In what was touted as a “major policy address” at the Atlantic Council, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth recommitted the United States to the goal of peaceful and democratic coexisting Sudans today.
The address was a welcomed highlight of the long-standing challenges in Sudan and of one of the greatest humanitarian emergencies in the world today in South Sudan. But the speech was light on substance and muddled in trying to strike a tough balance between condemning severe abuses and welcoming greater dialogue.
On South Sudan, where 3.9 million people need food assistance and 1.8 million people have been displaced by the conflict, Special Envoy Booth made a strong statement calling for UN Security Council sanctions on individuals responsible for blocking peace and humanitarian aid. The United States has already sanctioned four high-level military leaders, two each from the government and opposition forces.
Booth also restated his support for the mediation process led by regional countries (The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD) and laid out six pillars upon which South Sudan’s transition to peace should depend upon, including transitional security arrangements and justice and reconciliation efforts.
Not mentioned, however, was the passage of the latest IGAD deadline for a transitional agreement, which if taken literally would have been today. If the time is right for the UN Security Council to act with sanctions, then it is well past time for IGAD to act. Greater pressure by the United States and the international community is needed immediately to bring the warring parties to an agreement.
On Sudan, a difficult balance was struck with a listing of government abuses and continued impunity in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile on the one hand, but an appeal for improved bilateral relations on the other. Much was said about the so-called National Dialogue of the Sudanese government, though with cautious optimism and an acknowledgement that the United States is “deeply concerned” about the ongoing conflicts as the “dominant narrative”. However, references were also made to “normalization of relations” and a path toward debt relief.
From a human rights activist perspective amid the ongoing abuses in Sudan, this is a tough message to balance and though there were no substantive offers of normalization beyond the general rhetoric, the open hand gesture is misplaced with a government that has consistently abused human rights and continues to attack its citizens today.
In the end, the address can be said to have lived up to the “major address” billing but it needs to be followed up by action by the United States and the rest of the world to truly make a difference for the people in Sudan and South Sudan.