The Peace Process
Ismail stated that there had been little progress towards peace after the 1994 Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace initiative in Nairobi until the last two years. With the naming by President Bush of Senator John Danforth as peace envoy, there have been a series of agreements between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) which have effectively brought about a sustained cease-fire in the south, unfettered access by humanitarian aid agencies, the deployment of a cease-fire Verification Team and Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT), and the establishment of a Mediation Committee with Government, SPLA, regional and international representatives. The key agreement was the Machakos Protocol signed in July 2002. This agreement "opened the door" for the resolution of the Sudan conflict. It provides for, among other things:
· Establishment of an "interim" period of 6 ½ years under which a "federal" system of government will be in effect, with three layers of local, provincial and national government and two national chambers, one upper house with all 26 provinces represented.
· At the end of the interim government period there will be a national referendum and the south can chose either to secede and become independent or stay within a federal Sudan.
· National elections will be held for all governing bodies in three years.
· Other provisions guarantee human rights protections, freedom of press, resettlement of internally displaced persons, reconstruction efforts in the south, and the creation of an united national army.
Ismail added that talks were now under way in Nairobi focused on security reform issues. Sudanese President Omer El-Beshir and SPLA leader John Garang have committed to a final peace agreement by June 30, 2003. Ismail stated that he hoped that time frame would be realized, although he felt that an agreement was certain by the end of 2003. John Danforth, he said, is due back in the region in "the next few weeks" and President Bush has given strong support to the process per his April 21 report to Congress that the negotiations were "in good faith." Outstanding issues are the "distribution of wealth", the "distribution of power", and the security arrangements.
Ismail said the government of the Sudan was cooperating fully with the United States and the international community on combating terrorism. Sudan, he said, is a party to all 12 international conventions and protocols on terrorism and, as chair of the IGAD, is leading regional anti-terrorism efforts, including the Africa Union and the Arab League. He reiterated the acknowledgement of this cooperation by "the highest officials" of the U.S. Government. He regretted the fact that Sudan was still listed on the State Department's report on patterns of terrorism, but felt it was due to "political reasons" and that cooperation on counter terrorism was going forward. In response to a question, Ismail said that al Queda "is not a friend" and wants only to destroy the nation and hurt the Sudanese people.
The guarantee of human rights protections is part of the Machakos Protocol and Ismail feels that the peace agreement has led to an "improving human rights situation in Sudan." He said that the finalization of the peace agreement will allow Sudan to invite international organizations to start technical and training assistance in the field of human rights to help Sudan with this issue. The government is establishing its own Human Rights Commission and an Independent Counsel for Human Rights for monitoring and enforcement.
Intra-Sudanese Dialogue and Government Commitment to Peace and Human Rights
After Ismail's formal remarks, there ensued a spirited and dynamic exchange with the audience, which was made up of U.S. government representatives, policy makers, international organization officials, NGO activists and development specialists, and Sudanese exiled leaders from groups such as the SPLA and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). While some of the questions and comments related to the peace process, such as the recent meetings in London between senior U.S. State Department Diplomats and Sudanese Government representatives to discuss security reform and power sharing issues to reinforce the Nairobi technical negotiating teams, the bulk were directed at human rights and continuing conflicts and the government's sincerity in addressing those issues fairly and openly.
The SPLM representative asked why the Government, which he claimed had abrogated the 1997 Khartoum agreement, should be believed now. Another Southern Sudanese participant questioned the continuing adherence to Shari'a law and the existence of "Jihad camps" against Christians in the South. Questions were raised concerning recent incarceration of journalists and the government commitment to freedom of the press. It was pointed out by several questioners that fighting was still on-going in Darfur and Nyala, and that "South/South" (Nuer and Dinka) conflict was unchecked.
Ismail responded in the first instance by saying that the government had "made mistakes" and was not perfect, but "we are not telling lies." The current process emanates from the unprecedented Machakos Protocol. It differs from Khartoum in that the SPLM is a signatory. While avoiding specifics about harassment of journalists, Ismail said the human rights situation is "improving", but "problems still exist" and the government knows it needs help as it seeks a higher "standard" of human rights compliance. Other conflicts, such as Darfur, where a rebel group has declared autonomy and threatens civil war, have a different genesis than the North/South war, but the government wants to extend peace talks to "the whole country," to include the Nuer/Dinka conflict in the South. The government has met with the NDA and they are currently negotiating. He expects an agreement next month with NDA. The government is allowing the SPLM and other parties to solidify their national bases. Although the interim government will be made up of the SPLM and the current government, other parties like NDA will be allowed in after the finalization of the peace agreement. Although the interim government structure will continue to represent only the constituencies party to the peace agreement, once elections take place the current situation – which has the President being a Northern Muslim and the two Vice Presidents Southern Christian – will all change and every constituency will be able to compete for the presidency.
Ismail acknowledged the hesitance of Southern Sudanese to give credibility to this peace process and the government's motivation, but, he said, "we are committed to opening a new era…(and) build(ing) trust" between these various constituencies.
Steven McDonald, rapporteur