(Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in the Sudan Tribune.)
Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir recently launched a nationwide sweep rounding up political opponents in a crackdown reminiscent of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” which marked the launch of Hilter’s Final Solution to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Preventive diplomacy is urgently needed to prevent further violence in Sudan. To this end, the Obama administration should focus on changing the regime’s behavior by encouraging dialogue between to pro-democracy Sudanese activists and the Government in Khartoum. Failing that, more coercive diplomacy’ in the form of political and economic sanctions, safe areas, and no-fly zones should be considered against Khartoum’s state-sponsored terror.
Bashir’s brutal crackdown against political opponents is part of a pattern that has existed since his National Congress Party (NPC) seized power in 1989. Bashir fomented a civil war with South Sudan in which three million Christian southerners were killed. The 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was mediated by the United States, ending the fighting and prescribing a process for self-determination in South Sudan.
Bashir responded by attacking Darfur to distract Sudanese from the NPC’s defeat. More than 300,000 Darfuris were killed and a million displaced by the Sudanese armed forces and government-backed Arab militias.
After 99.7 percent of South Sudanese voted for independence last summer, Bashir sought retribution by turning on the Nuba Mountain allies of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The SPLM led the fight for South Sudan’s independence. The SPLM-North is a political organization working for democratization in Sudan. Thousands were killed in South Kordofan, with satellite photography confirming at least three mass graves.
Violence has continued to escalate. Recent attacks in the Blue Nile region have involved indiscriminate aerial assaults from fixed wing aircraft and helicopter gunships. Civilians have been slaughtered and
villages razed. Bashir also announced plans to make Sudan an Islamic state, ruled by Shariah law.
Sudanese must come together to find a solution. The U.S. can help by supporting dialogue and consensus-building among pro-democracy factions. Armed movements seeking Bashir’s ouster should give negotiations another chance lest their actions be used to justify the NPC’s policy of murder and displacement.
The Obama administration cannot act alone, but it can take the lead fostering international cooperation aimed at saving lives and preventing the worsening of Sudan’s humanitarian catastrophe. Britain and France can be counted on to support a more robust approach. Other members of the Security Council have been reluctant to support sanctions against Syria. However, Sudan is a different case. China is typically the strongest opponent of political and economic sanctions, and has protected Sudan at the UN. However, Beijing may view Sudan differently now that the South—with 80 percent of Sudan’s oil—is independent.
As a first step, the Obama administration should sponsor a resolution by the UN Security Council condemning Khartoum’s aggression against South Sudan as well as the killing of civilians in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile State. It should call on Khartoum to stabilize the situation and engage in political talks with opposition groups.
If Khartoum’s aggression continues, the Security Council should adopt a follow-on resolution imposing political sanctions, such as travel bans for Bashir and his inner circle, freezing their personal bank accounts, and requiring economic sanctions especially on oil sales.
If preventive diplomacy fails, more coercive measures will be necessary. As a last resort, the Security Council can authorize NATO to enforce safe areas and a no-fly zone. NATO assets are nearby and can readily be redeployed.
Sudan’s transition must be led by Sudanese. To this end, opposition groups should establish a transitional national council and designate a negotiating team for political talks with Khartoum. The international community will only act after political and diplomatic options have been exhausted and Sudanese have shown that they have done everything possible to achieve a peaceful, negotiated solution.
Bashir should have a last chance to change his regime’s behavior before Sudanese proclaim regime change as their goal. If political talks fail and Khartoum continues its Kristallnacht tactics, the international community would be compelled to act. The Arab Spring has shown that people power can bring down tyrannical regimes that try to hold onto power by slaughtering their citizens.
David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, and a Fellow at Harvard University’s Project on the Future of Diplomacy. His upcoming book is entitled ‘Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and U.S. Intervention.’