay.
Nestor Osorio, the president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council, was expected to announce Sudan's selection for the post tomorrow at a meeting at U.N. headquarters. But European governments requested that a decision be postponed as government scrambled to convince Sudan to abandon its quest for the job. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., spoke with Osorio this week to express Washington's concerns about the selection of Sudan.
Western powers are concerned that appointment of Sudan would set the stage for another embarrassing U.N. spectacle in which a country routinely denounced for denying access to humanitarian aid workers is given the job of advocating for their interests.
The move comes against a background of troubled relations between Khartoum and humanitarian aid workers. In March, 2009, one day after the International Criminal Court accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of committing genocide, his government expelled 13 international relief agencies from Darfur. Sudan has also prevented international aid workers into the restive Sudanese regions of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where conflict has displaced nearly 700,000 people and forced more than 200,000 to flee to Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Earlier this week, Rice rebuked Sudan in a Security Council session for its "appalling and unacceptable" refusal to grant international aid workers access to needy Sudanese civilians, particularly in areas under the control of its armed rivals from the northern branch of Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM-N).
"The Government of Sudan has refused for now a year and a half to permit the safe and unhindered provision of international humanitarian assistance to address the acute humanitarian emergency in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, particularly the SPLM-North controlled areas, which is largely of Khartoum's making," Rice told the 15-nation council in the Tuesday debate on the protection of civilians.
It is not the first time that Sudan has competed for a controversial post at the United Nations. The United States and other Western powers successfully derailed a previous Sudanese campaign to join the U.N. Security Council as one of its 10 non-permanent members. Last August, Sudan dropped a bid to serve as a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, following criticism from human rights organization and governments who claimed that a government whose leader was wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges had no place in the U.N.'s chief human rights body.
But Sudan has not given up and the U.N.'s African bloc continues to put forward the Sudanese government as a candidate for choice U.N. posts, despite questions about fitness for the job. The real culprit is the U.N. system of regional voting blocs, which generally pre-select a list of candidates based on which country is next in line. The practice ensures that everyone gets their chance -- whether deserved or not -- and prevents messy elections. Sudan, which has previously been blocked from serving on the U.N. Security Council, has been waiting in line a long time for a choice committee appointment. And African states appear willing to grant them that chance, even if it may prove embarrassing.
In the latest episode, Albania, Austria, Pakistan, and Sudan were appointed vice presidents of an organizing committee responsible for presiding over the Economic and Social Council's annual session, which runs from July 1-26.
The ECOSOC meeting, which will take place in Geneva, will be broken up into five segments, including a high-level meeting hosted by Osorio, a meeting on how the U.N. coordinates its global activities, as well as a discussion on humanitarian aid. Sudan has aggressively pursued the humanitarian aid post. Diplomats say that Osorio and the other vice presidents are trying to convince Sudan to accept another, less controversial assignment.
"Clearly Sudan is trying to score points in the humanitarian field to try to show the world it cares about this when we know on the ground that their action runs contrary to that," said one U.N.-based diplomat. "Sudan is going to get something but we trust that there will be enough wisdom" to identify a less controversial assignment for Khartoum.
"Given all the criticisms of their humanitarian record why would they put such a visible target on their back?" asked another U.N. diplomat.
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Sudan's bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council sputtered out today as Khartoum informed the African Union that it "is no longer interested in taking up one of the vacancies available...."
The Sudanese withdrawal follows a behind-the scenes campaign by the United States, Western governments, and human rights organizations that culminated with a recent decision by Kenya to contest the Sudanese nomination.
Sudan's decision came on the day that a coalition of human rights groups, organized by U.N. Watch, appointed actress and activist Mia Farrow to lead a campaign to block Sudan's candidacy. But officials said Sudan had already signaled to its African colleagues earlier in the week that it was considering pulling out of the race to avoid the prospect of an embarrassing loss.
Earlier today, Farrow appealed to people to sign a petition urging Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to "Stop Sudan's Election to the UN Human Rights Council." After the announcement, she tweeted: "Petition worked!" Farrow tweeted "TY[Thank You] all who signed."
The African Union had selected Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Sierra Leone, to run unchallenged for five African seats available on the 47-member rights council in November. The nomination of Sudan, which is led by President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Darfur, outraged human rights groups.
The United States and other critics of Sudan quietly encouraged Kenya to declare its intention to enter the race, forcing the Africans into a competitive race. Kenya agreed. After Sudan confirmed on Thursday its plan to withdraw its nomination, human rights group praised the decision.
"The worst human rights offenders are slowly recognizing they are not welcome on the Human Rights Council. Sudan joins notorious rights violators Syria, Iran, Belarus, Sri Lanka and Azerbaijan whose hypocritical aspirations to sit on the council have properly led to embarrassing retreat," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch, which furnished a copy of Sudan's withdrawal letter.
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It's a story all too familiar.
A government responsible for mass murder, crushing democratic dissent, or engaging in nuclear, chemical, or biological shenanigans gets elected to the U.N. institution responsible for policing just that -- whether upholding human rights, democracy, or disarmament.
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir stands charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Darfur. So what better place to defend oneself than with a seat on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council?
A couple of months back, Sudan was quietly included on a slate of five African countries -- the others are Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone -- due to run unchallenged for seats on the 47-member council this November.
The selection of Sudan as a candidate has provided U.N. critics with another example of the U.N.'s abject moral state. In Washington, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee issued a statement Monday, saying Sudan's candidacy shows the U.N. is broken. "As Sudan appears poised to win a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, the UN has hit a new low," she said. "The UN has surrendered to despots and rogue regimes as it allows the likes of Iran's Ahmadinejad, Venezuela's Chavez, and now Sudan's Omar al-Bashir to corrupt the system and use it to further their own oppressive and despotic schemes."
Human Rights groups agree that Sudan's election would be disastrous but they have focused their efforts on persuading African government to drop Sudan. Previous campaigns by Western governments and human rights advocates have succeeded in preventing Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iran, and Syria from getting seats on the council.
"Sudan is as unfit candidate as they get, with a horrendous record of mass abuses against civilians in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "Its election would be a blow to both the victims of the Sudanese regime and the credibility of the Human Rights Council."
The real culprit in this unfolding spectacle is the U.N. system of regional voting blocs, which generally pre-select a list of candidates based on which country is next in line. The practice ensures that everyone gets their chance -- whether they deserve it or not -- and there are no messy elections. Sudan, which has previously been blocked from serving on the U.N. Security Council, has been waiting in line a long time for a choice committee appointment. And African states appear unwilling to deny them their chance, even if it may prove embarrassing.
Asked how the Africans could put forward a country so clearly unsuited for the job, one African ambassador told Turtle Bay, "Even if we believe deep down that Sudan, whose president has been indicted, shouldn't be elected, nobody wants to jeopardize their relations by telling Sudan you don't qualify because you have a human rights problem. We will be sitting at the table with them in future."
The United States -- which has often benefited itself from the system of regional slates -- has for the moment joined an informal coalition of governments and human rights organizations that are seeking to upend Sudan's candidacy. They have urged Kenya to break ranks with the African group and run a campaign against Sudan's inclusion.
"Sudan, a consistent human rights violator, does not meet the Council's own standards for membership," said Kurtis A. Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "It would be inappropriate for Sudan to have a seat on the Council while the Sudanese head of State is under International Criminal Court indictment for war crimes in Darfur and the government of Sudan continues to use violence to inflame tensions along its border with South Sudan."
Diplomats and other observers say Sudan's mission in Geneva has signaled that it may be willing to pull out of the competition, but it is not prepared to do so publicly at this stage. In exchange, they expect that Sudan will seek assurances from other African states to oppose a U.S. and European effort to strengthen the Human Rights Council's scrutiny of its human rights conduct.
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Every several months, a U.N. Panel of Experts issues a report documenting Sudan's extensive violations of U.N. Security Council sanctions in Darfur, and pleads with the council's big powers to use their influence to persuade Khartoum and anti-government rebel groups to comply.
And every time, their appeals for backup are largely ignored, especially by China and Russia, which supply Khartoum with some of the arms and firepower that fuel Darfur's fighting, and which have routinely refused to fully cooperate with the panel's experts as they seek to trace the origins of prohibited weapons from factories in China and Russia.
Three former panel members, Claudio Gramizzi of Italy, Michael Lewis of Britain, and Jerome Tubiana of France, recently produced an unofficial report arguing that the international commitment to sanctions had eroded so much that even the United Nations itself was flouting the sanctions, facilitating the travel of a rebel field commander, Jibril Abdul Kareem, nicknamed "Tek," who was subject to a Security Council travel ban, to peace talks in Doha, Qatar.
The Tek episode is simply one nugget buried away in a confidential 80-plus page report, first reported by Africa Confidential, that documents systematic violations of a six-year-old U.N. arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze, imposed on Khartoum and rebel leaders in an effort to contain the violence in Sudanese province.
But the episode provides a depressing illustration of how an initiative that once enjoyed the enthusiastic backing of the council's major Western powers -- the United States, Britain, and France -- has become such a low priority that few key players in the region take it seriously anymore.
The Security Council first imposed an arms embargo on armed groups in Darfur in 2004, and expanded it the following year to include the government. The council also slapped a travel ban and an asset freeze on the leaders of both pro-government and anti-government armed groups in Darfur, including the government backed militia known as the Janjaweed, which gained international notoriety for its scorched earth raids, conducted on camels and backed by Sudanese air power, against countless Darfurian villages.
The measures were designed to curtail a massive wave of violence -- that ultimately led to the death of at least 300,000 people and the displacement of many times that number -- and to constrain the Sudanese government from carrying out mass murder in Darfur.
The report's three authors resigned late last summer over a dispute with the panel's Indian coordinator, who produced a competing official report. The panel, they wrote, "suffered from a major dissension" within the ranks. The coordinator, they complained, had insisted that each of the panel's five members conduct their work independently without coordinating or sharing information, a policy they believed undermined the panel's effectiveness. But officials familiar with the dispute said the difference ran much deeper, reflecting a lack of faith in the integrity and competence of the panel's leadership. Eric Reeves, a Smith College literature professor and Sudan activist, has written his own take on the report, highlighting the dissidents' far more critical account of the human rights situation in Darfur than the authors of the official U.N. report.
The Security Council's enthusiasm for the U.N. panel's work waned years ago, according to experts. In 2009, Enrico Carisch, a former head of the sanctions panel, testified before Congress that the Security Council had failed to act on more than 100 panel recommendations aimed at strengthening the sanctions. He also faulted the United States, France, and Britain for doing little to force a more public debate.
Carisch, currently an independent consultant who trains U.N. panel experts, told Turtle Bay that the dissidents' decision to produce a "shadow" report highlighted some of the institutional weakness of the U.N. sanctions system. At the same time, he said their breadth of the findings highlight the value of their work. "The powerful evidence reported by these experts demonstrates how skillful and sustained sanctions monitoring is important to shine a light into the darkest corners of conflict areas," Carisch said.
The dissidents' expert report assails Khartoum for systematically violating the arms embargo, thwarting efforts of U.N. experts to enforce sanctions, and conducting ethnic cleansing against the Zaghawa tribe. It documents Sudan's use of use of Chinese small-caliber ammunition, Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters, Ukrainian tanks, and Belarussian Sukhoi-25 fighter jets
But it also provides a devastating account of the U.N. panels' own efforts to monitor and enforce the U.N. sanctions. Indeed, the report challenges much of the underlying evidence used to justify sanctions against "Tek" and two other rebel leaders, Adam Yaqub and Musa Hilal, the latter a notorious Janjaweed leader. The reports, produced by a previous team of U.N. panel experts, were riddled with inaccuracies, including misspelled names and unsupportable claims. For instance, the report notes that there may have been ample evidence that Hilal commanded militia engaged in widespread atrocities in his stronghold in north Darfur. But it also expressed serious doubts that he was responsible for the crime the U.N. panel attributed to him to justify sanctions.
In April 2006, the U.N. panel accused Hilal of leading a Sept. 28, 2005, militia raid on the West Darfur villages of Acho, Aro Sharrow, and Gozmena, to seek revenge for the death of one of his sons who was purportedly killed by a rebel movement linked to the towns. The dissidents' report, however, said Hilal did not lead West Darfur's militias and that "it is unproved and unlikely that Musa Hilal was responsible and/or present" at the scene of the raids. The report also said it found no evidence that Hilal's son had been killed.
While the dissidents questioned the justification for Jibril's designation on the sanctions list they also argued that the U.N. still has an obligation to enforce those measures. But on July 20, 2010, Jibril traveled to Qatar with a travel document -- known as a laissez passer -- issued by the deputy chief of staff of the United Nations-African Union Joint Mediation Support Team(JMST). The visit, which lasted a year, was part of a Qatari-led mediation effort to broker a peace settlement between Khartoum and several Darfuri rebel groups.
The dissident panel members said the U.N. violation of sanctions in this instance was unnecessary. A provision in the six-year-old sanctions resolution -- Resolution 1591 -- includes an exemption allowing travel for sanctioned individuals participating in peace initiatives. However, the exemption can only be approved by the Security Council committee that oversees sanctions.
"The members of the panel are unaware of any request by the JSMT or from UNAMID [The U.N. African Union Mission in Darfur] to the sanctions committee for permission to issue this document or to authorize the travel of Tek by air to Qatar," the report states. "Jibril ‘Tek's' presence in Doha represents a case of violation of the sanctions regime."
But the larger issue, according to the dissidents, is what the episode says about the U.N.'s ability and commitment to apply its own sanctions fairly and with conviction. "Should access to Darfur, and more generally cooperation from member states, United Nations and African Union bodies working in or on Darfur, as well as the general ability of the panel to provide accurate justifications for individual sanctions and monitor them, not increase in the future, the very existence of both the panel and the sanctions mechanism should be seriously reconsidered."
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Mukesh Kapila, a former U.N. envoy to Sudan who was among the first to raise the alarm over atrocities in Darfur, recently returned to Sudan, sneaking into the Nuba Mountains to assess humanitarian conditions in a province that has seen violence and been cut off from international assistance.
The Nuba Mountains have been the center of fighting between Sudanese forces and rebels allied with newly independent South Sudan. Sudan's government in Khartoum, which launched a major offensive aimed at crushing the rebellion, has refused to allow U.N. humanitarian aid workers into the region to witness what is happening and assist hundreds of thousands facing looming famine.
Kapila and other Sudan peace activists, including film star George Clooney, have traveled to the Nuba mountains in recent weeks to raise awareness about the plight of the Nubans, and pressed government officials to take dramatic steps to avert hunger.
"People are living on rats, wild flowers, and fruits," Kapila said in a telephone interview with Turtle Bay. Kapila, who was representing the advocacy group Aegis Trust, made the case that the situation has grown so desire that foreign donors need to bypass the United Nations delivery system and provide direct assistance to local groups, some of which have links to the rebels, to stave off a massive humanitarian calamity. If some aid is diverted to armed fighters challenging the government so be it.
"In my view, cross-border operations are necessary," Kapila said. "Those who don't want to do it don't have the moral high ground to stand in the way.
The United States has warned that the country this month will reach a phase four-level food emergency, one stage short of full-out famine, without a major relief effort. And American officials have been quietly building up food stocks in the area and are considering the prospects of supporting cross-border aid distribution operations that are opposed by the Sudanese government, according to senior U.N. officials and private aid groups.The move follows an increasing push by a group of seven human rights advocacy groups, including the Enough Project and United to End Genocide, which appealed to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, last month to support cross-border aid. "Counter-intuitively, sending aid into Sudan by any means necessary -- backed by heavy press for humanitarian corridors -- might be the best way to compel the regime to lift its aid embargo," Enough Project founder John Prendergast and Clooney wrote in December.
Officials say that Rice is sympathetic to the argument for cross-border operations, which were used to stave off hunger in the Nuba Mountains during the 1990s. The relief assistance then was channeled through several Norwegian and American relief organizations with operations in the area.
Princeton Lyman, the U.S.'s special envoy for Sudan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that while the United States would prefer the U.N. secure Khartoum's consent for aid deliveries it is considering doing it without it. "Should Khartoum agree to allow access to international humanitarian organizations across the lines of fighting, there must be swift progress on implementation. If necessary, we will examine ways to provide indirect support to Sudanese humanitarian actors to reach the most vulnerable. We have monitoring and accountability tools to make sure that civilians would be the beneficiaries of these activities. Nevertheless, an international program, as proposed by the U.N. and its partners, is the best means to reach the most people and we continue to urge the government to approve it."
But the proposal has faced stiff resistance from the U.N.'s chief humanitarian relief agencies, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and several humanitarian relief groups with operations in Sudan. They fear that the effort would provoke the government into moving against relief agencies, and would undermine the chief principle of humanitarian neutrality.
"I've made it clear on many occasions that I do not support cross-border operations unless they are agreed by both governments, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan," said Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator. "And indeed the government of Sudan have said that they would see any kind of cross-border operation as a hostile act."
Amos said that she has proposed that the Sudanese government allow international relief workers to have "cross line" access to displaced civilians in rebel-controlled areas of South Kordofan by crossing through government-controlled territory, not through the border. The anti-government rebels, known as the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (North), have agreed to the plan, but Khartoum has not provided a response.
The Sudanese government kicked the United Nations out of the Nuba Mountains last summer, arguing that their services were no longer needed following the end of the countries' decades-long civil war.
A landmark 2005 peace deal ending Sudan's bloody civil war between north and south paved the way for the latter's independence, but it never resolved the fate of their Nuban allies, who remain subject to northern rule.
The local forces were supposes to disarm following a "popular consultation" that was intended to determine the regions relationship with Khartoum. But the rival forces were never integrated, and the popular consultation never took place.
In May, Khartoum ordered the Nuban forces to either turn over their weapons and submit to northern rule or move to the south. A month later, as the world's attention was focused on South Sudan's independence, Khartoum opened its new military front in the Sudanese territory of South Kordofan, in the country's Nuba Mountains region.
The situation in South Kordofan bears some similarities with Darfur, where Sudanese forces, backed by Arab militias, mounted a brutal counterinsurgency campaign -- including large-scale killings and massive displacement of civilians -- against the region's restive tribes. In one ominous twist, South Kordofan's new governor, Ahmed Haroun, a member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of committing war crimes against Darfurians.
However, the local forces in South Kordofan are far more heavily armed than their Darfurian counterparts and have exercised control over a large swath of the territory. Sudanese officials charge the Nubans with precipitating the latest round of violence by reinforcing their military presence in recent months and refusing to meet their obligation under previous agreements to disarm and attacking local security outposts.
The fate of Sudan's Nubans has become a growing source of concern among human rights observers. Kapila, who traveled to the Nuban Mountains with a rebel escort, said he witnessed a veritable wasteland.
"What did I see?" he asked. "Basically, as you drive in, you see totally deserted countryside, burnt village after burnt village after burnt village."
The few remaining locals, he said, are terrorized by daily bombings from government Antonov airplanes. In the town of Taroji, he saw two churches hit by overhead bombs, while a local mosque was left untouched. He saw boxes of Mark 4 anti-personnel mines (bearing Farsi writing, and thus apparently of Iranian origin), that had been seized by anti-government forces when they captured the town last month. Spent munitions of Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, and even U.S. origin were found in towns that faced attacks by government forces.
In the town of Dar, in the Nuba Mountains, he encountered a group of woman collecting water at a pump when an Antonov began its approach, forcing the women to flee to a nearby hill where they sought refugee in hidden nooks, crannies, and caves.
"I was totally paralyzed because I'm not used to Antonovs flying over my head," he said. "These Antonov bombers go around terrorizing the population almost every day."
Kapila said that anti-government forces of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (North), also known as the ninth division, have gradually expanded their control of territory, providing an opening for the delivery of aid from South Sudan.
"These people are being cleared away," Kapila said. If we don't act fast, he added, "we will end up with a situation where Khartoum will delay assistance until it has cleansed the area. The same thing happened in Darfur."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned the U.N. Security Council that Sudan's restive South Kordofan region faces the prospects of famine if Khartoum does not allow international aid workers into the region to provide relief to more than 500,000 needy civilians.
"It is the United States' firm belief that, if the government of Sudan does not allow immediate meaningful humanitarian access to the conflict zones in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile so life saving humanitarian assistance can be provided to civilians in need, we will likely see famine conditions in parts of Sudan," Rice wrote in a letter to the president of the U.N. Security Council.
The U.S. warning comes nearly two weeks after the U.N.'s chief relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, traveled to Sudan to press the government to allow U.N. aid workers into Southern Kordofan to assess the extent of humanitarian suffering there. It comes on the eve of a briefing today by Amos on the crisis to the Security Council.
During her visit, Amos said that Sudanese refugees entering Ethiopia have reported increasing levels of food shortages and "rising levels of malnutrition" in parts of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. She said that reports of a humanitarian crisis in territory controlled by the anti-government Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (North) were "particularly alarming."
Amos said that she had reached agreement with Khartoum to share information about the plight of civilians in the conflict zones, and that they would continue to discuss ways to reach civilians affected by the crisis.
The Sudanese armed forces launched a counterinsurgency campaign against the SPLM forces in June, triggering an outbreak of fighting that has forced 300,000 people from their homes, according to U.N. figures. The United Nations, which previously maintained a presence in the region, was asked to leave Sudan after South Sudan seceded from Sudan.
Reports of extreme hardship have filtered out from church groups based in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and from Sudanese refugees who have made it across the border into neighboring Ethiopia or South Sudan.
But Sudan has restricted U.N. aid agencies from gaining access to the region, citing security concerns. "We are in no position to verify the actual needs on the ground or the fulfillment of those needs as we are simply not there," Peter de Clercq, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, said in a recent statement.
Susan Rice wrote that the two Sudanese states will be placed on a Phase 4 Emergency level by March without a major inflow of humanitarian assistance. A Phase 4 Emergency -- a designation that has only been applied to Somalia and Ethiopia -- is one step short of a full-fledged famine.
"It is clear that the Government of Sudan has instituted a deliberate policy to prevent humanitarian agencies from reaching vulnerable civilians impacted by the conflict," Rice wrote. "The conflicts disruption of trade and livelihoods, large scale displacement of people, and severe restrictions on the operations of aid agencies has pushed the people of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile to the brink of a major humanitarian crisis."
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The Sudanese government on Saturday, Dec. 3, blocked the U.N's relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, from visiting Khartoum, where she planned to press Sudanese officials to grant greater access to U.N. relief workers in conflict zones in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
The visit, which was planned well advance, was cancelled after Sudanese authorities said that the top official responsible for addressing humanitarian issues was not available to meet with her because the cabinet had been dissolved.
The cancellation comes amid concern that Sudan is heading towards a worsening civil war, with hardliners pressing for a military crackdown on resistance elements in the country, and a coalition of rebel groups forming an alliance to try to overthrow the government of President Omar al-Bashir.
"Civil war is spreading in Sudan," the International Crisis Group warned in a recent report on Sudan. "With hundreds of thousands of people displaced...the growing war on multiple fronts poses serious dangers for the country, for its future relationship with the Republic of South Sudan and for the stability of the region as a whole."
The region has been in a state of turmoil since neighboring South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan. After relinquishing control over the south last summer, Khartoum's forces moved quickly to restore control over the disputed region of Abyei that straddles the north and south, and launched offensives against the restive South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.
The United Nations, which was required to leave the region after the referendum, has not been allowed to monitor what's happening in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Amos's visit was part of an ongoing effort to ensure that relief can be delivered to those displaced by rising violence.
A spokeswoman for Amos, Amanda Pitt, told Turtle Bay that Amos is "extremely concerned" about the plight of displaced civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and planned to press the government to ensure relief agencies could "reach the people" affected by the violence.
Pitt said that Amos was at the international airport in Istanbul, Turkey, en route to Sudan when she was informed that there was no appropriate official available to meet her and that she should not come. "I know that she definitely wants to go and is working" with the Sudanese government and the U.N. team in Sudan to "sort out another date," said Pitt.
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Salva Kiir, president of newly independent South Sudan, has survived 35 years of fighting -- initially as a young guerrilla fighter and later as commander of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement -- against Khartoum's forces.
But a week of U.N. speeches, dinners, toasts, and endless bilateral meetings with governments was apparently a bit too much to handle for the leader of the U.N.'s newest member state.
Kiir, who addressed the General Assembly's annual debate for the first time last week, fell ill on Friday night and didn't show up for a high-level dinner, which included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. An effort to encourage his staff to convince Kiir to make a brief appearance at the dinner, which was held at the Intercontinental Hotel, was met with assurances he was incapable of doing so.
A source close to Kiir's delegation said afterward that the new South Sudanese leader had been laid low by exhaustion but that he is fine.
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With human rights groups now reporting that more than 150,000 people have been displaced in Sudan's South Kordofan as a result of government incursions, Thursday's Security Council briefing on the situation by Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights, will be expected to address questions about how best to protect civilians there, and whether the international presence needs to be bolstered.
"Tens of thousands of civilians in Southern Kordofan are in grave danger, and no one is on the ground to report on what is happening, much less do anything about it," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
But, in making his briefing, it's not yet clear to what extent Simonovic will rely on the detailed reports about the attacks that have been drafted, though not yet officially endorsed, by U.N agencies -- reports that partly cast the peacekeeping presence in South Kordofan in an unflattering light. According to the reports, which have been obtained by Turtle Bay, Sudanese forces not only targeted U.N. peacekeepers -- those peacekeepers, in some cases, also enabled the attacks against the very civilians they were charged with protecting.
It was in June, as the world's attention was riveted to the birth of the independent nation of South Sudan, that Khartoum opened its new military front in northern Sudan, in the country's Nuba Mountains region.
On June 5, the Sudanese armed forces, and pro-government militias surrounded Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan, triggering a resumption of fighting between government troops and Nuban members of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army. The Sudanese action was intended to force the thousands of local Nuban troops who once fought alongside Khartoum's domestic rivals to disarm or to depart for the south.
The chief obstacle to Sudan's military push was a force of nearly two-thousand Egyptian and Bangladeshi U.N. peacekeepers with a mandate to protect civilians. But internal U.N. documents illustrate how the Sudanese military quickly neutralized the U.N. blue helmets, seizing control of the U.N.-operated airport, cutting off humanitarian supplies and preventing U.N. staff from carrying out their work. Armed and uniformed Sudanese security personnel entered a U.N. safe area at will, checking the identities of frightened civilians who sought refuge there and intimidated them into leaving the area, despite the ostensible U.N. protection.
Even more alarmingly, Sudanese army troops and allied militias targeted Sudanese nationals working for the United Nations, summarily executing one and detaining others in the presence of peacekeepers, according to the internal U.N. accounts. In one incident, two days after the fighting began, government-backed militia members shot a national U.N. staff member in the legs as he sought sanctuary in a U.N. compound in Kadugli.
One internal report by the U.N.'s human rights office in Sudan "revealed that the SAF [Sudan Armed Forces], paramilitary forces and government security apparatus have engaged in violent and unlawful acts against UNMIS." They included "verified incidents of shelling in close proximity to UN property...summary execution of a U.N. national staff member; assaults on physical integrity of U.N. staff; arbitrary arrest and detention of U.N. Staff and associated human rights violations, including ill-treatment amounting to torture."
The report cited a June 16 episode in which U.N. military observers, seeking to verify the existence of alleged mass graves, "were arrested, stripped of their clothes, and believed that they were about to be executed when a senior SAF [Sudan Armed Forces] officer intervened." According to the account, a Sudanese army captain instructed four U.N. military observers "to line up and be killed. He removed the safety of his AK-47, and just as he was about to point the weapon towards the U.N. [military observers], a SAF Major entered the room and ordered him not to shoot." The captain obeyed his superior but warned the U.N. officials to leave Southern Kordofan. "If not we will kill you," he said.
The leaked report, which was made available to Turtle Bay through the Washington Post, has already received extensive coverage in the press in recent weeks because it claimed that Sudan and pro-government militias may have committed war crimes and cited witness testimony suggesting the possibility of mass graves.
But there has been little focus on Sudan'sviolent crackdown on U.N. peacekeepers. So far, the mistreatment of U.N. blue helmets has provoked a relatively restrained response from top U.N. officials,who downplayed the report's finding as preliminary, or by the U.N. Security Council, which adopted a mild statement calling for a U.N. investigation, according to human rights advocates.
"For the Security Council to remain timid in the face of credible allegations of war crimes, mass graves, and torture of U.N. personnel is simply inexcusable," Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch told Turtle Bay.
Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, meanwhile, told Turtle Bay that the United Nations takes the allegations of abuses seriously, and has called for further investigation to determine what crimes have been committed. But he stopped short of endorsing key recommendations in the draft human rights report, including a call for referring the crimes to the International Criminal Court prosecutor.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Friday that the United States is "deeply concerned about alarming and credible allegations of violence committed by Sudan Armed Forces and aligned groups in Southern Kordofan," including "acts of extreme cruelty and abuse against civilians" that "may" constitute crimes against humanity.
Rice condemned what she described as the deliberate targeting of civilians, including U.N. humanitarian personnel, and expressed support for an investigation into the allegations by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The United States will not tolerate impunity for such acts of violence," she said in a statement.
The situation in South Kordofan bears some similarities with Darfur, where Sudanese forces, backed by Arab militias, have mounted a brutal counterinsurgency campaign, including large-scale killings and massive displacement of civilians, against the region's restive tribes. In one ominous twist, South Kordofan's new governor, Ahmed Haroun, a member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of committing war crimes against Darfurians.
However, the local forces in South Kordofan are far more heavily armed than their Darfurian counterparts and have exercised control over large swath of the territory. Sudanese officials charge the Nubans with precipitating the latest round of violence by reinforcing their military presence in recent months and refusing to meet their obligation under previous agreements to disarm and attacking local security outposts.
The fate of the Sudan's Nubans has become a growing source of concern among human rights observers.
A landmark 2005 peace deal ending Sudan's bloody civil war between the North and South Sudan paved the way for the south's independence last month, but it never resolved the fate of their Nuban allies, who will remain subject to northern rule. A provision in the 2005 called for the troops from Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States to serve alongside Sudanese armed forces as part of a Joint Integrated Unit.
The local forces were supposes to disarm following a "popular consultation" that was intended to determine the regions relationship with Khartoum. But the rival forces were never integrated, and the popular consultation never took place. A recent election consolidated Khartoum's political dominance over Southern Kordofan. In May, Khartoum moved to dissolve the joint unit and ordered the Nuban forces to either turn over their weapons and submit to northern rule or move to the south.
As fighting erupted between the two sides in Kadugli, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS), established a safe area, known as the "protective perimeter," around the U.N. base, providing a refuge for thousands of displaced civilians, relief workers and U.N. personnel.
The Egyptian contingent that headed the effort has come under criticism for allowing armed Sudanese forces to breach the perimeter in an attempt to identify and arrest suspected sympathizers with the south.
The most serious incident documented by U.N. human rights monitors occurred on June 8, when Sudanese army troops dragged a UN contractor, reportedly an active SPLM member, from a vehicle in front of a U.N. compound in Kadugli, "while U.N. peacekeepers could not intervene. He was taken around the corner of the compound and gunshots were heard. Later he was discovered dead by UNMIS personnel and [displaced civilians]."
The U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, challenged the veracity of those accounts. "I have read that some people were extracted from this area were killed in front of the peacekeepers," Le Roy told reporters on July 13. "That is completely wrong; that is completely wrong."
"It is clear that some civilians have been killed but not of course in our site and not in the vicinity, not in the safe area close to our camp. Our peacekeepers, our Egyptian peacekeepers, our Bangladeshi peacekeepers have been protecting them from the beginning until today."
Le Roy confirmed that Nuban civilians were being targeted in the region but that the U.N. mission was powerless to respond. "It is clear that civilians are being killed," he said. But "we don't have freedom of movement because there is heavy fighting in South Kordofan." The situation has only worsened since July 9, South Sudan's independence day, when the U.N.'s mandate in the north expired.
But the internal U.N. reporting paints a different picture.
On June 8, U.N. human rights observers witnessed four armed men, including two from the Central Reserve police, entering the U.N. safe area "without any intervention from the [UN] peacekeepers guarding the premises," according to the U.N. rights report. "Eyewitnesses interviewed reported that the armed men abducted three IDPs [internally displaced persons] from the vicinity of UNMIS Protective Perimeter on suspicion that they were supporters of the SPLM [Sudanese People's Liberation Movement]."
A second internal situation report, obtained by Turtle Bay, also cited concerns about "the uncontrolled movement of armed civilians and uniformed personnel" within the U.N. safe area."There is concern about the entering of SAF [Sudan Armed Forces] and [pro-government militia] into the UNMIS Protective Perimeter asking for what appeared to have been ‘identity checks."
U.N. human rights monitors "interviewed a boy who had narrowly escaped abduction himself and learned of the abduction of a 17-year-old girl from just outside [Protective Perimeter] on the morning 19 June by two Arab militia members, who came upon them while washing clothes and fetching water," according to one incident in the report.
In another incident, Sudanese military personnel stopped a U.N. truck near a U.N. compound in Kadugli and pulled off three displaced civilians who had helped load supplies on to the truck. The three men were beaten in front of U.N. staff and then abducted . One U.N. staff member who sought to stop them was threatened by gunpoint to back down. The three individuals were never seen again.
Sudanese security forces, disguised as Sudanese Red Crescent workers, also breached the safe area. "On 20 June UNMIS Human Rights in Kadugli verified that National Security Service (NSS) donning Sudan Red Crescent (SRC) aprons were posing as Sudanese Red Crescent workers ordering [internally displaced people] to evacuate the U.N. Protective Permiter (PP)." The security agents insisted that "they congregate at Kadugli Stadium with promises of an address from the governor and humanitarian aid and threats of forceful removal if they failed to comply."
The strategy appeared to work. By late that afternoon, "approximately 75 percent of the more than 11,000 IDPS had vacated the [Protective Perimeter], mostly women, children and the elderly.... [U.N. human rights monitors are] concerned that coercing IDPs to leave UNMIS PP and have them sent to the stadium or school compounds may pose [a] security danger to them."
Egypt's U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, defended the Egyptian troops' conduct, saying they had faithfully fulfilled their obligation to protect civilians in Kadugli. Abdelaziz said that while it was impossible for the peacekeepers to interrogate civilians entering the safe area to determine whether it had been infiltrated by Sudanese agents or anti-government partisans he insisted that armed personnel were barred from entry."We checked with our forces on the ground and they said this never happened," he told Turtle Bay.
"The Egyptian forces have been implementing all commitments with regard to the protection of civilians. Any civilian that went to the Egyptian forces and asked for shelter received it," Abdelaziz said. "We drew some criticism from NGOs [non-governmental-organizations] who discovered people being protected were part of the military forces. But how do you distinguish between [unarmed] combatants and non-combatants. It's a peacekeeping mission not an interrogation mission."
U.N. peacekeepers have come under mounting pressure to protect civilians from imminent threat of violence in its most complex missions.
But what about looting, plundering and burning of civilian property, acts which sometimes serve as a symbols and facilitators of ethnic cleansing. U.N. officials say not necessarily; that responsibility rests principally in the hands of the local authorities.
Last month, Sudanese forces and local Arab militia seized control of the town of Abyei, Sudan, driving tens of thousands civilians out of town. Thousands of nomadic herdsman from the Arab Misseriya tribe followed suit, stealing every moveable possession they could get their hands on and burning what they couldn't take. U.N. human rights officials in Sudan expressed concerns that their action may constitute ethnic cleansing.
The dispute in Abyei has been at the center of a political struggle over rights to resources and the delineation of borders between northern Sudan and southern Sudan, as the south prepares to declare independence on July 9. But it has a volatile ethnic dimension, pitting the areas black Ngok Dinka residents, allied with the south, against pro-government nomadic Misseriya. The two sides are bitterly divided over everything from voting rights, access to grazing areas and water.
Internal U.N. accounts of what happened last month in Abyei show that Sudan's armed forces stood by as its comrades in arms began the looting. For its part, a United Nations peacekeeping contingent in Abyei, which retreated to its barracks in the first days of the assault, subsequently limited its role to monitoring the mayhem on the streets of Abyei, but not intervening to stop it.
A source provided Turtle Bay with copies of two confidential U.N. reports after I posted a photograph of a U.N. peacekeeping contingent patrolling the streets of Abyei, Sudan, last month while several men carted off household items on the side of the road. At the time, I said it was unclear from the picture whether the men were fleeing violence or looting belongings of local residents in plain site of the Zambian blue helmets. The source said the reports demonstrate that the UN passively allowed the looting to occur.
According to the internal account, the Sudanese army attacked Abyei on the night of May 21, quickly seizing control of the town, though most of the population had already fled south by the time they arrived. By nightfall, the Sudanese military had deployed 15 tanks in a town that had been abandoned by fleeing residents. Sudanese aircraft bombarded the Bantom bridge, south of Abyei, in an attempt to bar civilians from returning or to prevent rival troops from south Sudan from mounting a counterattack.
Over the following days, as the Sudanese army looked on, elements of Sudan's Popular Defense Force(PDF) and the Misseriya systematically plundered the town.
"There are reports of PDF(popular defense forces) and Misseriya elements looting the shops and burning down the tukuls(and smoke could be seen from the UNMIS compound)," according to a May 22 report from the office of the UN resident coordinator. "These were allegedly fighting along side SAF. The Misseriya/PDF elements could also be seen carrying away the loot, both on foot and using vehicles. SAF did not intervene to stop the looting."
The U.N. has acknowledged that the Zambian peacekeeping contingent had not responded adequately to the attacks on civilians and property. They have sent a contingent of Indian peacekeepers to Abyei to reinforce the Zambians. The United States, meanwhile, is pressing for the adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would approve the deployment of several thousands Ethiopian troops in Abyei to help restore calm.
The Sudanese government, which signed a peace deal last week allowing Ethiopian blue helmets to replace its troops, opened a new military front in neighboring South Kordofan, where church leaders and human rights organization have accused the government of displacing more than 70,000 Nubans in a military campaign.
But U.N. officials say the Zambian's failure to act was mitigated by the fact that they were confronted with a force with overwhelming military superiority and that their compound had been hit during the attack. Some officials dispute claims saying that the looting and burning in Abyei were hallmarks of ethnic cleansing, saying they were more consistent with a history of reprisals and countereprisals between competing African tribes in the region.
"The [U.N.] Force commander advised that they saw SAF[the Sudanese Armed Forces] build up and attack coming but they were unable to stop it. There had however been assurance by SAF that the UN would not be targeted," according to the May 22 report by the U.N.'s resident coordinator's office. "Although UN was not being targeted by SAF there were 5 shells that landed in the UNMIS compound, one of them burning a WFP[World Food Program] vehicle. Two (2) Egyptians were also injured but are out of danger."
When the U.N. resumed its patrols of Abyei in the days following the initial assault, they encountered a scene of chaos, with 2,000 to 5,000 Misseriya men roaming the streets of Abyei, carting away chairs, bed frames, mattresses and anything else they could find. They also threatened to seize the Zambians armored personnel vehicles unless the UN agreed to pay three years rent for the base.
"The remainder of the looted items that have not yet been taken away from Abyei town are by the roadside awaiting transportation to the northern areas," according to a May 26 update by the resident coordinators office. "One of the UNMO[UN Military Observers] road patrols that went out this morning(26 May) observed at least 14 big trucks that were loading looted items. Sporadic and aimless shooting also continues but to a relatively lesser scale and...burning of tukuls(dwellings) still continues."
By that point, according to the May 26 report, the UN's mission in Abyei had become decreasingly relevant: "It can now be confirmed that there will not be any need for humanitarian assistance within Abyei town(for now) as there are currently no civilians."
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Last month, the U.N. released the above photograph as a way to underscore its commitment to protecting Abyei, Sudan, in the wake of a brutal May 20 attack on the town by Sudanese army forces and pro-government militia -- an attack which locally-stationed U.N. peacekeepers waited out in their barracks, under orders from their officers to avoid confronting the looters and arsonists destroying the town. The photo shows the Zambians on May 24, again patrolling the streets under the U.N. flag, presumably protecting the populace.
But a closer look at the photo reveals a more ambiguous and disturbing reality. In the background, a couple of men are seen walking off with household furniture, including bed frames, mattresses, plastic chairs and other items. They could be local residents taking flight despite the renewed U.N. presence; or looters, plundering the local inhabitants' possessions right under the U.N.'s nose. In any case, the photo seems to subtly subvert the U.N. diplomatic intentions.
Bec Hamilton, a journalist who viewed Abyei three weeks ago, noted on Twitter that she watched people "systematically looting goods like these from dwellings 3 [weeks] ago." But she said that in the absence of more context, it is hard to tell what is happening in the photo.
The U.N. meanwhile, has brought in a contingent of Indian reinforcements to shore up the Zambian peacekeepers until a better equipped and trained Ethiopian peacekeeping force arrives in Abyei. They will then keep whatever peace there is left to keep, and hopefully encourage the thousands of locals who fled the town during the attack to return home.
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In a rare declaration of good news, Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement reached agreement Monday on a plan to deploy an armored brigade of several thousand Ethiopian peacekeepers to the disputed area of Abyei, Sudan, where they will replace troops from the rival camps and keep the peace.
Last month, Khartoum's army, backed by pro-government militia, seized control of Abyei, driving more than 100,00 residents from the area and looting and destroying their property. The Sudanese assault exposed the weakness of the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission, whose commander ordered Zambian blue helmets to wait out the attack in their bunker, and drew warnings from the White House that any prospects of improved relations with the United States were in jeopardy.
But today's accord, struck with the help of U.N. and African mediation, relieved international pressure on Khartoum, even as its forces continued on the offensive in a series of highly charged flashpoints of Blue Nile State and South Kordofan, where more than 75,000 civilians were forced from their homes. It also made it clear that Sudan's leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who stands charged by an international prosecutor of committing genocide in Darfur, would again be central to any resolution of the crisis.
The latest surge in violence poses the greatest challenge to date to a landmark U.S.-brokered 2005 peace deal, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, that ended Africa's deadliest and longest running civil wars and set the path to the south drive for independence. It threatens to plunge the country into a renewed civil war just weeks before the south scheduled its declaration its independence on July 9. In a sign of the deeping tensions, the U.N.'s special representative in Sudan, Haile Menkerios, warned the U.N. council that fighting was now spreading to Jau in Unity state southern Sudan.
This morning, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the pact on Abyei and vowed to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the deployment of the Ethiopian force. At the same time, Rice highlighted reports that Khartoum's forces may be committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"Unfortunately, the situation in Abyei is by no means the only crisis facing the people of Sudan," Rice told the council in a public meeting on the crisis. "On June 5, violence broke out in multiple areas of Southern Kordofan, including its capital, Kadugli. The reports my government has been receiving on the ongoing fighting are horrifying...Security services and military forces have reportedly detained and summarily executed local authorities, political rivals, medical personnel, and others."
Rice also scolded The Sudanese People's Liberation Army, which has been accused of triggering the violence in Abyei by opening fire in May on a U.N. convoy escorting Khartoum's troops through Abyei. Rice voiced concern that southern forces have also breached the border of Southern Kordofan, in violation of the CPA. She said the U.S. is "deeply concerned" by reports that the SPLM "Have threatened the safety of person of Arab origin in Southern Kordofan, including U.N. staff."
But she claimed that Khartoum bore the greatest responsibility for the latest crisis, citing its decision early this month to break up SPLA units in South Kordofan without having reached a negotiated settlement on their fate. She cited Khartoum's use of aerial bombardment of civilian targets, its cut off of supplies of food, water, medicine and other basic humanitarian supplies into Kadugli, denying U.N. access to needy locals, and even threatening to shoot U.N. aircraft out of the sky.
"The government of Sudan can prevent this crisis from escalating further by immediately stopping its military efforts to disarm the Sudan People's Liberation Army in Southern Kordofan and by focusing on diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict," she said.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the south's representative to the United States and the United Nations, told the council that his government regretted the shooting incident against the U.N. convoy in Abyei, but said Khartoum's response was "wholly disproportionate." He pressed the U.N. to share its "more detailed reporting" on Sudanese rights violations in Abyei. He also warned that the "situation in South Kordofan risks degenerating into ethnic cleansing and possible genocide."
For his part, Sudan's U.N. envoy Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said the north acted in Abyei and South Kordofan to halt "horrendous violations' by southern forces and that his government was prepared to discuss arrangements for humanitarian aid workers to gain access to the displaced.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the chief negotiator for the Abyei deal, said the accord would result in the "demilitarization of Abyei and create the condition for the return of tens of thousands of civilians to return to their homes. He urged the council to act swiftly to authorize the new force, which would serve under U.N. command, and be funded by the United Nations.
Mbkei said he would now turn his attention in the coming days to negotiating a cessation of hostilities in Southern Kordofan. He also expressed optimism wide-ranging talks over the relationship between Khartoum and the south could be sewn up by the end of the month. Those talks are grappling with range of vexing matters - including accords on the sharing of oil revenues, demarcation of the border between the north and south, and security in a demilitarized zone along the border.
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Last week, the U.N.'s human rights office in Sudan produced an internal memo concluding that last month's Sudanese military "attack and occupation" of the disputed town of Abyei "is tantamount to ethnic cleansing," according to a copy of the confidential memo obtained by Turtle Bay.
The memo said that the nature of the attack and forced displacement of tens of thousands of black ethnic Ngok Dinka, including the destruction of their homes and the seizure of their property by ethnic Arab Misseriya tribes, made the prospects for their return dim. The action, it said, would also complicate international efforts to resolve an ongoing dispute over Abyei's chances for independence.
"By destroying their homes, looting their properties and inspiring fear and terror, over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas have been forcefully displaced from their ancestral homes, leaving the Abyei area now more or less homogenously occupied by the Misseriya," the report stated. "The likelihood of all the Ngok Dinkas returning to Abyei is limited.… The Government of Sudan must be held accountable."
But the U.N. has since backed off the claim that ethnic cleansing had occurred. A revised, softened version of the memo, according to a report in the Associated Press, only claimed that the Sudanese Armed Forces' "occupation" of Abyei might result in ethnic cleansing. "The SAF attack and occupation of Abyei and the resultant displacement of over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas from Abyei could lead to ethnic cleansing, if conditions for the return of the displaced Ngok Dinka residents are not created," according to the report.
The watered-down language followed assurances by Sudan that it would help pave the way for the return of nearly 80,000 Ngok Dinka residents, including 30,000 inside the town of Abyei, according to U.N. officials. There was also a question about whether thousands of nomadic ethnic Arab Misseriya who joined Sudanese forces in looting and burning homes in Abyei really intended to stay in Abyei. Traditionally, the Misseriya have only entered the region temporarily to graze their cattle during the dry season.
Speaking at a press conference at U.N. headquarters today, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon said that Khartoum pledged to pave the way for thousands of residents to ultimately return to their homes in Abyei. He endorsdd the U.N.'s softer line on characterizing the Sudanese attack, saying it is “far too early to claim that ethnic cleansing is taking place."
The five-page memo, which was written by the human rights section of the U.N. Mission in Sudan, said the latest flare-up of violence in Abyei started on May 19 in the town of Dokura, when forces of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) allegedly opened fire on a U.N.-escorted convoy composed of troops from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), killing two Sudanese soldiers and blowing up a U.N. truck.
Fearing reprisals, most of the areas' civilians, primarily Ngok Dinkas, fled en masse toward the southern town of Agok, leaving behind an unknown number of civilians and groups of armed youth seeking to defend their towns. U.N. ground patrols and aerial surveillance showed that Abyei was "virtually empty and deserted" by the time Sudanese forces seized the town but that "a number of the Abyei residents were killed during the attack as evidenced by dead bodies that were seen lying around in Abyei." In the end, Sudanese forces and their allies burned as many as 20 percent of the homes in Abyei to the ground.
Two days later, the Sudanese army responded with a massive military assault, bombing and shelling SPLA positions in the Abyei region, including the villages of Todach, Tajalei, Noong, Leu, Makir Abior, Awolnom, and Marial Achack. Days later, the Sudanese army blew up the Banton Bridge on the River Kiir, south of Abyei, undermining the ability of most locals who fled south from the violence to return.
"On the night of 21 May 2011, SAF attacked and took control of Abyei, amidst artillery shelling, armored tank firing, mortar shelling, and machine gun fire," according to the memo. "There was heavy fighting, especially around UNMIS compound, presumably between the SAF and South Sudan Police Services (SSPS) and possibly armed Ngok youths. UNMIS was accidentally shelled five times. Four of the shells exploded resulting in minor injuries to 2 Egyptian TCC soldiers and the destruction of one UNWFP vehicle. It took a direct hit and burned."
The following day, pro-Khartoum militia from the Misseriya tribe and forces of the People's Defense Forces moved into Abyei. "They began moving from tukul [dwelling] to tukul, and allegedly killed residents trapped therein, mostly Ngok Dinkas. An elderly woman who took refuge in the UN camp, in an interview, stated that her 37 year [old] son … was murdered.… Another woman also sheltered at UNMIS claimed that she was raped."
The Sudanese Armed Forces commander, Brig. Gen. Azdeen Osman, prevented U.N. peacekeepers from entering the town of Abyei until nearly four days after the attack began, citing security concerns.
"The Abyei attack, from all indications is not a retaliatory and offensive action occasioned" by the SPLA's May 19 attack, according to the memo. "Rather, the attack and occupation of Abyei by SAF was part of a deliberate plan by the north conceived long before the Dokura incident."
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Nearly two months ago the U.N.'s chief peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, convened a press conference to talk up a string of U.N. successes around the world.
In Haiti, the United Nations helped usher through a relatively peaceful political transition; in Ivory Coast, U.N. attack helicopters backed a French assault that brought down Ivoirian strongman Laurent Gbagbo; and in Sudan, the United Nations oversaw a landmark independence referendum in Southern Sudan that is likely to set the stage for the south's recognition this summer as the U.N.'s newest member. "In the three cases, the peacekeepers made a huge difference," Le Roy said.
Le Roy contrasted the U.N.'s achievements with the darkest days of U.N. peacekeeping in the 1990s when U.N. blue helmets stood by in the face of mass atrocities in places like Srebrenica and Rwanda, and paid tribute to the sacrifices of U.N. personnel who had died in the cause of peace, including 44 U.N. civilian and uniformed peacekeepers who were killed in a 10-day stretch in Afghanistan, Congo, Haiti, and Ivory Coast.
But in recent weeks the U.N. has suffered some heavy body blows to its reputation: In Haiti, a medical panel published circumstantial evidence suggesting U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal may have been responsible for introducing cholera into Haiti, killing more than 4,000 people. And in the contested town of Abyei, Sudan, a battalion of 850 U.N. peacekeepers from Zambia hid in their barracks as Sudanese forces looted and burned homes, prompting sharp criticism from local officials and U.N. Security Council diplomats who described their conduct as disgraceful.
Violence flared up last month in Abyei, Sudan's most dangerous flashpoint, in the run-up of Southern Sudan's plan to declare independence next month from the north, splitting Africa's largest country into two nations. Abyei was supposed to join Southern Sudan in holding a referendum on independence, but the move stalled over differences involving oil revenues, water, and voting rights. The dispute pits the farming tribes of the Ngok Dinka, who are aligned with the south, against the Khartoum-backed nomadic herding tribes of the Misseriya, who graze their cattle in Abyei during the dry season. U.N. officials have long feared that a fight over Abyei could trigger a resumption of civil war between north and south, which claimed more than 2 million lives before a 2005 peace accord halted the fighting.
Troops from the southern Sudanese People's Liberation Army opened fire on a contingent of U.N. peacekeepers escorting a Sudanese military convoy. The Sudanese military's reaction appeared premeditated and disproportionate, according to U.N. diplomats. Sudanese aircraft, tanks, and troops riding motorcycles attacked the town, burning homes and looting property. Nearly 80,000 people, mostly members of the Ngok Dinka tribe, fled their homes, and thousands of pro-government Arab Misseriya tribesmen have since flowed into to take up residence. An internal U.N. report, obtained by the Associated Press, said the Sudanese Armed Forces' "occupation" of Abyei might result in ethnic cleansing. "The SAF attack and occupation of Abyei and the resultant displacement of over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas from Abyei could lead to ethnic cleansing, if conditions for the return of the displaced Ngok Dinka residents are not created," according to the report.
Responsibility for the current upsurge in violence in Abyei rests primarily with Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement. But the episode provided another depressing example of U.N. timidity that recalled some of the worst moments in U.N. history. A battalion of Zambian blue helmets based in Abyei remained in their barracks for two days as Sudan's army attacked the town, ignoring pleas from the U.N. special representative, Haile Menkerios, to take action. "When the Sudanese army invaded, they retreated to their bunkers," Asha Abbas Akuei, who represents Abyei in the South Sudan Legislative Assembly, told Rebecca Hamilton in an article published on Slate.
The Abyei episode points to a deeper problem that has plagued many of the U.N.'s most complex peacekeeping missions. The United Nations has been forced to rely primarily on infantry troops from developing countries without the more advanced military hardware -- including attack helicopters, advanced logistics, and intelligence -- that is required to succeed, according to peacekeeping experts. "Large-scale heavy infantry frankly don't do much to reinforce the political process unless they have mobility that can deliver military punch," said Bruce Jones, director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.
In Ivory Coast, where the U.N. certified the presidential election of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara last November, the U.N. peacekeeping mission failed to compel the loser, Laurent Gbagbo, to step down or to protect civilians targeted by his forces. It was not until France, backed by U.N. peacekeepers and forces loyal to Ouattara, intervened that the course of the conflict changed and Gbagbo was deposed.
"So here we were in Cote d'Ivoire in a total stalemate, going nowhere against a second-tier army," Jones said. "It took a combination of Ouattara's forces and the French to turn the day. It shows a very small contribution of high-order [military] capability can transform a peacekeeping force from being irrelevant to being very productive. It shows that peacekeeping can work, but it took a while to get there."
Abyei, Jones added, provides a painful illustration of the limits of U.N. peacekeeping without the advanced military resources that the French were able to bring to bear in Ivory Coast, but which no major outside power has been willing to commit to Sudan. The few countries that possess those capabilities, including the United States, Britain, France, and other advanced military powers, have been unwilling to supply them, citing other obligations from Afghanistan to Iraq and now Libya. Khartoum, meanwhile, has sought to block Western powers with the military wherewithal to confront his troops from serving in the country.
"It's very far from clear that large-scale infantry can do much in Abyei," Jones said. "So, we're spending a billion dollars a year" to field a peacekeeping mission "without the vital ingredient that can actually make it work. If we can't stop major violations … then what are we doing there?"
A U.N. peacekeeping spokesman, Michel Bonnardeaux, said a review of the Zambians' conduct concluded that "our troops could have and should have had more visibility to deter any violence against civilians and the destruction against property." But "it must be recognized that most civilians left the area before the peak of the crisis and that UNMIS [the U.N. Mission in Sudan] troops and civilians were themselves in imminent danger as the UNMIS compound was hit," he said.
Bonnardeaux said the U.N.'s top military advisor, who traveled to Sudan to interview the Zambians, has instructed the contingent "to be more proactive and visible" in the future.
The U.N. Security Council, however, is exploring the possibility of authorizing the deployment of Ethiopian troops into Abyei to help restore order and prevent a resumption of a civil war. Under the proposal, the northern army would withdraw from the Abyei area to make way for thousands of Ethiopian soldiers, who would help monitor a cease-fire along the border.
On Friday, the U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, issued a statement demanding that Sudan withdraw its forces from Abyei and "ensure an immediate halt to all looting, burning and illegal resettlement." The council also voiced "grave concern following the reports about the unusual, sudden influx of thousands of Misseriya into Abyei town and its environs that could force significant changes in the ethnic composition of the area."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
As a newspaper reporter, I know I should keep my opinions to myself. But I can't resist offering a little advice to the chief of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria, or his media advisors: Never ever do a televised interview seated in this preposterously ornate, hand-carved chair, especially when there are frequent cutaways to poor Darfuris collecting water from a communal pump.
In this interview with Al Jazeera English language channel, Gambari makes a perfectly articulate case to the Sudanese government to end a humanitarian blockade of one of Darfur's largest camps for the displaced. The traditional blue clothing looks great; it underscores his credibility as a serious African player. But I just can't get beyond the chair, which seems more appropriate for an audience with Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad. Let's just hope the United Nations didn't pay for it.
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As Sudan's key political leaders vowed today to press ahead with the country's first competitive elections in 24 years, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court reminded the world how politically awkward the April 11-13 vote could prove: Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state the court has charged with war crimes, may have his rule legitimized through a U.N.-backed election.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court's Argentine prosecutor, described the spectacle of international election observers traveling to Sudan to monitor the vote, and prodded states to focus on arresting Bashir and send him to The Hague to stand trial. "It's like monitoring a Hitler election," Moreno-Ocampo said, according to Reuters.
The run-up to the landmark national and local elections in Sudan has been marred in recent weeks by reports of a political crackdowns on government opposition figures and logistical problems that raise questions about Sudan's ability to distribute ballots to eligible voters. Last week, the Carter Center, the Atlanta-based NGO headed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, proposed the Sudanese National Election Commission approve a "minor" delay in the vote to ensure that polling stations can be set up in remote communities. The commission rejected the request.
Human Rights Watch issued a statement this week accusing Sudanese authorities of detaining activists, breaking up public gatherings, and preventing opposition parties access to the media. In Darfur, election officials and candidates have been prevented by conflict and banditry from reaching potential voters. In the southern Sudan, Human Rights Watch documented several incidents of arbitrary arrest, intimidation and torture of members of political parties opposed to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a former rebel group that is now southern Sudan's ruling party."Conditions in Sudan are not yet conducive for a free, fair, and credible election," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa Director for Human Rights Watch. "Unless there's a dramatic improvement in the situation it is unlikely that the Sudanese people will be able to vote freely for leaders of their choice."
Bashir threatened today to expel those foreign election observers calling to delay the elections, a move that reflected the Sudanese leader's growing exasperation with critics of the April vote. Bashir said the government "will cut off their fingers and put them under our shoes."
Sudan's election is part of a carefully choreographed political process that has its roots in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the Islamic government's 22-year civil war with the SPLM. But no one expected that the ruling party's candidate would be the target of an international arrest warrant.
The accord calls for national and local elections in 2010, to be followed by a 2011 referendum in southern Sudan to decide whether the south will secede from Sudan. Bashir's ruling National Congress Party, which sees elections as a means to legitimize its rule, opposes any calls for delay. The SPLM also opposes a delay in voting out of concerns that it would lead to a postponement of the independence referendum it favors.
The preparations for an election involving Bashir have placed the United States, which brokered the Sudanese peace accord, congressional leaders, who support the election, and the United Nations, which is helping to organize the vote, in a tough spot.
"Many Sudanese are hopeful that the upcoming elections will lead to the transformation of Sudan into a more inclusive and democratic country," Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-NJ), told Turtle Bay. "Yet, many others question the legitimacy and credibility of an election when an indicted criminal like Bashir running for president."
The United Nations has mounted a public relations campaign aimed at assuring outsiders that even a flawed election in the African country may be worth having. U.N. officials assembled a group of reporters in New York last week to highlight the historic nature of Sudan's upcoming vote, the country's first in 24 years, and noted that it enjoys broad Sudanese support. "We shouldn't look at this as a negative; we should look at this as a positive," said a senior U.N. official.
Ibrahim Gambari, the special representative of the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, said that while the election may take place in an "imperfect environment" it would alter Sudan's political landscape for the better.
"The security will be pretty good, if our experience in the registration period was anything to go by," he told the Associated Press after attending an international fundraising conference for Darfur in Cairo.
On Saturday morning, Ban
Ki-moon appeared to be breaking with five years of standing U.N. policy toward
Sudan, telling two French news agencies in an interview that he would try to
prevent Africa's largest country from splitting into two nations in a 2011
referendum on independence for southern Sudan. "We'll work hard to avoid a
possible secession," the wire service Agence France Presse reported
Ban's remarks were little noted in Washington, but they have set off a major international incident in Sudan, prompting Sudan's southern leaders to accuse the secretary-general of interfering in the South's decision to determine its own political future. Southern Sudan's president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, wrote a letter this morning to Ban, saying his published remarks constituted "an erroneous description of the U.N.'s role as a guarantor" of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended one of Africa's bloodiest and longest civil wars, and offered southerners the right to vote on independence in January 2011. "I'm sure it was not your intention to depict the U.N.'s role in this manner," the letter reads.
Ban told the French reporters that he favors a unified Sudan, saying, "We will try to work hard to make this unity attractive." But he never said he would actively work actively to oppose it. AFP apparently mistranslated the English language interview in its first French version of the story, and then repeated the mistake in English. The actual quote was "Then we will work very closely -- we will have to work very closely -- not to have any negative consequences coming from this potential or possible secession."
The problem is that the story, which first appeared on the wires in French Saturday morning and in English in the early afternoon, has played out over the past three days in the international press, getting picked up by news agencies like the BBC and the Financial Times. The new head of the U.N.'s mission in Sudan, Haile Menkerios, has been on the phone with Salva Kiir during the past 24 hours trying to assure him Ban was misquoted. The U.N., meanwhile, only issued its first public denial this afternoon:
"In order to clarify erroneous reports about remarks attributed to the Secretary-General concerning Sudan, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General would like to reaffirm the Secretary-General's position, which is in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the United Nations mandate in Sudan.
The Secretary-General made clear that the United Nations would work to support the parties in their efforts to "make unity attractive" as well as the exercise by the people of Southern Sudan of their right to self-determination in a referendum. In this connection, he made clear that that the United Nations would work to avoid any potential negative consequences following next year's referendum.
Any suggestion that the United Nations may have taken a position that may prejudge the outcome of such a referendum is incorrect."
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.