UN Envoy to Asharq Al-Awsat: Sudan Transition Will Be Fragile and Need Military Protection

Tuesday, 16 July, 2019 - 10:30
New York - Ali Barada

United Nations Secretary-General's special adviser on Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, revealed that the international community has thrown its weight behind the African Union initiative on the transition of power following the ouster of president Omar al-Bashir.

In exclusive remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said the UN took a position early on to support the initiative. He added that the international community wanted a to “see a clear commitment: a civilian led authority, but we would recognize that the transition would be a fragile and volatile period, and it will need the military to protect it.”

*It seems that the parties in Sudan have made some progress toward settling the situation there after toppling Bashir rule. How do you view this development from a UN perspective?

- The UN took a position early on to support the African Union initiative. The African Union has set a benchmark which was to transfer from military rule to a civilian led authority. It is not quite clear what a civilian led authority means in detail, but of course what is important is that the Sudanese themselves agree on an arrangement that could be suggestive that it has the support of the civilian section of the dispute. It is quite clear from the agreement that there is some kind of partnership or alliance between the civilians and the military. But what is still disputed the exact terms of that partnership. I think from the international community, we would want to see a clear commitment: a civilian led authority, but we would recognize that the transition would be a fragile and volatile period, and it will need the military to protect it. At the same time, we would want to see civilians in charge of the business of governing and some respect for that from the military. How that will exactly play out we’ve yet to see. You may know that they are trying to agree a text as we speak. Hopefully they will finalize that soon to deal with some important issues, such as to how the relationship between the military and the civilians, will the military have a veto over the civilian decisions.

*So you don’t see what they have achieved so far as a breakthrough?

- It is a breakthrough that they reached an agreement. The terms of that agreement once they start to look at it, both sides realize they have different interpretations. So we wouldn’t celebrate it as a done deal until it is a done deal.

*How quickly do you want to see the powers transferred to civilians?

- I think the sooner the better. I must say the international community will feel uneasy dealing and making long term arrangements with the military authority. There is some impatience to see civilian authority in place, so we can begin to deal with some of the important issues which lie ahead. Now let just stress that Sudan is in a deep economic crisis apart from its political challenges. Digging at us is the economic crisis, is a medium to long term endeavor which will require the commitment of the member states, international financial institutions and the neighborhood to put in place a program which will see Sudan’s economic relationship with the rest of the world normalized. As you know, it is listed by the United States as a state sponsoring terrorism, which impacts also its attempts to secure debt relief. These things are all possible: lifting it of the list, securing the debt relief, and there is a considerable good will toward Sudan if it makes progress toward a civilian lead authority…

*How is the UN and yourself helping in achieving these objectives?

- We’ve been confining our support largely to securing international support for the African Union on this issue and its initiative. In other words, we’ve avoided trying to introduce a UN track in addition to the AU track. That would be problematic.

*We witnessed how the Arab world has extended some support in that direction.

- Yes, there is good will towards the efforts that the Sudanese people, because you know they’ve quite bravely trying to take their destiny in their own hands, and they’ve done that with discipline, and they’ve held six months of absolutely peaceful demonstrations despite provocations, and they’ve done so with considerable courage, and the participation of ordinary people. Look at the pictures, we would see women and children and ordinary people who are taking the streets.

Sudan needs Arab support

*What are your expectations from the Arab states? Sudan is an Arab country beside its African identity.

- There was a delegation from the League of the Arab States in Sudan. They’ve expressed support, and we would count on them to continue their support. We also need the support of the neighborhood which are across the Red sea including the Gulf countries. Bear in mind that Sudan is a poor country as well, and would need financial support not only from the Arab world but also from the rest of the world, but certainly from the Arab countries. Sudan itself certainly has an element of Arab and African identity, surrounded by African countries, and in particularly volatile region, the Horn of Africa. It is boarded by countries in conflict: Somalia, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Libya. If things go badly in Sudan, it would have an impact on the region as a whole, which is already quite fragile.

On the other hand, this is a remarkable opportunity for Sudan, not just to deal with its current political crisis, but also to deal with the problems and the fault lines which have affected it for more than fifty years, to create a new social contract which involves also, as they say in Sudan, not only the river on people but also the periphery and Darfur… So what we are hoping for is not this agreement coming up and trying to sign now, but a much larger agreement which would resolve the issues that the Sudanese face with each other across the regions of Sudan.

*Have you conveyed this message to the Sudanese?

- Yes, to the players, all of them, that this is to be sure a challenge, but also an incredible opportunity that shouldn’t let slip.

*What do you hear from them?

- They recognize that, and I think that both sides have prioritized the broader peace. The armed groups in different parts of the country has a priority facing the transitional government.

*So do you think this is an opportunity to lift Sudan not only from the current crisis but also from its chronic ills?

- Yes, from the chronic crisis that has been there for a long time. Yes.

*What do they have to do?

- I think in the first instance, they have to find a way in which the armed groups can participate in a larger discussion about how Sudan should be managed and governed.

*Is the UN willing and working on helping achieve this goal?

- We’ve been speaking to them, and encouraging people.

*Who did you speak with?

- I spoke recently to and to Malik Agar and Minni Minnawi… I was in Addis Ababa also. In the past I had a meeting with the military.

*It is worthwhile mentioning the military because of the major role they are playing now.

- They have both the power to take the country to a better place but also the power to insure that it slips into catastrophic crisis if they try to cling to power.

*So are you worried?

- No, that is why we are happy about the agreement because it seems to signal an appreciation that there needs to be a handover to a civilian authorities.

Jealous sub-regional organizations

*Let me be honest, there is this notion that the UN is useless when it comes to crises like this one. Why the UN would succeed in Sudan if it fails everywhere else?

- Let me try to repeat: we are not trying to lead the efforts in Sudan. It is quite right that the UN shouldn’t lead every effort where in Africa the regional and the sub-regional organizations are quite jealous about the need to be in the first instance those who try to resolve the problems in their own neighborhood. So that is not abandoning those people. We are behaving appropriately and in support of those who should take the lead. I am not sure that the UN is useless to the extent to which is more likely regarded as ineffective is not because of the staff of the UN or its methodologies, but that has been largely a reflection of the member states divisions and inability to find consensus in the Security Council.

*Is there enough support in the Security Council?

- I think there is one circumstance in which it is more likely to be broad base support, and that is the multilateral organizations of the continent have given a lead in the Security Council across its political spectrum is more likely to support that initiative.

*We have not seen a powerful product from the Security Council to support the efforts that you are making, and that of the AU?

- Well they issued a united statement days after they debated the situation in Sudan, and I think that was critically because the African Union had given a clear signal that it expected the Security Council to support it. That doesn’t really apply elsewhere very often.

*You are a mediator. Do you need the support of the Security Council?

- I think at the end of the day, the Security Council is the sort of ultimate authority, and if it can’t muster a voice to give a lead of an issue, then the mediator hands are also weakened.

Accountability for past crimes

*One of the other lingering issues is that Bashir and others have been indicted by the ICC, and there is a question about what is going to happen now with them.

- This is an issue that I think you have to turn to the Sudanese people to decide. I can’t be decided solely by the external community. They have to decide whether they want accountability for past crimes and how far they should go. You know the more immediate issue is not President Bashir. The more immediate issue is the killing of the protesters during the course of the this. The protesters have now demanded some form of accountability, and there is currently a debate in Sudan on whether that should have an international character or a national form of accountability. I don’t want to comment now on whether I prefer national or international accountability, but I would stress that the Sudanese should have ownership of it if it is going to have a more lasting effect… They have to support what form of accountability they choose. It needs to be part of there reconciliation process, and that is more likely to happen where there is national ownership, which may mean some international involvement or not.

*When are you going back to Sudan? What are you going to do?

- I hope I can go this week, and that there will be a signing ceremony for the agreement. This agreement will need to be developed as it goes along. It will need to be implemented and it won’t be easy. It is quite clear from what we’ve seen that there are different perspectives on how strong the supervisory role the military should have if at all, and how this will play out as they go forward in establishing a government and appointing ministers and other important aspects of the civilian rule.

*Is there a timeframe?

- There is no timeframe envisaged thus yet. But as we speak, Sudan is suspended by the African Union until such time where a civilian handover. The US Congress passed a resolution maintaining its suspension and sanction against the regime until there is a handover. So the sooner there is a handover the sooner Sudan can begin to normalize its both diplomatic and economic relations with the rest of the world.

*Also the Security Council suspended recently the withdrawal of UNAMID from Darfur.

- That’s right. There needs to be a discussion with the Sudanese government about the pulldown of UNAMID and the consequences of that pulldown, and the question that beg is who do we talk to, given that there is going to be a new civilian led government.

*And ultimately there should be some kind of elections...

- Ultimately this is about a transitional phase, which is about establishing a bridge to a normal situation, a democracy or whatever the country wants to establish. Transition normally culminate an election, then it stops to be a transition. It is a new government.

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