Peace process threatened by exclusivity, says think-tank

The ongoing peace process between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) is threatened by its almost total exclusivity, necessitating a new approach from both the negotiating parties and Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediators, according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think-tank.

Whereas the first phase of the process had necessitated a narrow focus on the two main belligerents, a second phase after the signing of a bilateral peace agreement would need to radically change to involve the Sudanese public, said ISS in a report entitled: "The Sudan IGAD Peace Process: Signposts for the Way Forward".

"For IGAD it means a marked change in philosophy and direction from that of the first stage, which can be characterised as secretive, eite driven, narrowly focused and which pointedly ignored the issue of human rights, to the next stage where transparency, engaging the large mass of Sudanese, and vastly expanding the focus and direction of the peace initiative, must set the tone," it said.

Once a peace agreement was signed, a new approach taking account of the rights of all Sudan's citizens needed to be implemented, said the report. "It will be a critical test of the IGAD mediators whether they can adapt to the new demands placed upon them and carry the process forward."

The Machakos Protocol, signed by both the government and the SPLM/A in July 2002, underlines the need for a democratic transformation of Sudan, referring to "democratic governance, accountability, equality, respect and justice for all citizens of Sudan", and for the Sudanese to establish "a democratic system of governance".

But so far, a number of key groups, including northern opposition groups, southern militias and the National Democratic Alliance have been pointedly excluded from peace negotiations.

The rebellion in Darfur, northwestern Sudan, which exploded in February 2003, is deemed by observers to be a direct reaction to this exclusivity and to fears that the national cake is being divided up into only two slices.

In southern Sudan, there has also been no sustained effort to bring about south-south reconciliation, despite the fact that the South Sudan Defence Forces, an umbrella of government-aligned militias, are armed, control large swathes of the region, and hold many strategic positions particularly around the oil fields.

According to ISS, a failure to win the popular support of Sudanese civil society and the country's major political players threatens the viability of the entire peace process and raises the possibility of a return to war. "However difficult the task, IGAD must play a leading role in the intimately linked objectives of an inclusive peace process and establishing a democratic Sudan," it warned.

"The building of a democratic Sudan is not a luxury, but the best - and perhaps only - insurance that the many aggrieved groups in Sudan do not take up arms," said ISS, adding that southern grievances increasingly coming to the fore represented "only the tip of the iceberg of resentment".

"Remarkably, the issue of human rights has received almost no attention thus far in the IGAD negotiations, but it cannot be ignored much longer," it added, urging a change of approach and the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Last week, the US State Department's 2003 report for Sudan noted that the two key parties to the peace process - who will be governing Sudan once a peace agreement is signed - had poor human rights records.

The Sudanese government's record "remained extremely poor", with security forces and associated militias responsible for extrajudicial killings and disappearances, beatings, torture, rape and harassment with impunity. Similarly, the SPLM/A was accused of killings, beatings, rape, arbitrary detention, forcible military conscription of underage young men, and the manipulation of humanitarian assistance for military advantage.