The Sudan and the Oslo Peace Process

October 29, 2003

The Sudan and the Oslo Peace Process

The Bush administration's strong backing for the Sudan peace process has given hope for an end to the oppression and enslavement of marginalized groups in Sudan.

The Bush administration's strong backing for the Sudan peace process has given hope for an end to the oppression and enslavement of marginalized groups in Sudan.  But peace is possible only if the United States government effectively monitors the actions of the Sudanese government and punishes violations of the various agreements it has signed.

Unfortunately, the U.S.-established monitoring team has failed to adequately report on the Sudanese government's violations, including the enslavement of women and children, of the 11-month-old cease-fire.  In so doing, the U.S. administration has chosen a path of silence, while encouraging the State Department to create a conducive negotiating atmosphere to appease Khartoum. If the State Department continues in this way, the U.S. could make its biggest diplomatic mistake since turning a blind eye to Yasser Arafat's terrorist aims toward Israel in the Oslo peace process.

According to Sudan expert Dr. Eric Reeves, the government of Sudan has seriously hindered, threatened and obstructed the efforts and operations of the U.S.-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) in Sudan, and thereby violated the U.S.-brokered agreement of March 2002.  This agreement obligates the government of Sudan to assist and facilitate investigative visits, grant unhindered flight access and ensure that there is no obstacle to these visits taking place.  In January of this year, however, Sudan's military officers went so far as to threaten the CPMT that their aircraft would be "shot down" if it flew over a garrison.

From March 7 to April 11, 2003, the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported that the government of Sudan denied all flight access to the U.S.-led CPMT. This further delayed the CPMT investigation on reported massacres in several southern villages in the Mabaan area of the Eastern Upper Nile, from the time the reports were originally hand delivered to Ambassador Michael Ranneberger at the State Department on February 5, 2003. The delay of the State Department and the Sudanese government's obstruction resulted in a three-month degradation of evidence, due to exposure to extreme heat and animal life in the region.

Another violation of the peace agreement surfaced on May 22, 2003, when forces aligned with the government of Sudan ambushed Longochuk and 9 surrounding villages.  According to villagers present at the time of the onslaught, a force of local Arab militia, led by a government military officer, attacked unarmed civilians, killing 59 and abducting 16.  Dennis Bennett of Servant's Heart, the primary relief organization on the ground, interviewed a number of village sources who claim that CPMT head, General Charles Baumann, is responsible for the deaths of at least two seriously injured children because he refused to help the 11 most critical of the 33 villagers wounded in the attack he was investigating.

Soon after the attack, one of Bennett's sources, Sudan Peoples Liberation Army Commander Daniel Kot, told Bennett that he begged Baumann to evacuate the victims to a hospital or at least contact the Red Cross so they could be rushed to Kenya for medical aid. Kot claims Baumann refused any help saying, "It is none of our affair."  As a result, a severely wounded 3-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy riddled with gun shot wounds died within four days of General Baumann's refusal to give Good Samaritan aid.

Despite the continued reporting of atrocities during the cease-fire and the motive to destroy villages in the path of oil expansion in the Eastern Upper Nile, the U.S.-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team neglected to interview key witnesses who were readily available.  One CPMT report failed to acknowledge that workers from a subsidiary of China National Petroleum were drilling for oil near the area the attack took place.  All of the reports failed to draw a parallel between the intentional destruction of traditional village land in the Western Upper Nile -- as the oil companies advanced -- and the same actions by the government of Sudan and oil companies -- as they pushed into the Eastern Upper Nile.  The reports, rather, attribute the cause of violence to disputes over cattle grazing rights, even though the geography and evidence indicate that the Sudanese government increasingly targets villages in the Eastern Upper Nile region for their oil and importance in a "divide and conquer" strategy.

In a recent e-mail, David Sims, the Deputy Director of Public Affairs for the State Department, was questioned about the reported massacres, the acts of violence and the problems that were not made public by the CPMT.  In a blanket response, Sims wrote: "The Civilian Protection Monitoring Team is helping the peace process by highlighting atrocities, keeping both sides accountable to their word and recommending concrete actions both sides can take to avoid further attacks."

Could this be déjà vu?

For the ten years of the Oslo peace process, Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority repeatedly violated the agreement he signed with Rabin in the Rose Garden at the White House.  Arafat transformed his limited police force, which was supposed to prevent terrorism and maintain order, into a fully equipped army.  Rather than fight terrorism, Arafat and the PA gave extremists a safe haven by issuing fake sentences and putting terrorists in prisons with revolving doors.

While violating the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, the PA trained a generation of Palestinian children to hate Jews, Christians and Americans through schools, textbooks and the state-controlled media.  Each time a violation occurred, Oslo "peace processors" would whitewash and cover up the extent of the Palestinian side's wrongs.

For the American diplomat, the appearance of a working process, as manifested in signed pieces of paper and public promises in English (not Arabic), was more important than peace on the ground.  The possibility that allowing these violations to go unpunished would only embolden Arafat was completely ignored. 

According to Sudan expert and international civil rights activist Dr. Charles Jacobs, this may be a systemic problem with Western diplomacy.

"Democracies, determined to avoid war, become confused when they are purposely mislead and deceived," Jacobs says.  "Rather than give up the hope that peace can be achieved through negotiation alone, they relent and retreat when the other side violates the treaty terms it has signed."

Jacobs claims Western diplomats often rationalize their tacit consent of egregious violations in order to preserve the peace process.  He says all that is gained with this strategy of perpetual concession, however, is more aggression because the other side, being rational, can only conclude that the West will not fight to enforce the agreements it won.

Perhaps he is right.  During Oslo, Israel armed Arafat and the Palestinian Authority with guns, imagining Arafat would use them to prevent terror.  The PA ended up using those guns to shoot their Jewish "peace partners."  After Arafat's initial Oslo violations ten years ago, Israeli and American diplomats began a mantra that has not let up to this day: Don't let treaty violations (fostering terror and inciting religious hatred) stop the peace process.

Will we hear this same mantra for Sudan and harvest the same results?

Ten years after Arafat signed Oslo, he unleashed a war of terror against Israel -- a war that the PA had been preparing for a decade.  Arafat attempted to achieve through violence what he had failed to obtain through negotiations at Camp David in July 2000.  The State Department should have seen this war coming, but instead it was seduced by the illusions its peace processors created.

Whether the State Department negotiates with dictatorships in Ramallah or in Khartoum, the reality is U.S. diplomats tend to refrain from standing up for moral clarity in their negotiations with dictatorships.  Democracies respect process and written agreements because of their adherence to the rule of law, due process and transparency.  Dictatorships rule unchecked and face few negative consequences if they violate agreements.

The Bush administration and the State Department must hold Sudan's dictatorial government to its agreements and avoid resorting to diplomatic fictions.  If it does not, be prepared to watch the sequel to Oslo -- filmed in Sudan.


Maria Sliwa lectures on Sudan and is founder of Freedom Now News, an international human rights news service.