Jan Pronk, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for Sudan

Moderator: Howard Wolpe, Director of the Africa Program

In an afternoon session, Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, addressed an audience of over 200 on the current situation in Sudan and the UN's role in creating a lasting peace in the war-torn country. Pronk framed his address around three major subjects: the status of the ongoing negotiations in the North/South conflict, the crisis in Darfur, and the role of the international community in Sudan.

Pronk began by presenting a short review of the North/South conflict since Sudan's independence. In his view, it is the country's extreme poverty, cultural diversity, and the struggle over scarce resources that are key to understanding the Sudanese conflict. Even after the UN Security Council became engaged with Sudan, little progress was made in addressing these underlying causes of the conflict. The conflict burned on, with four million more uprooted from their homes. Pronk said that the international community had lost hope in resolving the political problems that sustained the war. According to Pronk, from the end of the Cold War until 9/11, the international community used the UN as a humanitarian instrument, ignoring the political roots of the conflict.

The most recent negotiations produced a December 31, 2004 deadline for the parties to sign a comprehensive peace agreement. Pronk stressed the importance of the promise. "It [ ] meant that the process of international support of the peace talks led by a group of countries -- most notably, the United States, UK and Norway -- now was the property of the entire international community. It was lifted to a higher political level. This all bodes well for a peace agreement." [Subsequent to Pronk's address at the Wilson Center, before the December 31st deadline, the negotiations were successfully concluded and the peace agreement was signed.]

However, Pronk warned, even if a North/South peace agreement were concluded, it would be dangerous to ignore the continuing Darfur crisis. The war in Darfur, Pronk said, has many dimensions. It is an African problem as well as a problem for the entire international community. The consequences of a lack of resolution of the Darfur crisis for the outside world are great: the proliferation of refugees, continuing economic instability and poverty, and more of the violence and despair that become a breeding ground for terrorism. According to Pronk, the parties to the Darfur conflict are not negotiating with each other in good faith and are looking to the international community for guidance. However, the most recent Security Council meeting in Nairobi and the resolution that resulted from it did not refer to Darfur at all. Pronk said the government of Sudan saw the silence of the Security Council about Darfur as a sign of the international community's lack of resolve, and as an open door to continued violence whilethe Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) saw the Security Council's silence on Darfur as another reason to continue to fight – as a means of securing recognition of the rebel cause by the international community. Both of these perceptions were wrong, Pronk said, but whether they were right or wrong has no importance to the peace process. What is important is that these perceptions exist. The Darfur problem and all other problems in Sudan, Pronk advised, need to be approached in a balanced fashion.

Pronk urged that the international community avoid further postponing more effective action. Acting after millions of people are uprooted from their homes is too late. He explained that the UN is currently trying to build comprehensive programs over the next seven years that are not only directed to the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance, but will also address the problems of recovery, return, rehabilitation and development. The international community must not simply make statements, Pronk continued; it must place strong political pressure, including the imposition of sanctions, on every party to insure that agreements will be honored. These sanctions, however, should not necessarily take the form of penalties; rather, they should embrace instruments or incentives designed to influence the behavior of the parties involved.

Following his address, Pronk entertained several questions from the audience. When questioned about the role of women in peace building following the signing of the comprehensive peace plan, Pronk noted his strong background in development and his related conviction to a bottom up approach to attaining sustainable peace. Women play a very large part in this process, he said. However, Pronk counseled, this effort must come from inside the country. "It has to be the mission of the UN to help the Sudanese to address their own problems through their civil society," said Pronk.

Another inquiry concerned the recent reports of continued arms distribution by the government of Sudan to the militias fighting in Darfur. Pronk said this was an area that required much more assertive international action. He noted that there are members of the Security Council, notably China and Russia, who still continue to deliver arms to the Government of Sudan. In his view, it would be in their longer-term interest to stop their arms deliveries. Pronk suggested there be a joint action with the other members of the Security Council and a concrete effort on the part of the sanctions committee to stop these arms deliveries, both on the part of the Government of Sudan and on the part of those countries delivering to the Government of Sudan.

Queried on the success of the African Union (AU) and whether its mandate, resources and numbers are adequate, Pronk answered that the AU is doing very well in Sudan. The AU, according to Pronk, is a new institution that has a true vision for Africa. Its troops are motivated, flexible and tend to have a more invested interest in keeping the peace, Pronk continued. They have a broad mandate, support for their operations is growing and their numbers are growing as well. All of these are factors that produce a successful peacekeeping mission.

Nicole Rumeau, Africa Program Associate, ext. 4097
Howard Wolpe, Director