LAWMAKERS SENT AN IMPORTANT message to the State Department this month: When it comes to Sudan, empty diplomatic gestures are no longer enough. Both houses of Congress unexpectedly rushed passage of the Sudan Peace Act in the final weeks before recess-approving the bill 359-8 (with 64 not voting) in the House on Oct. 7, and passing it without a roll-call vote in the Senate on Oct. 9.
Passage begins "an important policy shift in how our government deals with the horrors in Sudan," according to U.S. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.). The new law should shut down status-quo diplomacy that until now favored both sides equally in negotiations to end the country's two decades of war. Burden of proof now rests with the Islamic government in Khartoum.
The law condemns the Khartoum regime's "overall human rights record" and blames it for "abetting and tolerating" the slave trade and manipulating humanitarian aid. It sets a six-month deadline for Khartoum to negotiate in good faith with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the single largest rebel faction, led by John Garang. It requires the executive branch to report to Congress every six months on whether the government is "engaged in good faith negotiations."
Failing that, the president can broaden sanctions against Sudan and petition the UN Security Council to embargo oil and arms sales with Sudan. The president also is authorized to spend $100 million in humanitarian aid to areas outside the government's control. This specifically applies to regions where Khartoum has prohibited UN relief flights (and areas where human rights abuses were reported by WORLD, including the Blue Nile region, Western Upper Nile, and Nuba Mountains). The measure calls for the State Department to investigate war crimes, which should include atrocities committed against Sudanese Christians since the Islamic regime took power.
That kind of specificity has to make Khartoum wonder, "'Where did this come from?'" said Michael Horowitz, director of the Project for International Religious Liberty at the Hudson Institute and a chief proponent of the legislation. "Like it or not, Khartoum is now where the South African apartheid government was," he told WORLD. "They are never going to escape the spotlight. If they don't get the message, time is no longer on their side. Sitting down at the table is no longer enough."
Sudan government officials soon agreed to resume negotiations with SPLA leaders. They signed a ceasefire pact with the SPLA on Oct. 15 at the start of another round of peace talks in Machakos, Kenya. "This is the first time that there has been a linkage between military hostilities and peace talks," said SPLA spokesman Samson Kwaje.
During the first round of talks in July, Khartoum said it would agree to a referendum on secession for the south. It also said Islamic law could be lifted for the south. But those concessions face opposition from Egypt, where officials oppose dividing the country because they want to protect their country's water supply via Nile tributaries that begin in the south. The talks initially broke down because government forces continued bombing civilian sites in the south, and SPLA forces took key cities.
While humanitarians in Washington celebrated the Sudan package, sparring humanitarians in New York showed just how difficult it is to work with the Khartoum government. Sudan announced it would lift a Sept. 27 ban on flights of food and other aid to southern Sudan in what a spokesman for Secretary General Kofi Annan heralded as "allowing the resumption of routine relief activities."
Not so, countered Bernt Aasen, Mr. Annan's deputy in south Sudan. "We are still more restricted than ever before," he said. While Khartoum lifted the flight ban in certain areas, it gave new orders shutting down airspace near the key towns of Juba and Yei, along with 61 other named locations. The effect of that order was to prohibit use of the only airstrip that could serve the newly allowed UN flights.
"News that the Sudanese government has lifted its ban on humanitarian aid to Sudanese in the south, and recent agreements to resume peace negotiations give the impression the situation in Sudan is stable and acceptable," said Ken Hackett of Catholic Relief Services. "It is neither. The situation in Sudan is urgent and deteriorating."