December 13, 2010

Africa & US Policy: Sudan Govt. Assures US It Will Protect Southerners - What Will We Do If It Doesn't?

Recent State Department Visit to Sudan

Scott Gration , US Special Envoy to Sudan, says the US will keep a "strong eye" on the Sudan government's reaction to the January referendum.  On his recent trip to Sudan Gration received "assurances" from the GOS that they are "working very hard to ensure the people will be protected, especially Southerners...."

I hope GOS means it, but you never really know.  Too often, regrettably, the US takes other governments at their word in such matters.  Many governments know we will go away and not bother them if they tell us they will not harm their people or sign documents to that effect.  Many citizens of these countries have told me privately they can't believe how gullible the US government is - "Well, they said they wouldn't attack, that they would protect their people!  They signed a treaty, an accord, a convention!"  The reality is, the GOS could give any number of reasons for a preemptive strike in the run-up to the voting, during the balloting or afterwards primarily on the pretext that the voting had been tampered with internally or by outsiders and therefore was not valid.

I'm hoping for the best but am very worried that violence will ensue during or after the voting, instigated by the GOS.  There is just too much at stake, especially vast oil reserves in the South, for the GOS to stand by and let the South secede.  Tension and conflict between the GOS and the southern Sudanese have been going on since the 1600s.  More recently, civil war has ravaged the country for all but ten of the fifty years between 1955-2005 at the cost of 2 million southern Sudanese deaths and 4 million internally displaced persons in the South.

I don't expect the US (or the UN or the African Union) to tip its hand but I can't help wonder if we have a plan in place to act (or not act) in the event the GOS fails in its assurances to protect the Southerners or worse, mounts an offensive.  I have my doubts that a plan is in place given our and the international community's history of failed responses to crises in Africa.  Yes, it is the GOS's business within its sovereign territory, not ours.  But if we are unwilling to intervene when democracy and human rights are abused by force then our rhetoric and diplomacy, and all our preaching to and lecturing African governments on how they should conduct their affairs ring very hollow.  Worse than the US losing face, yet again, there may be more dire and deadly consequences of having no plan or commitment to act beforehand.  If we and the global community do not have such a plan and the GOS attacks, it will be too late to act.  The civil war will resume.  The southern Sudanese oil that China is dependent on will be at risk and the Chinese will certainly have something to say or do about that.

Perhaps what is needed is a binding commitment to intervene in internal national matters but only under certain strictly defined criteria.  This idea is not new.  It has been tried unsuccessfully in many fora - the UN, the OAU, the African Union.  Naysay if you wish but I believe there will come a time, hopefully in the not-to-distant future, when such commitments will be put in place and we all will look back and wonder what took humankind so long to agree to and honor them.

Excerpt:  Amb. Gration at a press conference on a trip he completed to Sudan on December 9-11th....

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Gration. On the last note that you just said, I was wondering what plans were being made to protect the civilian population and the IDPs in Darfur and Sudan in general, if major conflict breaks out in January or following the vote.
MR. GRATION: Yes. This is a concern that all of us have had, and it has been the subject of my discussions at the very highest levels with the Sudanese Government, with the South. I’ve met with the minister of interior, who is in charge of the police forces. I’ve met with the director of intelligence. And we’ve made very clear that we believe that the parties have to have the major role in protecting their citizens. And I’ve had assurances from all of them that they’re working very hard to ensure that people will be protected, especially Southerners living in the North, and other folks.
But we’re just going to have to keep a real strong eye on this. And frankly, this is the responsibility of the government, whether they’re in the South or whether in the North or whether in Darfur, and we’re going to hold the government accountable to make sure that they’re taking all precautions to make sure that violence doesn’t break out that’s associated with this referendum.

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