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Our Silence on Sudan Shames Us
Our Silence on Sudan Shames Us
The Military’s Dangerous Power Grab in Sudan
The Military’s Dangerous Power Grab in Sudan
Op-Ed / Africa

Our Silence on Sudan Shames Us

Originally published in Globe and Mail

Sudan is edging ever closer to disintegration. Last month saw heavy fighting between government forces and the South over the oil-rich Abyei region, and an abortive attack by Darfur rebels on Khartoum - likely to prompt brutal government retribution.

Against this backdrop, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court reported to the UN Security Council, pointing out, yet again, that Sudan has flouted its international obligation to co-operate with the court, and criticizing the international community for its shameful silence in the face of Sudan's willful defiance.

Sudan's contempt toward the ICC intensified with the first arrest warrants in April, 2007, for Ahmed Haroun, currently minister for humanitarian affairs, and militia leader Ali Kushayb. They are charged with supporting and directing crimes against civilians - including mass torture, rape and murder - at the height of Khartoum's ethnic cleansing campaign in 2003-2004.

Not only has the regime failed to arrest these two, it has promoted Mr. Haroun to a position where he is responsible for the communities he is accused of terrorizing. It has freed Mr. Kushayb from prison, claiming there was no evidence against him. In both cases, the international community has been silent.

The regime is playing to fears the ICC's work in Darfur will derail peace efforts. Such fears are misguided; there is no peace process to derail. The UN/African Union-led negotiations are going nowhere, in large part because the international community has failed to devise a comprehensive, co-ordinated strategy toward Sudan. Instead, it has pursued multiple agendas - for example, oil for some, purported co-operation on counterterrorism for others - that have allowed Khartoum to play actors against each other.

Peace and international prosecution is not an either/or proposition in Sudan. They can, and should, proceed in parallel, at least until there is a credible comprehensive deal on the table, with the political will to implement it.

Northern Uganda illustrates this: ICC prosecution of leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army was a critical factor in driving the rebels to the negotiating table. While the court pressed its case, a cessation of hostilities was agreed and a widely consultative peace process undertaken. A final deal in Northern Uganda is still elusive, but the conflict and the peace process have been transformed, in part because of the ICC's engagement.

Sudan is no doubt a very different situation. Still, a comprehensive strategy that pursues peace and justice simultaneously can benefit both, especially in the short term. Increasing pressure on the regime to turn over Mr. Haroun and Mr. Kushayb is more likely to produce active participation in a peace process than to stall it, because the threat of ICC prosecution - made credible through meaningful international support - is one of the few ways to get through to Khartoum. No one knows how the next few years will pan out; until there's no other choice, the international community should pursue peace and justice together.

If hard choices between peace and international prosecutions do have to be made, it likely won't be for several years, and only when other contentious issues have been resolved with a real peace deal on the table. But it may never come to that; other scenarios, such as a change of Sudanese leadership, whether through elections in 2009 or internal dissension, are also possible.

The Security Council should act swiftly to demand Khartoum hand over Mr. Haroun and Mr. Kushayb. If the government again falls short, additional and meaningful sanctions should be imposed. France and Britain should take the lead and the U.S. should follow suit, lest its outrage over atrocities in Darfur be exposed as hollow.

Without greater support for the court, peace and justice will continue to be victims in Sudan.

Podcast / Africa

The Military’s Dangerous Power Grab in Sudan

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group experts Jonas Horner and Murithi Mutiga about the military coup in Sudan that has upended the country’s transition and heightened risks of violence.

On 25 October, Sudan’s military leaders ousted the country’s civilian government, detaining Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several of his ministers. The coup took place two and a half years after a mass uprising that toppled long-standing ruler Omar al-Bashir. The military, fearful of losing their grip over the economy and of facing judicial action for abuses committed during Bashir’s rule and against protesters, had been reluctant partners in a transitional power-sharing government. Coming less than a year before a planned handover of power to civilians, the power grab was met with fury on the streets. Demonstrations have erupted in a defiant rejection of military rule. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz and Richard are joined by two Crisis Group experts, Murithi Mutiga, Project Director for the Horn of Africa, and Jonas Horner, Senior Analyst for Sudan, to talk about the coup, why it happened and what it means for risks of violence and Sudan’s future. They discuss potential splits within the security forces, the possible role played by outside governments, and the way the African Union and Western powers should respond. They also ask if Sudan’s generals have overestimated their hand and how to walk them back from the brink. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sudan page and read our statement ‘Reversing Sudan’s Dangerous Coup’.


Interim President
Naz Modirzadeh
Board Member and Harvard Professor of International Law and Armed Conflicts
Project Director, Horn of Africa
Deputy Project Director, Horn of Africa & Senior Analyst, Sudan