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How Should U.S. Proceed After Sudan’s Elections?

BY Larisa Epatko  April 21, 2010 at 10:15 AM EST
Ballots are counted in Sudan after elections in April. Photo by Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Ballots are counted in Sudan after elections in April. Photo by Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Preliminary results in Sudan’s general elections show President Omar al-Bashir about to win re-election after several major opposition candidates dropped out of the race.

The White House responded Tuesday by praising the people of Sudan for engaging in “peaceful and meaningful” elections, and recommitted to work with the international community to support implementation of other milestones under the 2005 North-South peace accord.

The statement, issued by press secretary Robert Gibbs, also pointed out that independent electoral observers found in their initial assessments that the elections did not meet international standards and that “there were reports of intimidation and threats of violence in South Sudan, ongoing conflict in Darfur did not permit an environment conducive to acceptable elections, and inadequacies in technical preparations for the vote resulted in serious irregularities.

“The United States regrets that Sudan’s National Elections Commission did not do more to prevent and address such problems prior to voting,” the statement said.

In October, the Obama administration unveiled its policy on Sudan that aimed at achieving results through engagement and dialogue.

“We’re going to ensure that every agreement, every decision that is made has a measurable benchmark, a milestone. And we will be looking at these, as best we can, to judge them in an objective way,” said U.S. special envoy to Sudan Maj. Gen. Scott Gration on the Oct. 19 NewsHour.

We asked several Sudan observers to give their takes on what the U.S. policy on Sudan should be. Here are their responses:

Mahgoub El-Tigani MahmoudMahgoub El-Tigani Mahmoud

Sudanese-born sociology professor at Tennessee State University

“The U.S. is expected to work closely with both the elected government of Sudan and the democratic opposition parties and civil society groups to help: 1) end the crisis in Darfur; 2) implement the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA); 3) execute the International Criminal Justice decisions; and 4) improve U.S.-Sudan bilateral relations to maintain regional and international peace.

“To end the crisis in Darfur, the U.S. needs to sponsor with the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Arab League an All-Sudanese National Constitutional Conference to resolve the crisis in Darfur based on full representation and full participation by all Darfuri armed and civil society groups, as well as the Sudanese national parties and civil society (especially the Umma, DUP, SPLM, the CP and active human rights and democracy organizations), and the two elected governments.

“To help implement the CPA treaty body, the U.S. needs to maintain a consistent friendly presence in the application of the peace process through the consultative functions of the (Sudanese) states’ signatories to the treaty. The remote control politics the two CPA partners frequently exercised in the previous five years (2005-2010) indicated they operated in a climate of hostilities and lack of trust. The U.S. needs to play the role of an effective mediator with the two governments, as well as the democratic opposition which has been wrongfully excluded from effective participation in national decision making by the CPA power deals, despite the sizable weight of the democratic opposition in Abyei and the other peace and development agenda.

“To help execute the International Criminal Court obligatory decisions, the U.S. needs to support firmly the ICJ decisions toward the crimes committed against humanity by state employees and militia groups in Darfur. This is a highly sensitive area that connects significantly with the root causes of the crisis and the essential procedures to end it.

“Finally, the U.S. needs to improve the U.S.-Sudan bilateral relations to boost trade, developmental schemes, health programs, democratic education and technological advancement to win partnership of the strategic Arab-African nation in the ongoing global efforts to maintain regional and international peace.”

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Maggie FickMaggie Fick

Field Researcher in Southern Sudan for the Enough project at the Center for American Progress

“Six months since the release of its new Sudan policy, the Obama administration’s approach to Sudan is faltering; at the very least, senior members of the Obama administration are clearly not singing from the same hymn sheet, which renders the attempt to implement a unified and comprehensive policy futile.

“Credit is due to the administration for putting a key mechanism at the heart of its strategy: a system of “benchmarks” which demand verifiable progress on a number of issues before the deployment by the U.S. of so-called incentives and pressures (or “carrots and sticks”) on the two parties to Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement: the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Juba, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Southern Sudan.

“The problem today is that the Obama administration does not seem to be evaluating the Sudanese parties based on this unspecified list of benchmarks, nor is it applying various pressures and incentives based on events on the ground in Sudan. In the electoral process currently wrapping up in Sudan, President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, did not hold a firm and principled line on the issue of the U.S. response to elections that have been undeniably set to be un-free and unfair since well before the polls opened on April 11. To be fair to the special envoy, his boss back in Washington has also failed since his election as president to come out with strong rhetoric, much less action, to make clear to the Khartoum regime that its behavior (such as blatantly rigging internationally supported elections and continuing to bomb areas in Darfur while simultaneously negotiating a peace agreement in Qatar) would have consequences vis-à-vis the U.S. role in Sudan.

“The U.S. policy toward Sudan should be what the Obama administration articulated back in October; a pragmatic and holistic approach to Sudan’s multiple and interconnected conflicts that relies on a clear benchmarks-based approach to hold the Sudanese parties accountable.”

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Andrew NatsiosAndrew Natsios

Former USAID administrator, now with Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service

“I think our policy should be twofold. One, I think that we should set limits that we and members of the international community — the African Union, Europeans, the United States, other members of the U.N. — will accept in terms of violence against civilians. Violence targeted against civilians under any circumstances is not acceptable, and the Sudanese government has done that for too long, but so have some of the rebel leaders in Darfur.

“But once we’ve established what those limits are, and I think we should take action if those limits are exceeded, our job should be basically to try to facilitate through mediation different conflicts within the country to see if they can’t be resolved politically.

“I do not think we can orchestrate from Washington everything that goes on in Sudan. It’s politically unrealistic, we don’t have the authority to do it, and it’s inappropriate, frankly, because people need to do what’s in their interest and they will do that as long as intimidation and violence is not part of the mix.”