What does it all mean?

The comments below do not reflect the official position of Stand, but are intended to start a discussion:

While governments, groups and individuals are issuing statements left, right and center about the announcement of a ceasefire by the Government of Sudan, it is sometimes difficult for us concerned to really have any idea what it means. Let's try to look at this move with a little perspective.

First off, the number of ceasefires that the government of Sudan has violated in the past is uncomfortably large. No one is denying this. A ceasefire is very tentative measure that can be overturned on a dime, and is often no more than an excuse to regroup, rearm, and redeploy. As Alex de Waal points out, the Government and government-supported militias have undoubtedly broken more ceasefires than the rebels over the past year. So you can't blame the rebels for being skeptical.

There are reasons to be positive about this effort, however. Partly, because there has been no real peace process for a year or so now, and partly because the ceasefire comes after a "peace conference" with no rebels but a few opposition voices, including the Southern SPLM and the Umma Party. In fact, the recommendations of the conference offer some really interesting criticisms of the government, including calling on them to release Darfuris who may be arbitrarily detained, establish a fund to help internally displaced persons and refugees return home safely (and voluntarily!), and create a new Vice-President position in the government for someone from Darfur. Those are some solid, good ideas that, if truthful, could lead to good negotiations.

Finally, from our point of view, I'm glad the UN and Canadian Government are issuing statements of encouragement, but seriously, is that all that's going to happen? If this ceasefire is really to be turned into an opportunity, a few things need to happen on our end.

1. UN mediators (or a Canadian Envoy....hint hint...) need to sit down with the rebels and discover what sort of monitoring methods would convince them of the government's commitment to this initiative, and then set up those mechanisms. It is not implausible to me that the Canadian government would set up some sort of benchmarks that the government of Sudan would need to meet step-by-step to prove their commitment. The US did precisely that during the negotiations for the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement, responding to the attainment of a benchmark with rewards and the failure with punishment. Such benchmarks could include allowing UN troops access to places they have otherwise had trouble monitoring, disarming the Janjaweed militias, setting up real trials for crimes and providing compensation to victims, or allowing unfettered humanitarian access to the entire region. Halting bombing campaigns is assumed also....

2. UNAMID (the joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force) needs to focus on verifying the implementation of the ceasefire and needs to yell really loudly if it is broken.

3. As already mentioned, the rebels need to be brought on board. Discussions about a Qatar-backed peace conference are already circulating. The UN and/or Canada et al. need to meet with Qataris, government and rebels and reach a compromise about how such a conference would take place and where. While I'm glad to see that the peace process is slowly getting started, it won't be a peace process for long if the rebels don't jump on board at some point.

As de Waal mentions, we should all encourage and support a "homegrown" Sudanese solution to Sudanese problems; that said, the international community now needs to help make sure those solutions are actually carried out. Luckily for us, this is something we CAN do (unlike so many of the prescriptions that have been passed around over the past five years), through monitoring and verification, trust-building exercises, mediation, diplomacy and public statements, neutral locations for peace conferences, providing peacekeepers as a way to break the security dilemma, and more such "soft-power" actions of referee-ing. So let's get on it.

A whole other question arises should it prove that the ceasefire is merely dead air...

As always, I welcome thoughts and comments.


Bobbie said...

It worries me that al-Bashir's announcement is a manoeuvre to avoid the ICC's indictment. Does anyone know if the two are related at all??

Ian said...

Good point. I think they are definitely related. The ceasefire is very clearly a way to try to persuade the UN Security Council to suspend the arrest warrant, which it has the right to do. Unfortunately, it seems to me from far away that there must be a whole host of competing domestic political tensions right now, because Bashir doesn't really seem to know what he wants. One day, a ceasefire, the next a bombing campaign. Needless to say, this is not the way to convince the Security Council.

Additionally, if the ceasefire actually stuck (which it looks like it isn't), I don't think it would be a problem that it happened in response to the ICC. I for one would be happy to see the arrest warrant suspended if a meaningful peace process were underway with a possibility of domestic courts eventually taking over. Of course, I'd be happier to Bashir prosecuted, but real peace does not always match up with our ideal vision of peace.

Thanks for your comment!