In 2003, as hopes were rising that the government of Sudan would agree to an internationally-brokered settlement of the 21-year civil war in the South, the same government unleashed a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in the Darfur region of western Sudan. These two developments were not unrelated.
Throughout the North-South peace talks in Naivasha, Kenya, international negotiators have failed to insist that the peace agreement include provisions to hold the government and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) accountable for the massive violations of human rights that were committed during the war. By failing to put accountability and human rights high up on the Naivasha negotiating agenda, the "Troika"-the United States, Britain and Norway-mediators unwittingly encouraged government officials in Khartoum to believe that they could wage war against civilians in Darfur with impunity.
Moreover, when word of attacks on civilians by government forces and government-backed militias-using the same tactics as had been used in the south of Sudan for years-first began to come out of Darfur, the United States and other countries involved in the Naivasha talks were hesitant to confront Khartoum publicly because of fear that doing so might derail the North-South peace process.
Now, as the U.N. Security Council prepares to meet in Nairobi on November 18-19, 2004 to discuss the political situation in Sudan, some Security Council members have suggested that the international community should drop demands to hold the government accountable for its continuing abuses in Darfur so as to achieve a peace agreement in the South.
Yet, as long as there is a climate of impunity in the Sudan, government authorities will be tempted to use violence to achieve their political objectives, putting civilians further at risk. Without justice, there will be no lasting peace in Sudan. Holding the government and rebels in the South and in Darfur accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by their forces will help to deter future human rights abuses.
It is vital that the U.N. Security Council seize the opportunity presented by its meeting in Nairobi to right this wrong and insist that mechanisms to ensure accountability and the protection of human rights be included in the final terms of the Naivasha accord. At the same time, it must tell the government of Sudan to disarm and disband the Janjaweed militias in Darfur and ensure the safe and voluntary return of the displaced, as called for in earlier Security Council resolutions on Darfur.
The North-South peace agreement reportedly includes a long "bill of rights." But, unlike the wealth-sharing and power-sharing protocols reached at Naivasha in May 2004, the text of that "bill of rights" has not been disclosed, suggesting that the mediators and the parties expect that it will encounter sharp criticism. Neither the government nor the SPLM/A has expressed any interest in, or commitment to, human rights, and both have poor human rights records. In addition, there is reportedly no provision anywhere in the Naivasha Protocols for accountability for past human rights abuses on the part of the government or the SPLM/A.
The omission of provisions in the Naivasha accords to ensure accountability for human rights abuses continues to plague the South. The government, Southern ethnic militias, starting in early 2004, conducted a scorched-earth campaign that displaced 100,000 civilians from the Shilluk lands in the Upper Nile.
The Naivasha Talks and Darfur
Talks aimed at ending the 21-year civil war between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army have been underway in Kenya since June 2002. These talks are being held under the auspices of the regional Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), comprised of Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti, and led by Gen. (Ret.) Lazarus Sumbeiywo of Kenya.
The United States, acting as president of the U.N. Security Council for November, arranged for the Security Council to meet in Nairobi on November 18-19 to draw attention to the still-unsigned peace agreement, and to pressure the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A to finalize the accord. More than two million civilians are estimated to have died during the North-South conflict, which began in 1983.
Early drafts of the Security Council resolution on Sudan to be adopted at the meeting in Nairobi this week suggest that the Council will fail to address human rights abuses in the conflicts in both Darfur and the South. Moreover, the draft resolution does not impose sanctions on the Sudanese government for failing to disarm and prosecute the "Janjaweed" militia, as provided for in two previous Security Council resolutions on Darfur.
Such soft-pedaling would repeat the mistake made in late 2003 when, despite alarm at the widespread abuses and scorched-earth attacks on civilians, Security Council members did not seek action on Darfur because they had put a priority on signing the North-South agreement. It is apparent that the Sudanese government used the period between late 2003 and early 2004 to launch a campaign of mass killings, rapes, ethnic cleansing, and looting and destruction of villages that amount to crimes against humanity. At the same, the delay in applying international pressure on the government of Sudan for its actions in Darfur did not speed the conclusion of a final agreement between the government and the Southern rebels.
Experience has shown that the Sudanese government responds when faced with a unified international diplomatic community that is willing to back up its words with action. Promises by the Sudanese government to end violence and impunity for human rights abusers have been insufficient to guarantee respect for human rights. What is needed is a clear message from this week's Security Council special session that accountability for human rights abuses is essential to the resolution of the conflicts both in the South and Darfur.
Naivasha Protocols: Real Human Rights Provisions Still Needed
It is not too late for the Troika and the rest of the international community to insist on accountability. U.N. Security Council members should insist on the creation of an effective, independent and impartial justice system and a robust U.N. human rights monitoring presence to be included in the Naivasha Protocols. If this U.N. monitoring presence is not included in the final North-South peace agreement, the Troika and the international community should guarantee the funding and diplomatic protection necessary for such a U.N. human rights monitoring team to be established and effectively operate inside Sudan.
Human Rights Watch further recommends that the U.N. Security Council use its upcoming resolution on Sudan to urge that human rights accountability be central to the Naivasha peace accord. In particular, Human Rights Watch urges that the peace accord include provisions to:
- Investigate alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, and bring to justice, before fair, impartial, and independent courts, those accused of having committed such crimes or of having facilitated or tolerated such crimes by groups over which they exercised control;
- Ensure full disclosure of past human rights abuses in the various armed conflicts since 1983 through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission composed of individuals of known honesty, integrity, and impartiality, to be appointed by the parties to the peace agreement and by IGAD, the U.N., and the governments of the U.S., U.K., and Norway;
- Prioritize the development of an effective, independent and impartial national justice system;
- Conduct vigorous international human rights monitoring through a team of international human rights monitors deployed throughout Sudan, appointed and supervised by the office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, with appropriate mechanisms to ensure respect for human rights;
- Review Sudanese government (and any SPLM/A or Southern regional government) legislation to ensure compatibility with international human rights standards and remove barriers to full and free civil society participation;
- Ratify the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other human rights treaties and ensure respect for their provisions;
- Hold elections for local, regional and national government offices within a reasonable period; supervise these elections by international election monitors and a board of Sudanese officials to be appointed by the parties and by the international community;
- Ensure that the members of the newly constituted police and military forces are vetted for past records of human rights abuse, and dismiss any individual found to be questionable in this regard.