Saturday, February 29, 2020

Sudan: Will genocide charge against Bashir stick? (Alex de Waal)

SUDAN'S announcement that it plans to hand ousted long-serving President Omar al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) was dramatic and surprising, but it also takes the country into uncharted waters, writes Sudan expert Alex de Waal in the following important and carefully worded analysis. 

Note, the analysis copied here below includes an amazing BBC video showing what Darfur is like today. The BBC gained rare access to the region, the BBC’s Mohanad Hashim is one of the first journalists to travel freely in the region in a decade. The original piece at BBC online contains some visuals not shown here.

Analysis from BBC News - www.bbc.co.uk
Written by Dr Alex de Waal
Dated Friday 14 February 2020
Omar al-Bashir: Will genocide charge against Sudan's ex-president stick?
REUTERS 
Caption: Omar al-Bashir led Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years

The decision to get the ICC involved was welcomed by the majority of Sudanese who long for justice.

After all, one of the central demands of the protesters who helped bring an end to President Bashir's 30-year dictatorship was that he should be accountable for his alleged crimes.

It should also be seen, alongside other diplomatic moves, as an attempt by Sudan to normalise relations with the West and ditch its pariah nation status.

But the process will be fraught with difficulties and the extent and timing of bringing past leaders to account is a matter of delicate political judgement.
GETTY IMAGES
Caption: The prosecution of Omar al-Bashir was a key demand of those who called for his removal
It also depends on the readiness of the ICC itself.

The priority of the government, an uneasy cohabitation of civilians and generals, is to keep the fragile transition to democracy on track, and there is concern that army commanders could be antagonised by getting the ICC involved.

Bashir is already serving a two-year sentence for corruption but he is wanted by the international court for crimes relating to mass atrocities in the country's Darfur region from 2003 to 2008.
He is also under investigation for violating the democratic constitution by mounting a military coup in 1989.

Shortly after his overthrow in April last year, Bashir was arrested and taken to the colonial-era Kober prison, which is where he sent hundreds of parliamentarians, trade unionists, journalists and other opposition figures over the years.

But whether Bashir will be sent to the court in The Hague, or if he will be tried in a judicial process that may have ICC involvement in Sudan itself is still not clear.

Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the sovereign council, which has replaced the presidency for now, told rights group Human Rights Watch that "no-one is above the law".

"People will be brought to justice, be it in Sudan or outside Sudan, with the help of the ICC," he is quoted as saying. "We will cooperate fully with the ICC."

There is also still a lot to be sorted out on the part of the ICC.

Bashir rejected foreign court

At the height of the war in Darfur, in March 2005, the UN Security Council referred the case to the court in resolution 1593.

The prosecutor's office began its investigations at once - though they never travelled to Sudan itself.

Two years later they announced arrest warrants against a militia leader, Ali Kushayb, and the co-ordinator of the Darfur campaign, government minister Ahmed Haroun.

Bashir vowed he would never hand over a Sudanese to a foreign court.

AFP
Caption: There were demonstrations in Khartoum in 2008 against the ICC investigations into events in Darfur

The ICC prosecutor at the time, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, set his sights higher. In July 2008 he announced he was seeking an arrest warrant for the president himself, on 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Eight months later the judges of the ICC issued the arrest warrant, dropping the genocide charges as they did not consider the case strong enough.

But after the prosecutor appealed, the judges reversed their decision.

Students of international criminal law should look carefully into the judges' reasoning, because the question of the standard of proof for a genocide charge will loom high if Bashir is transferred for trial in The Hague.

The arrest warrant was controversial. Bashir responded by expelling 13 foreign relief agencies and abandoned any discussion of stepping down before the 2010 elections.

Fearing that any successor would hand him over to the ICC, he concluded that he would ensure his safety by staying put in Khartoum's Republican Palace.

He may now be proved correct, but his exact fate is still not certain.

Many of the soldiers in the current government served in military campaigns that witnessed egregious violations of human rights, notably in Darfur but also elsewhere in the country.
Prominent among these is Gen Mohamed Hamdan "Hemeti" Dagolo, leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Although not personally named in investigations into those responsible for atrocities during the height of the war in Darfur, Hemeti was a brigade commander of the Janjaweed, closely associated with mass killing, displacement and rape.

Additionally, seven weeks after Bashir's overthrow, armed men from the RSF unleashed a violent attack on civilian protesters in the capital Khartoum, killing at least 87 people.

BBC video: Contains disturbing scenes.
Caption: What happened during the 3 June massacre?

There may be some concern about who else could face the law, but the authorities in Sudan have other issues influencing their decisions.

The most immediate is the peace talks between the government and the armed opposition in Darfur. The opposition has been adamant that the ICC arrest warrants should be served, and agreeing to that demand is an important step towards peace.

Cornered country

A second element is that the Sudanese government is desperate for the US to lift its designation as a state sponsor of terror.

This goes back to the 1990s, when Sudan hosted Osama Bin Laden, and al-Qaeda operatives mounted terror attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Sudan was also blamed for having a role in the deaths of 17 US sailors when the USS Cole was bombed by al-Qaeda in a port in Yemen in 2000 - on Thursday, Sudan agreed to pay compensation to the families of the dead officers [ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-51487712 ].
GETTY IMAGES
Caption: The head of the sovereign council, Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, wants to end Sudan's isolation

The country is cornered. Unless its terrorist designation is lifted it cannot expect debt relief or economic stabilisation.

Last week's unexpected meeting in Uganda between Gen Burhan and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should also be seen in the light of desperate efforts to garner anti-terror credentials.

Handing Bashir to the ICC would also be a step to get advocates for human rights and democracy in Sudan onside. Some of these advocates, such as Hollywood actor George Clooney, have been conspicuously lukewarm in supporting the Sudanese revolution.

ICC prosecutor 'overreached'

They would welcome the extradition of Bashir to the ICC. But they should also be careful what they wish for. The arrival of the former Sudanese president in The Hague will present a formidable challenge to the prosecutor.

When Mr Ocampo presented his case for an arrest warrant against Bashir 12 years ago, he overreached.


BBC video
Caption: What is Darfur like today? 
The BBC gains rare access to the region
To view the above video click here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/51489802

He described the president as a supreme dictator, commanding every instrument of state policy, who had carefully nurtured a genocidal plan against Darfur's black African tribes over the decades.

That claim simply does not stand up: the atrocities were mainly the result of a panicked overreaction to an insurgent threat, carried to a brutal extreme.

Mr Ocampo also alleged a two-stage plan: massacres and displacement followed by systematic annihilation in the camps.

Conditions in Darfur's camps were deplorable, but to compare them to the Warsaw Ghetto, where Jewish people were contained, before being sent to their deaths in the Holocaust was, in the words of one humanitarian leader at the time, "insane".

The people of Darfur were, at that point, recipients of the world's largest humanitarian operation. 

At the time, some Sudanese wryly commented that Mr Ocampo had charged Bashir with the only crime he had not actually committed.
GETTY IMAGES
Caption: The situation in Darfur was the subject of major international concern more than a decade ago

If Bashir is extradited to The Hague, the first step will be a confirmation of charges hearing.

The current prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will need substantially to improve on her predecessor's performance if the charges, especially on genocide, are to go forward.

The ICC has suffered recent cases in which defendants were acquitted.

It cannot afford another high-profile failure. And a few years ago it put its Darfur investigations on ice, expecting no progress.

The ICC just is not ready for Bashir yet.

Given this, and despite the public excitement, it is likely that the prosecutor at the ICC and the Sudanese authorities will realise that they have a common interest in moving ahead slowly.

Alex de Waal is the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Related reports

Who are the RSF?

Omar al-Bashir: Sudan’s ousted president

Why Omar Bashir was overthrown

Friday, February 28, 2020

Sudan: Darfur rebel areas S. Kordofan, Blue Nile, W. Jebels face food shortage due to large numbers of returnees from Sudan & South Sudan


Darfur rebel areas South Kordofan, Blue Nile, West Jebels, facing food shortage and large numbers of returnees from Sudan and South Sudan 
NOTE from Sudan Watch editor: According to SKBN (South Kordofan, Blue Nile) Coordination Unit Humanitarian Update January 2020 (see above tweet by Eric Reeves dated 19 Feb 2020) populations will need food support by the end of March because limited available food stocks are being shared with large numbers of returnees both from Sudan and S. Sudan, creating a huge food gap. Click on tweet to read more.

Sudan allows former foe Israel to fly over its territory - Gaddafi said Israel, not Bashir, behind Darfur war

Sudan allows former foe Israel to fly over its territory
Report by BBC World Service
Dated 17 February 2020
BBC Image credit and caption: Nur Photo
The first Israeli plane crossed Sudan on Saturday on its way to South America (file photo)

Israel says it has begun flying commercial aircraft through Sudanese airspace under an agreement with the Khartoum government.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told a group of visiting US Jewish leaders that the first Israeli plane crossed Sudan on Saturday, bound for South America.

He said the new air corridor would cut the flying time on the route by three hours.

Sudan said in early Ferbruary that it had given initial approval for Israeli planes to fly over its territory.

Mr Netanyahu said Israel was discussing rapid normalisation of ties with its former foe.

Sudan, which has close ties with the Palestinians, has stopped short of referring to improving ties with Israel.

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Copy of Reuters report from the archives of Sudan Watch 2009:
Gaddafi says Israel, not Bashir, behind Darfur war
Report from Reuters
Written by Lamine Ghanmi; Editing by Kevin Liffey 
Dated 24 February 2009 / 6:43 PM / 11 YEARS AGO

TRIPOLI, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the current African Union president, on Tuesday accused "foreign forces" including Israel of being behind the Darfur conflict.

Judges from the International Criminal Court are due to announce on March 4 whether they will issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir over allegations that he masterminded genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region. U.N. diplomats have told Reuters the warrant will be issued.

But Gaddafi, addressing a meeting on ways to expand cooperation between the United Nations and African Union, urged the Court to stop its proceedings against Bashir:

"Why do we have to hold President Bashir or the Sudanese government responsible when the Darfur problem was caused by outside parties, and Tel Aviv (Israel), for example, is behind the Darfur crisis?"

Gaddafi suggested, without presenting any evidence, that the Israeli military was among those stoking the conflict:

"It is not a secret. We have found evidence proving clearly that foreign forces are behind the Darfur problem and are fanning its fire," Gaddafi said, according to the Libyan state news agency Jana.

"We discovered that some of the main leaders of the Darfur rebels have opened offices in Tel Aviv and hold meetings with the military there to add fuel to the conflict fire."

Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government in 2003, accusing it of neglecting the Darfur region. Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias to crush the rebellion.

International experts say the fighting has killed 200,000 people and uprooted 2.7 million. Sudan’s government denies any genocide, saying that 10,000 have been killed and that Western media exaggerate the conflict.

Gaddafi himself has made a number of attempts to broker peace talks between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government. 

View Original: https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSLO50752
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FURTHER READING
From the archives of Sudan Watch:

August 17, 2019
Ex-Israel spy admits lobbying US on behalf of Sudan military council
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May 27, 2009
Suspected Israeli airstrike on a convoy in Sudan January 2009 killed 119 people
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April 13, 2009
Envoy to Tehran stresses Mossad's role in Sudan's insecurity
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April 05, 2009
Africa Confidential heard that another arms convoy was moving north near Red Sea coast and Egyptian forces were moving to Sudan border to block it
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March 26, 2009
Unidentified aircraft destroyed suspected arms convoy in E. Sudan last January (Update 4)
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February 28, 2009
AU Chairman: Hard Evidence Proves Israel behind Darfur Conflict
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February 18, 2009
SLM's Abdel Wahid al-Nur visits Israel - 
Sudanese rebel leader meets with Israeli spies
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February 03, 2009
Israeli owner of MV Faina pays $3.2m ransom - Its cargo destined for Darfur? JEM has received heavy military logistical support from Israel?
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October 31, 2008
Ukraine says military hardware carried by hijacked Ukrainian ship MV Faina had been officially sold to Kenya (Update 1)


Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sudan: Military has far too much power (Eric Reeves)

  • The RSF is still effectively under the command of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (“Hemeti”). And the further from Khartoum one travels, the more fully the RSF seems a force unto itself—nowhere more so than in Darfur, where since the formation of the RSF under Hemeti’s command in 2013, many hundreds of thousands of people—overwhelmingly from the non-Arab/African tribal groups of the region—have been killed or displaced. And the killing and displacement continue. 
  • What about control of the Jebel Amir gold mining region? Does anyone really think that Hemeti will willingly give up control of a hugely lucrative area he wrested from former janjaweed leader Musa Hilal several years ago? 
  • If history is any guide, the most likely outcome of recent negotiations will be a slow but eventually wholesale reneging on the agreement as soon as international attention turns away from Sudan—and that will not be a long wait.
  • Will Hemeti disclose fully his stake in the large industrial conglomerate Al Junaid Industrial Group, based in the United Arab Emirates? And the role of his brother in the company? And the investments of National Intelligence and Security officials who have been reported as having invested in Al Junaid?
  • Will all arrests be made only by policemen?
  • One of the intentions of the military could be met tomorrow if a signal were sent to the international community that it should begin to prepare to bring assistance to all parts of South Kordofan and Blue Nile—and that restrictions on aid delivery in Darfur will also be ended.  Read full story:
Analysis from Radio Dabanga.org
By Dr Eric Reeves - NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS, USA
Published Wednesday 07 August 2019
The Constitutional Charter and the future of Sudan
FCC leader Ahmed Rabee and Hemeti with copies of the Constitutional Declaration during the signing ceremony in Khartoum on August 4 (Picture SUNA).

The “Constitutional Charter” (CC) signed on August 4 is an inspiring read, if stripped from the grim context in which it has been brought into being—if we forget the many hundreds who have been killed, wounded, raped, and tortured in the course of the uprising that has brought at least the hope of civilian governance into sight. The insistence on human rights, the rule of law, individual liberties, press freedoms, tolerance, and indeed the priority of peace—all of this provides at least the ghostly outline of a what a free and just Sudan—truly at peace with itself—might look like.

But what has been stipulated in the CC and what seems likely in the near future seem to me two very different things, and I am far from alone in my misgivings. Canvassing Sudanese social media over the past three days—and for months prior to this—I find two major concerns, fundamental issues that many feel have not been addressed by the CC.

The first, and most frequent, is that far too much power has been left in the hands of the military, now a hybrid military, with both the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) nominally under the command of the “Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces” (CC §34).* Moreover, many have observed that the RSF is left fully intact, a force unto itself, and still effectively under the command of Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (“Hemeti”). And the further from Khartoum one travels, the more fully the RSF seems a force unto itself—nowhere more so than in Darfur, where since the formation of the RSF under Hemeti’s command in 2013, many hundreds of thousands of people—overwhelmingly from the non-Arab/African tribal groups of the region—have been killed or displaced. And the killing and displacement continue.

In Khartoum itself, all evidence points to a concerted plan by the RSF to undertake what has come to be known as the “June 3 Massacre,” in which more than 150 people were killed (perhaps many more), dozens of women and girls raped, and widespread violence of a sort not seen even during the uprising of September 2013. It is impossible to believe that the orders for the deadly clearance of protesters in front of army headquarters did not come from the Transitional Military Council, and indeed “Lt. General” Hemeti (he has no formal military training, a fact reflected in the lack of discipline throughout the RSF). Unsurprisingly, the RSF was again responsible for the deadly violence in El Obeid on July 29.

The second criticism, voiced in various forms, is that the fundamental economic issues in Sudan—a nation struggling under the burden of an economy that has largely collapsed—are nowhere addressed with any specificity. This is perhaps to be expected of an interim constitutional document, but the greatest hindrance to economic rehabilitation in Sudan has long been the inordinate amount of the national budget devoted to the military and security services. All independent Sudanese economists I’ve encountered estimate that the percentage is between 50% and 70% of all national expenditures.

Will the military men who play such a large role in what was to have been a movement to bring about civilian governance in Sudan willingly give up this previously compulsory largesse, provided by the ordinary people of Sudan? Senior officers have enjoyed what is by Sudanese standards a lavish salary and lifestyle: will they give this up in the interest of the nation? And what about control of the Jebel Amir gold mining region, about which so much has been made in recent years? Does anyone really think that Hemeti will willingly give up control of a hugely lucrative area he wrested from former janjaweed leader Musa Hilal several years ago?

The point many Sudanese seem to be making is that the greatest obstacle—both to peace in the country and to economic rehabilitation—is the continuing central role of the armed forces in Sudan’s governance over the next 39 months. It may be that the members of the soon-to-be-dissolve Transitional Military Council (TMC) will no longer be able to move with the same ease of executive fiat as was the case during the al-Bashir years. But there are all too many “work-arounds” evident in the constitutional text, as well as the massive inherent power of the “deep state” that so many Sudanese worry about. 30 years of tyranny, corruption, war, and kleptocracy cannot be whisked away with any document, no matter how eloquent or impressively democratic. And Hemeti has proved himself at once hugely ambitious and unreservedly deceitful and expedient.

Here it is important to remember that the al-Bashir regime abided by not one of the agreements it signed during its long tenure: not the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (annexation of Abyei is only the most egregious violation of the various Protocols of the CPA, signed in January 2005); the Nuba Mountain ceasefire (January, 2002); the Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja, 2006); the peace agreement with the Eastern Front (October 2006); the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (July 2011); and the list goes on and on. If history is any guide, the most likely outcome of recent negotiations will be a slow but eventually wholesale reneging on the agreement as soon as international attention turns away from Sudan—and that will not be a long wait.

But such an outcome has one terrible downside for the military, if it indeed seizes national power: the economy will continue its collapse, and we may be sure that protests will resume, with anger even greater, political frustration even more intense. It’s hard to say what the economic consequences of eight months of sustained demonstrations, protests, and strikes has been—but it has been enormous, and the people of Sudan have seen just how powerful they are. Without a massive shift in economic priorities, which will entail cooperation from Sudan’s work force, agriculture will continue to decline; the ability to finance critical imports—including food, medicine, and refined petroleum products—will further diminish; and inflation that has brought so many Sudanese families to the very edge of survival continues to roar ahead, even as the Sudanese Pound continues its precipitous collapse.

More Challenges
Even now, of course, we must note Sudanese concern about what is not in the CC, and that is the July agreement between the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF). The armed opposition has universally rejected the CC of August 4, and several political parties in Khartoum have now insisted that any real path forward requires much more participation from those in the armed movements, and especially civil society elements from the regions where the movements have been most active: Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Pessimism is in no short supply.

How will we know if this broadly shared pessimism is warranted? Usefully, the text of the CC provides for some early tests of the military’s willingness to embrace the ideals set forth:

[1] “All people, bodies, and associations, whether official or unofficial, are subject to the rule of law” (§ 5.i). Will we see any change in Darfur, where the rule of law has been only a vague rumour for two decades and more? Where rape, murder, abduction, and pillaging are virtually daily events?

[2] “Upon assuming their positions, members of the Sovereignty Council, Cabinet, governors or ministers of provinces or heads of regions and members of the Transitional Legislative Council submit a financial disclosure including their properties and obligations, including those of their spouses and children, in accordance with the law”(§18.i). Does this apply to RSF commander Hemeti? Will he disclose fully his stake in the large industrial conglomerate Al Junaid Industrial Group, based in the United Arab Emirates? And the role of his brother in the company? And the investments of National Intelligence and Security officials who have been reported as having invested in Al Junaid?

[3] “The General Intelligence Service is a uniformed agency that is competent in national security. Its duties are limited to gathering and analysing information and providing it to the competent bodies. The law defines its obligations and duties, and it is subject to the sovereign and executive authorities by law” (§36). Can we expect to see an end to the arrests and torture for which the “former” National Intelligence and Security Services are notorious? Will all arrests be made only by policemen? These questions are also raised by §45: “Every person has the right to freedom and security. No one shall be subjected to arrest or detention, or deprived of freedom or restricted therefrom except for cause in accordance with procedures defined by law.”

[4] §56 speaks of “the right to access the internet, without prejudice to public order, safety, and morals…” Will we see this? And who decides what is a threat to “to public order, safety, and morals”? Is the conditionality of this language a way to justify future internet shutdowns?

[5] §64 speaks of the State undertaking “to provide primary health care and emergency services free of charge for all citizens, develop public health, and establish, develop and qualify basic treatment and diagnostic institutions.” Does this mean that the ghastly humanitarian embargo imposed by the al-Bashir regime will at long last be lifted from large areas of South Kordofan, after eight years of suffering, hunger, and denial of assistance?

This last test of the intentions of the military could be met tomorrow if a signal were sent to the international community that it should begin to prepare to bring assistance to all parts of South Kordofan and Blue Nile—and that restrictions on aid delivery in Darfur will also be ended.

In short, we could know very soon whether the Transitional Military Council, prior to its dissolution, means to send a signal of good faith. I’m not holding my breath.

* All citations are from a translation of the version of the Constitutional Charter that was signed on 4 August 2019, prepared by International IDEA (www.idea.int).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributing author or media and do not necessarily reflect the position of Radio Dabanga.

Eric Reeves is a regular contributor and commentator to Radio Dabanga. He is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Fran├žois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, who has spent the past 20+ years as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively both in the USA and internationally **.
His book about Darfur (A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide) was published in May 2007. He has recently published Compromising with Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 — 2012 (available at no cost as an eBook)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

S.Sudan gets unity govt to end war after 400,000 killed - Pope kissed leaders' feet to encourage peace

  • South Sudan opened a new chapter in its fragile emergence from civil war Saturday as rival leaders formed a coalition government that many observers prayed would last this time around.
  • A day after President Salva Kiir dissolved the previous government, opposition leader Riek Machar was sworn in as his deputy, an arrangement that twice collapsed in fighting during the conflict that killed nearly 400,000 people.
  • In a likely sign of caution, no heads of state aside from Sudan’s leader, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, attended the swearing-in. 
  • As some analysts said the threat of further sanctions pushed Kiir and Machar to make peace once more, envoys from neighboring Sudan, Kenya and Uganda in remarks after the swearing-in called for the lifting of existing sanctions, to applause. Read more by Associated Press here below.
Photo: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir (right) shakes hands with First Vice President Riek Machar at his swearing-in ceremony at the State House in Juba on Saturday. | AFP-JIJI

South Sudan gets unity government that could end war
News report from Japan Times
By Associated Press (AP) 

23 Feb 2020 (JUBA) – South Sudan opened a new chapter in its fragile emergence from civil war Saturday as rival leaders formed a coalition government that many observers prayed would last this time around.

A day after President Salva Kiir dissolved the previous government, opposition leader Riek Machar was sworn in as his deputy, an arrangement that twice collapsed in fighting during the conflict that killed nearly 400,000 people.

Kiir declared “the official end of the war, and we can now proclaim a new dawn.” Peace is “never to be shaken ever again,” the president said, adding that he had forgiven Machar and asking for Machar’s forgiveness, to applause. He called on their respective Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups to do the same.

The world’s youngest nation slid into civil war in 2013, two years after winning a long-fought independence from Sudan, as supporters of Kiir and Machar clashed. Numerous attempts at peace failed, including a deal that saw Machar return as vice president in 2016 — only to flee the country on foot months later amid fresh gunfire.

Intense international pressure followed the most recent peace deal in 2018. Pope Francis in a dramatic gesture kissed the feet of Kiir and Machar last year to coax them into putting differences aside. Saturday’s ceremony began with a presentation to them of that photo as a reminder.

Exasperation by the United States, South Sudan’s largest aid donor, and others grew as Kiir and Machar in the past year pushed back two deadlines to take the crucial step of forming the coalition government. But with less than a week before the latest deadline Saturday, each made a key concession.

Kiir announced a “painful” decision on the politically sensitive issue of the number of states, and Machar agreed to have Kiir take responsibility for his security. On Thursday, they announced they had agreed to form a government meant to lead to elections in three years’ time — the first vote since independence.

“Finally, peace is at our doorstep,” a reporter with the U.N.-backed Radio Miraya declared from Bor in long-suffering Jonglei state. In Yambio, youth with flags were reported in the streets. “I rejoice with the South Sudanese, especially the displaced, hungry and grieving who waited so long,” the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tweeted.

Hugs and applause followed Machar’s swearing-in. He vowed to South Sudanese to work together “to end your suffering.”

And both he and Kiir thanked the pope for his gesture. “We are proud to report to him that we have also reconciled,” Kiir said. “We were greatly humbled and challenged” by him, Machar said.

Even as citizens breathed a careful sigh of relief, aid groups, analysts and diplomats warned of major challenges ahead. In a likely sign of caution, no heads of state aside from Sudan’s leader, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, attended the swearing-in.

“While much work remains to be done, this is an important milestone in the path to peace,” the U.S. Embassy said in a message of congratulations. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it a “significant achievement.”

Tens of thousands of rival forces still must be knitted together into a single army, a process that the U.N. and others have called behind schedule and poorly provisioned.

And observers have stressed that this new government must be inclusive in a country where fighting has often occurred along ethnic lines and where several armed groups operate. Not all have signed on to the peace deal.

Kiir and Machar have said outstanding issues will be negotiated under the new government.

Other vice presidents named by Kiir on Friday include Taban Deng Gai, a former ally of Machar who switched to the government side and last month was sanctioned by the U.S. over involvement in serious human rights abuses. Another is Rebecca Garang, the widow of John Garang, who led a long fight for independence from Sudan.

The humanitarian community, which has seen more than 100 workers killed since the civil war began, hopes the new government will lead to far easier delivery of food and other badly needed support as roughly half of South Sudan’s population of 12 million remain hungry. Some 40,000 are in famine conditions, a new report said Thursday, and now a major locust outbreak in East Africa has arrived.

Another more than 2 million people fled South Sudan during the civil war, and Kiir has urged them to come home.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan warns that serious abuses continue. “Civilians are deliberately starved, systematically surveilled and silenced, arbitrarily arrested and detained and denied meaningful access to justice,” its latest report said Thursday. It said scattered deadly violence, the use of child soldiers and sexual violence imperil the fragile peace.

The Sentry, an investigative team that has alleged corruption among some South Sudanese officials, urged the international community to keep up pressure.

“Years of conflict have bred deep distrust among South Sudan’s politicians, heightening the potential for a return to civil war,” it said Friday. “The ability to hold South Sudan’s politicians accountable throughout the process, rather than waiting until it is too late, is essential to the survival of the peace agreement.”

As some analysts said the threat of further sanctions pushed Kiir and Machar to make peace once more, envoys from neighboring Sudan, Kenya and Uganda in remarks after the swearing-in called for the lifting of existing sanctions, to applause.

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Pope kisses feet of South Sudan's leaders to encourage peace
Report from Associated Press (AP) by GIADA ZAMPANO
AP writer SAM MEDNICK in Juba, South Sudan contributed
Dated 11 April 2019
Photo: Pope Francis kneels to kiss the feet of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit, at the Vatican, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Pope Francis has closed a two-day retreat with South Sudan authorities at the Vatican with an unprecedented act of respect, kneeling down and kissing the feet of the African leaders. (Vatican Media via AP)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan's rival leaders Thursday, in an unprecedented act of humbleness to encourage them to strengthen the African country's faltering peace process.

Photo credit: Vatican Media via AP

At the close a two-day retreat in the Vatican for the African leaders, the pope asked South Sudan's president and opposition leader to proceed with the peace agreement despite growing difficulties. Then he got down on his knees and kissed the leaders' feet one by one.

The pope usually holds a ritual washing of the feet with prisoners on Holy Thursday, but has never performed such a show of deference to political leaders.

"I express my heartfelt hope that hostilities will finally cease, that the armistice will be respected, that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted, and that there will be a lasting peace for the common good of all those citizens who dream of beginning to build the nation," the pope said of South Sudan in his closing statement.

Photo credit: Vatican Media via AP

The spiritual retreat brought together President Salva Kiir and opposition head Riek Machar. Also present were Kiir's three vice presidents. The pope kissed the feet of all of them.
Photo credit: Vatican Media via AP

South Sudanese Vice President Rebecca Nyandeng Garang said Francis' actions moved her profoundly.
"I had never seen anything like that. Tears were flowing from my eyes," she said.

South Sudan, gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and in 2013, the country plunged into a bloody civil war, which left at least 400,000 people dead.

The two-day Vatican meeting was held a month before the end of the shaky peace deal's pre-transitional period. On May 12th, opposition leader Machar is expected to return to South Sudan and once again serve as Kiir's deputy.

However, the agreement, which was signed in September in Khartoum, the capital of neighboring Sudan, has been met with delays, missed deadlines and continued fighting with key aspects still not implemented.

A military coup in Sudan on Thursday fueled worries in South Sudan that the toppling of longtime President Omar al-Bashir could derail the already fragile peace deal.

"Sudan has helped us with the peace deal. We hope that the new system will also focus on the agreement, ensuring that it will be implemented," said opposition leader Machar, who attended an evening prayer vigil for peace, held at Rome's church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
Photo credit: Vatican Media via AP

Vice president Rebecca Nyandeng Garang said she was very touched by Francis' show of respect for her country. "I had never seen anything like that. Tears were flowing from my eyes," she said.