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November 8, 2008

Part of an insightful interview with John Prendergast

ST: Your letter discusses trying to achieve a credible deal for Darfur. What would that look like? How is this going to be different from the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) of 2006?

Prendergast: The DPA didn’t address the fundamental issues in Darfur. The DPA was a deeply, deeply flawed document that didn’t deal with the dismantling of the Janjaweed structures, didn’t adequately address the core demand of Darfurians from all walks of life that there would be substantial individual compensation—which is really what they’re seeking—and there was inadequate power-sharing and wealth-sharing terms. So until those issues are on the table and really being negotiated, there won’t be any peace in Darfur.

ST: You believe that peace-making in Sudan would be cost-effective. In what way?

Prendergast: What we’re doing now is we’re sending billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance and in support for observer forces—I can’t even say peacekeeping forces because they’re not keeping any peace—and we’re sending this money without any strategy for addressing the core problem, without any strategy of ending the problems. With these billions of dollars, we are simply managing the symptoms of the crisis in Darfur, not addressing the root causes.

Now we’ve got a chance, because the new administration is coming in, to re-focus the lense and say, instead of continuing with this sort of status quo working around the edges, let’s go at the core. Let’s deal with the crisis directly with a diplomatic strategy to try to end the war, which costs very little, and hopefully save over the next decade billions of dollars for humanitarian assistance and the peace observer mission and those kinds of forces.

ST: Is there anything that would justify deferring the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who is indicted on ten counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Prendergast: The charter of the ICC says that the Security Council can suspend, one year at a time, the proceedings of the case in the interests of peace and justice. If the Sudanese government signed a peace deal with the Darfurian rebels—a serious, significant peace deal that would address the concerns, that wasn’t a DPA-like document but actually was a real peace agreement like we have with the southern Sudanese, then we would be the first ones to argue for a suspension—for a year. And then if they don’t implement the agreement you let the case proceed.

But there are no adequate local mechanisms right now to deal with the enormity of the crimes. In a judicial sense I don’t think you can say that.

ST: The letter to the next president says that US should work with the European Union to bring sanctions against Sudan for leverage. But how will the US work with its partners in the Arab world?

Prendergast: It’s becoming an embarrassment for Arab countries to continuously back this government when this crisis simply sustains itself and nothing happens to diminish it. And the more that they have to defend this government from the rest of the world’s condemnations, the more irritating it becomes for some of these governments. So they have mounted behind Qatar in this effort, but the Qataris didn’t coordinate well with the Egyptians.  So that’s a problem within the Arab world—I’m sure that this process is structurally not yet sufficient to even begin to address the problems of Darfur, but you don’t want to dismiss things before they get started. The point is, a comprehensive approach to the problem in Darfur requires deep, serious and sustained engagement of the key countries in the Arab world, starting with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, working with them closely every step of the way.

ST: The letter to the next president states that the U.S. and the UN must not allow Khartoum to decide the size, national composition and timeframe for deployment of the UNAMID peacekeeping mission in Darfur. What mechanism is there to make this happen?

Prendergast: One of the main reasons countries are not supporting UNAMID is that there is no strategy for ending this thing, for ameliorating the conflict. So countries are not sending their forces to do traditional peacekeeping or peace observation, they’re going into a full-scale war that has no prospects for resolution. Very few countries want to send their troops into harm’s way. But if suddenly there is a political strategy and peace process that potentially could end this thing and deal with the serious challenges that Darfur presents, I am sure more countries would get on board.  We have got to get at the roots of resistance, the reason why these countries are not owning up is that this is a loser mission, because the war is going to continue in Darfur.

ST: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer was in Khartoum on Monday. She was in Juba too. Is that the equivalent of the “peace surge” you advocate, or is it different?

Prendergast: The internal divisions alone within the Bush administration have made that impossible. Bickering and undermining of Special Envoy Williamson ensures that the US efforts are divided and largely impotent in addressing the core problems of Darfur. And she has been a major part of the problem—the last envoy, Natsios, and this envoy—there are continuous problems between them and her. It appears she is just concerned about turf, who controls Sudan policy. Sadly, this is one of the obsessions of bureaucrats over the last century. And Jendayi Frazer appears to be no exception to that: controlling the policy appears more important than getting real progress on addressing the fundamental objectives.
   And what have we seen? We’ve seen no progress on rapid deployment of UNAMID, we’ve seen no progress in the peace process, we’ve seen very little support for real justice there, and the US isn’t supporting the ICC, we’re just sort of standing on the sidelines. So we’re doing very little to address the reasons that caused the problems there in Darfur.

ST: What leverage is there to bring rebel movements into negotiations? This administration has clearly failed to unite them, the UN has failed to unite them—is that the wrong approach?

Prendergast: The rebels will not be united in any significant way until there is a serious, sustained peace process that begins to lay out the core issues of concern to the people of Darfur. As long as there is no process, there is a vacuum in which individual assertion of control and inter-communal and inter-organizational divisions are hastening the dissolution of the social fabric of Darfur.  The rebels just have not had anybody to seriously deal with yet and until they do they are going to continue to play their games. And I think that’s really been the big failing of our international effort—we haven’t given these guys anything to buy into.
Again, the DPA was the antithesis of what needs to be a comprehensive peace deal.

ST: Obama and his team have spoken favorably of a no-fly zone in Darfur. If there is a no-fly zone, isn’t there potential for escalation of conflict with Sudan?

Prendergast: I think that a no-fly zone is one of these things that should only be deployed if necessary, after we’ve begun a process of dealing with these guys in a more serious way, with multilateral leverage, and if that doesn’t work you go to the next level.
The no-fly zone would entail, most likely, the capacity to bomb individual planes in the Sudanese airfields that have carried out offensive operations. In other words, if there’s an offensive bombing or military attack of a civilian target, then that plane would then be shot at. Probably destroyed on the tarmac. It would not be a simple thing because it would be an act of war and the Sudanese would potentially respond by cutting off all airspace for humanitarian flights. And then we’d have to be prepared to do much more than that, than what we had done just bombing one plane. So it should only be employed if there is a commitment to doing much more in case the Sudanese reaction is destructive towards humanitarian operations.

ST: How influential do you think the activist movement will be on the next administration?

Prendergast: Both candidates in the run-up to the election were responsive and sensitive to the concerns of the Sudan advocates and pledged to do much more than the current administration did on Sudan. I believe that there is a bipartisan commitment in capital hill and within the Obama camp to really make this concept of “Never Again” more meaningful than it has been.


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