Can the U.S. Use its Upcoming Security Council Presidency to Help Save Lives in Sudan?

 

The Security Council did something truly extraordinary last week, particularly given recent dissent among its members over Syria and other geopolitical issues implicating human rights: on March 6 it issued a Presidential Statement on Sudan and South Sudan that appears to exhibit a growing international consensus on certain critical issues, among them, humanitarian access to civilian populations on the verge of starvation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the final status of the disputed Abyei area, and the negotiation process between Khartoum and Juba, including the issues of oil, the North-South border, and arrangements concerning citizenship and residency.

While presidential statements do not carry the force of a Security Council resolution, they do require consensus among the council’s members prior to issuance. Rather surprisingly, reports indicate that it took merely a week for the council to negotiate the text of the statement. While the statement certainly exhibits a degree of consensus among council members on a host of critical issues affecting the two Sudans, U.N. watchers have indicated that there appears to remain differences between certain members on the council’s approach. Specifically, Russia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and India all seem to be of the opinion that the council’s rhetoric on the issues addressed in the statement should be balanced in its condemnation of Juba and Khartoum.

The statement chronicles recent agreements signed by the government of Sudan and the government of South Sudan and by Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, among them the June 28 framework agreement on political and security arrangements for the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile and the June 20 agreement on temporary arrangements for Abyei. The Security Council notes that neither of these two agreements, along with others, has been fully implemented and “demands” the relevant parties to immediately do so. On Abyei, in particular, the council demands that Khartoum and Juba “work actively toward a long-term political resolution of Abyei’s final status.”

Concerning the impending famine in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the council, in an impressive demonstration of international solidarity surrounding the issue of humanitarian access to civilian populations, demands:

…the Government of Sudan and the SPLM N cooperate fully with the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies and organizations, and ensure, in accordance with international law, including applicable international humanitarian law, and guiding principles of emergency humanitarian assistance, the safe, unhindered and immediate access of United Nations and other humanitarian personnel, as well as the delivery of supplies and equipment, in order to allow such personnel to efficiently perform their task of assisting conflict-affected civilian populations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States.

The council goes onto urge the Sudanese government to sign the United Nations, African Union, and Arab League’s so called “Tripartite Proposal” for the delivery of international humanitarian aid to the two states, to which the SPLM-N has already agreed.

These strong statements from the council should, no doubt, be applauded as a positive step towards building strong international consensus around, among other things, the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where an estimated 400,000 civilians risk starvation in the coming weeks and months. The council’s demand that Khartoum agree to the Tripartite Proposal could serve to further solidify this consensus and help to ensure that aid reaches civilians in need—if heeded.

That said, there are some potential pitfalls with the proposal, chief among them, the absence of a timeline for implementation of the proposal’s terms and an explicit preservation of Khartoum’s rights, through its Humanitarian Aid Commission, or HAC, to control movements of persons and aid into and out of the two states. The latter is, of course, a nod to Sudan’s sovereignty, perhaps a necessary diplomatic line but also a useful loophole for Khartoum to exploit. However, given Khartoum’s propensity to conclude agreements in bad faith and delay or outright obstruct implementation of such agreements, these issues could cause the Tripartite Proposal to meet with the same fate as so many disavowed agreements that have come before it.

Next month, the United States assumes the presidency of the Security Council. This will provide the U.S. with the opportunity to take an even greater leadership role in terms of championing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of vulnerable populations throughout Sudan. The Obama administration should not let this opportunity slip away, particularly in light of building consensus among council members on critical issues affecting the two Sudans.

Indeed, among other things, the U.S. could use its assumption of the council presidency as an opportunity to introduce a Security Council resolution concerning the issues addressed in the recent presidential statement. Such a resolution could demand Khartoum’s immediate agreement to the Tripartite Proposal and further provide for a concrete timeline and implementation benchmarks designed to maximize the proposal’s effectiveness. The U.S., along with other members of the council, should also seek an express agreement on the part of Khartoum to not use HAC to frustrate implementation of the proposal. Such steps could go a long way in ensuring that the Sudanese government is not able to effectively undercut the proposal through characteristic delay tactics and manipulation of the text’s terms.

Photo: U.N. Security Council (AP)

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