Clear Benchmarks for Sudan


As tensions increase as the April 2010 elections and January 2011 referendum approach, the United States must ensure strict adherence to unambiguous benchmarks and apply pressures and incentives accordingly.


Policy paper by Enough Co-founder John Prendergast



In its Sudan policy review completed in mid-October 2009, the Obama administration indicated it would regularly assess the progress of peace in Sudan—or lack thereof. Administration officials have stated that the parties to Sudan’s multiple conflicts will be under the microscope, and held to clear and pre-determined benchmarks of progress.  The relative progress on these benchmarks would then determine the pressures and incentives—so-called “carrots” and “sticks”—that would be brought to bear in 2010, a year the Obama administration itself said, “can either lead to steady improvements in the lives of the Sudanese people or degenerate into even more violent conflict and state failure.”

To date, the Obama administration has not publicly disclosed the precise benchmarks it is applying to assess progress in Sudan, even as the official review process takes place this month and as tensions increase with the April national elections and January 2011 referendum on independence for southern Sudan rapidly approaching. To help bring transparency to the process by which the United States ensures strict adherence to unambiguous benchmarks, and ensure that the appropriate pressures and incentives are applied accordingly, this paper aims to provide guidance for how officials, concerned citizens, and others in the international community can assess genuine progress toward a lasting peace in Sudan.

Background: The Obama Administration’s clear statement of intent

The administration was clear in October 2009 that these benchmarks had to reflect substantive achievements in Sudan, not just rhetoric:

“Assessments of progress and decisions regarding incentives and disincentives must not be based on process-related accomplishments (i.e. the signing of a MOU or the issuance of a set of visas), but rather based on verifiable changes in conditions on the ground.”

The administration also spelled out an explicit process for measuring progress, built around quarterly reviews by deputies from a variety of agencies. Each quarter, and beginning this month, senior-level staff from various agencies are tasked with measuring progress in Sudan against a variety of indicators. A failure to improve conditions, the administration has said, “will trigger increased pressure on recalcitrant actors.”

As noted, the administration has chosen to keep the benchmarks it is utilizing in assessing progress in Sudan opaque. Neither the benchmarks themselves, nor the pressures and incentives that are to be deployed in response, are public. There are understandable reasons why the administration would choose to keep these protocols classified. However there appears to be some confusion within the U.S. government about the nature of these classified protocols and their use. Such confusion is concerning, because the administration must stick to its public commitment to review progress in Sudan and respond accordingly.

Success relies heavily on a consistent strategy of holding the parties in Sudan accountable for their actions. As President Obama said in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, “When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma—there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy—but there must be consequences when those things fail.”

The U.S. policy will only be effective if the administration is vigilant in responding to progress or a lack thereof. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is being sought by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. The U.S. government continues to declare that genocide is ongoing in Darfur. Holding to the benchmarks as laid out by the administration is crucial. Anything less would send a dangerous message to those perpetrating violence in Sudan that they can continue to act with the same impunity they have enjoyed in the past. Protecting Sudan’s civilians in this volatile and historic period is absolutely essential.

How can relative progress in Sudan be accurately assessed? There are a number of factors that should be considered in any principled set of benchmarks and watched closely over the next year. There is broad agreement among Sudanese and those concerned with the fate of Sudan that these benchmarks constitute the fundamental elements of a durable peace and serve as key indicators of progress toward that peace. In order to achieve a sustainable peace and avoid a return to war, all parties in Sudan must address these core issues.