What's In Blue

Posted Tue 16 Sep 2014

Sudan-South Sudan Informal Interactive Dialogue

Tomorrow (17 September), the Security Council expects to hold an informal interactive dialogue on Sudan-South Sudan issues with Thabo Mbeki, chair of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). (Informal interactive dialogues are off-the-record meetings chaired by the Council President and held in a meeting room other than the Council Chamber or Consultations Room that allow members to interact with high-level officials, who are usually not part of the UN system, often on a situation-specific matter.)

Haile Menkerios, the head of the UN Office to the AU and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, and Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the outgoing Joint AU-UN Special Representative for Darfur, Head of UNAMID and Darfur Joint Chief Mediator, will both be available to answer questions. (On 12 September, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Chambas as his Special Representative for West Africa and Head of UN Office for West Africa, as well as Chairman of the Cameroon Nigeria Mixed Commission).

Council members have found Mbeki’s past informal interactive dialogues on Sudan-South Sudan matters to be informative and substantive, but he has not briefed Council members on Sudan-South Sudan issues since 27 March 2013. Council members appear to be looking forward to hearing directly from Mbeki on progress on unresolved issues between the two countries. (Prior to the March 2013 meeting, Mbeki held informal interactive dialogues on Sudan and South Sudan with Council members on 27 February, 17 April and 9 August 2012.)

Sudan and South Sudan Relations
In recent months, Sudan and South Sudan have not made noticeable progress in addressing the unresolved mutual issues facing them, including border security, border demarcation, and the final status of Abyei. This is likely because both countries have been heavily engaged in managing their own considerable domestic turmoil, a point that Menkerios has made to Council members in recent consultations.

Mbeki will likely discuss interactions that government officials in Sudan and South Sudan have had on security issues, including negotiations on the centre line of the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone and border demarcation. He may also discuss plans by the two governments—alluded to in the AUHIP’s 12 September progress report on Sudan and South Sudan to the AU Peace and Security Council—to reconvene their Joint Political and Security Mechanism. (This Mechanism is meant to address mutual security concerns but has not been active in recent months.) Mbeki may also provide further clarity on Sudan’s accusations that rebels from Sudan are allowed to cross the border into South Sudan, as well as South Sudan’s accusations that Sudan is supporting rebels (i.e. Riek Machar’s forces) in South Sudan’s civil war. Council members will also be interested in the possibility of an upcoming summit between President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan. Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny recently told the press that Kiir had written to Bashir requesting a meeting to discuss Abyei and other mutual security issues, and that such a meeting could take place by the end of September. Members may also want more information about Sudan’s announcement that Abyei will participate in the 2015 Sudanese elections, in spite of the disputed status of the region, and how much friction this might create between the two countries.

Council members have generally been concerned about the lack of progress made by Sudan and South Sudan in addressing mutual security challenges and territorial disputes. For example, Council members have long recognised that the unresolved status of Abyei, as well as the presence of forces from both countries there, makes this disputed area a potential powder-keg that could drag both countries into war. At the same time, there is recognition among several Council members that it will be challenging for Sudan and South Sudan to resolve these outstanding issues at the present time, given that both countries are preoccupied with their own domestic problems.

National Dialogue Process

Another issue that will likely figure prominently in Mbeki’s remarks tomorrow is the national dialogue process in Sudan. Since August, Mbeki has chaired a committee established by the AU to help support the national dialogue, and has been actively engaged with key players, including Bashir, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, civil society, and rebels.

There have been a number of key recent developments in the national dialogue. On 8 August, members of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP) and the rebel Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) signed the “Paris Declaration,” calling for genuine political reform and an end to the various intra-Sudan conflicts. On 16 August, the so-called 7+7 committee, which consists of pro-government and opposition parties and helps administer the process, presented a roadmap for the national dialogue that called for decisions to be taken by consensus and for the AU and the Arab League to serve as observers. And on 4 September, with Mbeki’s facilitation, the NUP, the SRF and the 7+7 committee signed an eight point agreement on the national dialogue that, among other things, called for a cessation of hostilities in Sudan’s conflicts and a constitutional process that is inclusive and allows participants to express their perspectives in an environment that ensures “freedoms and basic human rights.” Council members will likely be interested in Mbeki’s assessment of these recent developments and the national dialogue more generally, including what steps can be taken to encourage genuine political dialogue in the country and what these recent events may or may not mean for the prospect of political change in Sudan.

There may be interest in Mbeki’s views on his 10 September meeting with Bashir to discuss the national dialogue and other issues. Media reports have indicated that Mbeki urged Bashir to create an environment in which civil liberties are not curtailed in order to foster a constructive national dialogue. Bashir also promised to release opposition figure Ibrahim al-Sheik, the leader of the Sudan Congress Party who was arrested on 8 June after criticising government forces for committing atrocities in Darfur. Bashir signed the decision to release al-Sheik on 11 September and the release took place yesterday.

It is also possible that during tomorrow’s meeting Mbeki will advocate for debt relief and a removal of bilateral economic sanctions against Sudan, as he did in a previous interactive dialogue with Council members.

Another issue that may be raised is the possibility of Mbeki assuming Chambas’ mediation responsibilities with respect to the Darfur conflict, given that Chambas will soon be stepping down from his current position. Chambas recommended this approach during a briefing to the AU Peace and Security Council on 12 September in order to promote the “integration of mediation efforts on Darfur and Sudan into one robust mechanism,” according to UNAMID spokesperson Ashraf Eissa.

While Council members view the national dialogue process in Sudan as a step in the right direction, several question the government’s commitment to the process, especially given the arrest of key opposition figures and the curtailment of civil liberties. In general, some members tend to be highly critical of Sudan’s human rights record, while other members, more favourably disposed toward the regime, including Russia and China, have argued for debt relief and a removal of economic sanctions on Sudan.

The Two Areas: South Kordofan and Blue Nile

Another issue that is likely to be raised tomorrow is the fighting and humanitarian crisis in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where rebels have been engaged in conflict with the government of Sudan now for over three years. Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLM-N) last held negotiations in late April, and the next round of talks is currently scheduled for October. There may be interest in Mbeki’s views on the prospects for ending the conflict and addressing the humanitarian crisis, as no progress has been made on these issues since the conflict in the two areas started in 2011.

The situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been a divisive issue on the Council for the past three years. Perhaps as a result, the Council has been unable to formulate a strategy to alleviate the suffering of civilian populations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and to facilitate a resolution to the political differences separating the parties in these areas. The US and some of the other members have been appalled by reports this year of aerial bombardments of civilian targets, including hospitals and schools. On the other hand, China and Russia have traditionally asserted Sudan’s sovereign right to fight rebel groups on its territory, and Russia, in consultations on 10 June, apparently questioned the veracity of the accusations that Sudan is deliberately targeting civilians.

South Sudan
While not the focus of tomorrow’s meeting, there may be some interest in discussing the situation in South Sudan, as the Council is not scheduled to address the ongoing crisis there until next month. Menkerios, who is based in Addis Ababa, has addressed negotations between South Sudan and the SPLM in Opposition in Addis Ababa in consultations, while Mbeki has also followed the situation in South Sudan closely. Council members issued strong messages to Kiir and Machar during their visit to South Sudan on 12 August on the need to honour their cessation of hostilities agreements and to negotiate a government of national unity but recent developments have not been encouraging. To the frustration and disappointment of Council members, skirmishes between government and rebel forces have continued intermittently and the negotiations are at a stalemate. With the government and the opposition forces showing little appetite for making peace, the possibility of heavier fighting looms once the rainy season ends in October or November.

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