Both Sudan and South Sudan in aching need of a little brotherly love

Sudan was once the largest country in Africa at a million square miles. Then the British ripped it into two using the pretext of a referendum on a rigged ballot in which South Sudanese refugees and those displaced to the North were denied the vote. All this “for the good of Sudan”.

It is way past time for us to stop “playing the Great Game”. We are not good at it and we were never good at it.

And now the North is riven by war, and South Sudan is riven by war. And come the day they solve that, they will probably start fighting each other.

Unless, that is, we start seeing a little brotherly love.

And the easiest conflict to solve is the worst of conflicts, that in the South Sudan between Southerners backing the President and Southerners backing the exiled Vice President.

President of South Sudan, the war leader Salva Kiir, sits in Juba, the capital. The exiled vice president, his political rival Reik Machar, sits in South Africa. And church leaders go back and forth between them. Which doesn’t work.

What is needed is a conference for representatives of both sides to come together. And not in South Sudan. Nor in South Africa. Nor in any other Arab or African country, all of which will be regarded as parti-pris.

No, it should be in Britain. After all, we were the ones who created the mess in the first place.

And why not go for the whole deal while we are about it. A conference on all the issues of the South and the North, as all the issues are interrelated, with Northerners fighting for factions in the South and vice-versa. Indeed, with everyone fighting each other.

Worth a shot wouldn’t you say? Perhaps we’ll try it. Somebody should.

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Discrimination and Intolerance against Women

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.

FGM: Why have we not eradicated it yet?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) causes severe bleeding and health issues including cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth. It affects at least 200 million girls and women alive today. Despite this, very few charities, Non-Government Organisations or activist groups focus on this as one of the most serious issues the globe currently faces. FGM could be eradicated within one generation yet the current response to FGM by government and the media is one of denial and inaction. Why is this?

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The UN defines FGM as all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and this is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

FGM is a global problem, not just an issue facing central African countries, and should be tackled as such. The UN have been ignoring the prevalence of FGM globally most particularly in parts of the Middle East and Asia. Indian activist, Masooma Ranalvi, recently urged governments and donor countries to help fund research and data collection in Asia at the 2017 ‘Ban FGM’ conference in Rome. This would allow a much better picture of the seriousness of FGM across the globe and would help to spotlight which countries and cultures need the most attention.

It is not just a lack of funding and research which undermines attempts to eradicate FGM. Many cases of FGM go unreported but cases which are reported tend to have very lenient prison sentences. This sends the wrong signal to those who continue to practise FGM. In January 2017, four people were prosecuted for FGM after 17-year-old Mayar Mohamed Moussa died from undergoing a procedure in Egypt. Mayar’s mother and doctor were given a fine of £1000 (EYP) and a suspended sentence of only one year. Lawyer Reda Eldanbouki, who was representing Mayar, expressed shock at the sentences saying “it is unfair and unjust and will be ineffective as it sends the wrong signal”.

A serious side effect has occurred because of the pressure that is starting to be put on communities that perform FGM in Africa. There are a greater number of reports suggesting FGM is being performed on much younger girls and in the dead of night in order for people to avoid the consequences of the law. This ‘under the radar’ approach makes it more complicated for authorities to effectively deal with the problem. The UN and human rights groups need to come together to stop these inhumane procedures by educating people on the dangers of procedures being done incorrectly or in unsanitary conditions.

We have an obligation as compassionate humans to eradicate FGM and help to rebuild the lives of the millions of women and girls it has already affected.

Darfur: A forgotten conflict

The conflict in Darfur is worse than ever, the Government’s forces and militias continue to kill civilians with complete immunity (the rebels to a lesser extent too, but they tend to target government forces), yet the atrocities remain completely out of the news.

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Journalists lazily continue to quote 300,000 deaths, despite the fact that they have been using that figure since 2005! It must be millions of people dead by this point, and that’s before we think of the drought, floods (very bad this month, destroying the crops) and poverty. More babies are dying today and each day from severe malnutrition across Darfur but no one knows or is doing anything about it. The UN has described Sudan’s western Darfur region as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with more than 2.3 million people having been displaced, most of them living in squalid camps in Darfur and neighbouring Chad (this figure is based on the 2015 figures which has yet to be updated – further evidence of a lack of interest in the region). Peacekeepers and aid workers have restricted access to those in need, yet the ongoing hardships for the people of Darfur is eclipsed by other crisis such as the Syrian Refugees. The conflict flared in 2003 when rebels in Darfur took up arms, accusing the government of neglecting the region. The government responded with a counter-insurgency campaign. Since then, civilians have come under attack from government troops, pro-government militia and rebel groups. Arab militias are also fighting each other, and there are frequent clashes between tribes. Levels of violence fell after 2005, but have risen since the start of 2013. Nearly 400,000 people were displaced in the first half of 2014 alone.

The question remains, how do we help people to realise the issues that plague Darfur and pay at least some attention to them?

South Sudan: A war of Ethnicity or a Power Struggle

President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice-President Riek Machar Teny during happier and more agreeable times.

South Sudan is arguably experiencing its greatest level of crisis since its independence in 2011. President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his deposed Vice-President Riek Machar Teny have divided the country and caused a civil war that does not appear to be coming to an end, despite poorly conceived and ill thought out token UN sanctions that were issued in August 2015 and the threat of more if a ceasefire was not called. The country has been plunged into chaos since the war began in 2013, caused by a mixture of personal problems and ethnic conflicts. President Kiir and Vice-President Machar represent the two largest ethnic groups, Nuer and Dinka, and the apparent ethical reasons for war has created extreme tension, distrust and hatred amongst the South Sudanese people. Amnesty International have documented instances of door-to-door searches for men of particular ethnicity and in one case reported that 200-300 Neur men were shot at a police station in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Other instances of mass killings, sexual violence and other war crimes, committed by both sides, have been reported by journalists and human rights groups. It is estimated by the UN that there are around 9000 child soldiers in what is an extremely bloody and violent war. The Sentry reported that around 2.3 million people have been displaced from their homes since war broke out and suggest that the war is about a struggle for power and nothing to do with ethnicity. The excuse of ethnicity is arguably just being used to gather support for either side, but it is working and has split South Sudan causing families and communities to be ripped apart. Their report argues that the war only serves the personal agendas of each man and the groups of elite leaders who profit from the conflict.

An image showing the divides between the two largest tribes in the South Sudan

The former deputy governor of South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, John Ivo Mounto explains the confusion felt by many in the worst affected regions: 

“You don’t understand who is in control. Is it the chief of general staff or President Salva Kiir or Jieng council of elders? It is like the country is being run like individual property, and more especially the way the soldiers have been committing serious atrocities, killing innocent people, raping young ladies and even to an extent of raping lactating mothers, women who have just delivered, which is totally morally wrong and unacceptable in South Sudanese cultures”

This confusion, lack of unity and divisive leadership perpetuates the chaos which is at a tipping point and this is likely to continue until the UN steps in and applies harsher punishments to bring the war to a swift end.

The Futility of the ICC in Sudan

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The relationship between the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has continued to deteriorate since the decision in December 2014 to shelve Darfur war crimes probe. The ICC ruled that Sudan had failed to arrest Omer Hassan al-Bashir over alleged war crimes in the western region of Darfur and passed the case to the Security Council to take “the necessary measures they deem appropriate”. This request came three months after the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she was suspending her criminal investigations of Darfur atrocities because they could not make progress without cooperation from Sudan and coercive pressure from the Security Council.

The pre-trial chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that Sudan failed to cooperate with the court by not arresting and surrendering president Bashir to the Court. The chamber stressed that “if there is no follow up action on the part of the UNSC, any referral by the council to the ICC under chapter VII of the UN Charter would never achieve its ultimate goal, namely, to put an end to impunity.”

Sudan is not a state party to the ICC Rome Statute and has no obligation to cooperate with the ICC. Sudan cooperated with the court until the first arrest warrant against Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb and former state minister for interior Ahmed Haroun were issued in 2007. Despite findings of non-cooperation being referred by ICC judges to the UNSC, the council has declined to take action mainly over China’s likely move to block any resolution that would compel Sudan to cooperate.

Following this, Sudan’s information minister Ahmed Bilal Osman stated that, “The decisions of the ICC are not in any way binding to the Sudanese government and raising Sudan’s case with the Security Council reflects the failure of the ICC.” He also went on to claim that “The ICC knows it doesn’t scare Sudan at all.” This clearly indicates the ICC’s standing in Sudan with Bashir and his fellow cronies continuing to thumb their noses at the court.

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber I issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir, on 4th March 2009 on charges of genocide and war crimes in Darfur, along with defence minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, former state minister for interior Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb. The chamber claimed there were reasonable grounds to believe that Bashir is criminally responsible for five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. The same chamber, albeit with a different composition, issued a second warrant of arrest for Bashir on 12 July 2010, for three counts of genocide.

UNSC referrals have proved the most contentious route to achieving ICC jurisdiction, as has been the case with Sudan and Libya. Therefore the controversy with ICC referrals by the UNSC is that they may be regarded as a violation of State sovereignty and non-intervention, two principles enshrined in international law.

Inaction by the UNSC may be due to the strong outrage from the African Union and controversy surrounding the arrest warrant for a standing Head of State. Following intense criticism from members of the international community, the UNSC should have perhaps chosen to pursue reconciliation in Sudan, rather than further exacerbate the problem by facilitating the prosecution of Bashir.

The biggest flaw of the ICC is that its effectiveness depends on the cooperation of governments. It is not the independent judicial body it pretends to be. Its jurisdiction can be dictated at the say-so of the Security Council. In the last six years, all the ICC and UNSC have done is pass the Sudan case back and forth between themselves with not one single suspect in custody.

Many experts are beginning to say that the ICC is a failed experiment. Given that the ICC operates in a hostile political environment with its personality clashes and poor management, it was only a matter of time before it faced serious obstacles. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to launch a campaign to discredit the legitimacy of the ICC, following its announcement that it would pursue a war crimes probe against Israel over its 50-day attacks on Gaza last year.

Is the lack of backing from the US, Russia and China the reason for its lack of credibility and failure to be taken seriously as an international organisation? More than a decade after its creation, the ICC is still struggling to find its foothold, jeopardising its already fragile reputation as a truly global court.