Most political figures and commentators, Sudanese and international, made up their minds about the AU Panel on Darfur report before they had seen the contents of the report. Many were then struck silent when the report was actually released. Some have had the grace to admit that they were surprised by how substantive and principled the report has proved to be. Others are still pondering their responses. One category of people is, however, disturbed by the report—those who want to continue with business as usual.
The AUPD report has challenged the Sudanese political forces, across the entire spectrum, to rise to their best analysis and strategy. Over the last few years, the politics of Darfur has been reduced to tactical posturing and grandstanding, without strategy or vision. Even those who disagree with the AUPD are obliged to concede that its comprehensive and rigorous nature requires a response that is equally thoughtful.
The Sudan Government has not made an official decision. Clearly, it has misgivings. The underlying message of the report is that Sudan is ruled by a minority elite, which must share power or face the demise of the country. That is an unwelcome message, and the responses of the Sudan Government to the report have been strategically silent on this, the central question in Sudanese political life.
The Sudan Government also does not like the fact that the AUPD proposal of a hybrid court means that accountability for gross violations of human rights must be taken seriously. It also does not like the politically realistic, and principled, position that the ICC is a fact of life and must be accepted as such. The AUPD could not dismantle the ICC or reverse the decisions of the prosecutor, even had it wished to do so. At the same time, the political reality is that the ICC arrest warrants can only be executed with the agreement of the Sudan Government, proceeding will be a Sudanese political decision. The Panel’s report says as much: if any global political agreement includes an item which is cooperating with the ICC, then that is the prerogative of the Sudanese people. Should an agreement be that there must be no cooperation, that is also their prerogative. A decision either way bears a political price.
Statements by Sudanese officials that they cannot accept the proposal of a hybrid court should not be taken at face value. Experience of negotiating with Khartoum is that red lines are rarely where they seem to be.
Many Darfurians have been surprised both by the seriousness of the Panel’s method and analysis, and the tough recommendations for what the Sudan Government needs to do to resolve the crisis. None among the rebels expected that the report would be so forthright. The basic analysis of ‘the Sudanese crisis in Darfur’ is not dissimilar from the critique of inequalities in power and wealth contained in the ‘Black Book’ and the SLM’s agenda of a New Sudan. Among the recommendations there are some that make the armed movements uncomfortable—for example the proposal that civil society, the pastoralists and the IDPs all be represented at peace talks—but if the rebel leaders reject the report on those grounds, they will face two sets of difficulties. First, these recommendations arose directly from the stakeholders’ own demands. Second, if they accept the basic analysis, criticizing the details is surely a mistake and a missed opportunity.
The more thoughtful members of the leadership of the armed movements are debating the AUPD report and recommendations. There is more substantive debate going on than in response to any other international analysis and proposals. An indication of this is the absence of public posturing.
The political parties and CSOs in Sudan, committed to an all-Sudan solution based on democratization and inclusive process, have been most welcoming of the AUPD report and recommendations, which they have endorsed enthusiastically. This represents the view of the majority of Sudanese.
Those who are most worried by the AUPD report and its recommendations are those who prefer to continue ‘business as usual’ in the hope that continuing to do things as they have been done in the recent past will yield results. Some Sudanese on both sides of the political divide have taken this approach, and one suspects that they are benefiting from the status quo, whether they reside in Khartoum or in European capitals. Among the internationals, the same is true. There is certainly reason to be forgiving to those who have tried but failed to make a dent on the formidably complicated problems of peace and protection in the last couple of years. It would be wrong to pass any harsh judgement on recent failures. Sadly, it is the nature of bureaucracy to prefer the comforts of routine, even if it entails almost sure failure, rather than to embrace the discomforts of exploring a breakthrough. The challenge is to use the AUPD report to leverage the kinds of progress that have been elusive for the last few years.