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ISS Roundtable Report: The situation between Sudan (South Kordofan and Blue Nile) and South Sudan
Date: 27 June 2012

Organised by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS)


On 27 June 2012, the ISS-Addis Ababa organised a roundtable focusing on the current relations between the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan and the humanitarian situation in the border areas. With more than 70 participants, nine out of the fifteen members of the Peace and Security Council (PSC), members of the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC), officials of the AU Commission, and the AU Border Programme present, this roundtable was well attended by members of the diplomatic corps in Addis Ababa.

Opening remarks

In his opening remarks, Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya, the ISS-Addis Ababa Office Regional Director, pointed out that the objective of the roundtable was to discuss humanitarian and civilian protection in the border areas of the Sudan and South Sudan, with specific emphasis on Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei. He added that the roundtable aimed at providing a forum for the members of the AU PSC to engage with researchers, humanitarian workers and officials working in these areas, particularly Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. The ultimate purpose of the roundtable was to inform the decision of the PSC to enhance civilian and humanitarian protection.


The roundtable was chaired by Ambassador Peter Robleh, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Members of the Horn Economic Social Policy Institute (HESPI), and brought together speakers from both the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan. These speakers included  Dr Lual Deng, former Finance Minister of the Republic of Sudan and currently the Managing Director, Ebony Centre for Strategic Studies, Juba, South Sudan; Dr Ahmed Abdel-Rahman Saeed, a civil society coordinator in Southern Kordofan; Ms Zeinab Blandia, founder and Director of the Vision Organisation in South Sudan; as well as Dr John Distefano, Division Head, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis, ISS; and Mr DàƒÂ©siràƒÂ© Assogbavi, Head of Office, Oxfam International in Addis Ababa.

Dr Ahmed Saeed`s presentation started with the emphasis that the seminar was timely as it took place during the negotiations between the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan; a process that seeks to find a resolution to the outstanding issues that have emanated following the separation of the two countries, especially in regard to seeking stability and tranquillity along their shared border. The seminar also took place a few days before the start of the 19th AU Summit, the first meeting of the AU following the release of the AU PSC CommuniquàƒÂ© of April 2012, which was adopted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as Resolution 2046.

According to Dr Saeed, it is important to understand that when addressing the outstanding issues of Sudan and South Sudan, it is necessary to take into consideration the interests of the people living in the border area, as more than 9 million Sudanese and 43 per cent of the population of the South live in these border states. Dr Saeed went on to add that the crisis in the two states (Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile) was as a result of an internal Sudanese problem resulting from a failure of governance in Sudan. He argued that the continuation of the conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People`s Liberation Army (SPLA-North) could destabilise the fragile relationship between Sudan and South Sudan. Moreover, negotiations between the two countries could not bring an end to the conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. He proposed that the AU PSC and the rest of the international community explore innovative alternative options for providing humanitarian assistance to all conflict-affected areas in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, while at the same time pushing for negotiated consensual access for humanitarian aid organisations to the relevant conflict areas.

Ms Zeinab Blandia`s presentation focused on gender aspects and the dire situation faced by women and children as a result of the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, specifically in the border areas. She noted that women and children bore a huge burden in terms of the existing challenges and that most of the families and households in the region were women headed as a result of the male participation in the conflict. The war, which broke out in June 2011, was the climax of a severe and violent process that had taken different forms and had taken place on different levels throughout the transitional period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and earlier. Historically, the population of the region had faced injustices such as slavery, colonisation and abductions. The region is underdeveloped and politically, culturally and economically marginalised, as well as discriminated against on the grounds of religion, ethnicity and cultural bias. Ms Blandia underlined that more than 60 reports had highlighted the seriousness of human rights violations – including arbitrary arrests, detentions, extrajudicial executions and torture – in the region. These reports also alleged that both parties to the conflict might have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The violence has severely disrupted cultivation and harvesting in these important agricultural areas, and contributed to a significantly high number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. Ms Blandia concluded that in this conflict, women and children were particularly affected by extreme poverty, trauma, health deterioration, exploitation and domestic violence. She called for appropriate, urgent action by the AU and the international community.

Dr Lual Deng in his presentation emphasised the need for the two neighbouring countries, out of necessity, to agree to work together for survival. The challenge, then, was to develop a comprehensive framework that would enable the ‘two states at peace with each other and within themselves` to work together. In Dr Deng`s view, such a framework had to have the full support of neighbouring countries as well as the international community. He went on to say that the roundtable consultation could be one of the last opportunities to save not only the two Sudans from mutual self-destruction, but also to prevent them from dragging the Greater Horn of Africa into conflict due to the spill-over effects of the conflict.

Dr Deng drew attention to the relatively strong networks of civic/communal engagement between local communities, despite occasional clashes over grazing areas. These networks had been formed through centuries of interaction between local communities within the Tamazuj zone. In this regard, he identified the prerequisites for influencing Juba and Khartoum to internalise the vision, mission and objectives of the Tamazuj zone; namely:

à‚·      The delineation and demarcation of the 2 184 km-long border. This step is necessary for achieving sustained peace between the two countries. When the border is known, agreement can then be made on a mechanism to ensure the smooth and free movement of people, goods, and services and therefore make it a ‘soft` border.

à‚·      The Tamazuj zone Governors` Forum for the ten states under the joint chairmanship of the first vice president of each country must be established. The Forum is to meet quarterly with alternating hosting by the ten states. 

à‚·      A Tamazuj Development Bank (TDB) needs to be established, which will be a financing mechanism for joint programmes/projects as well as individual projects within the ten states. The main office of the TDB can be in Abyei, but with branches in the capitals of the ten states as well as liaison offices in Khartoum and Juba and a troika (US, UK & Norway), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to assist the two countries to immediately embark on the path of economic integration.

Finally, Dr Deng explained why a viable two-state solution could only be achieved through restoring the Joint Integrated/Monitoring Unit (JIU/JMU) mechanism for monitoring the North-South border with technical support from AU forces and with UN funding.

Dr John Distefano began his presentation by emphasising that the ongoing conflict between Sudan and South Sudan was unacceptable. There were legitimate and illegitimate claims and counter-claims by both sides. At present each side viewed the other in adversarial terms and as a threat to its own existence. He reiterated that this attitude and behaviour must change in order to move forward. Dr Distefano also said that whatever causation was involved in the restarting of conflict, the bombing of civilians, the ensuing humanitarian crises, the massive displacement of civilians, and the continuing military acts, the behaviour of the two belligerents was totally unacceptable and had to stop with immediate effect. He pointed out that both sides needed to realise they had more to gain by working together in terms of trade and commerce than they did working apart and continuing with the present stalemate. He went on to add that a worst-case scenario could occur unless strong measures were taken to resolve the lagging issues between the two sides.

Dr Distefano commended the Roadmap as an excellent framework for negotiations, but said an immediate and confirmed ceasefire was required, as well as political will and courage from both parties to enter into serious and lasting negotiations to foster a permanent peace. The AU PSC had to continue to focus on this matter and needed to demand its resolution. Humanitarian issues were paramount and corridors had to be opened to protect long-suffering non-combatants. He emphasised the need to re-open borders for civilian access to trade and relocation as a prerequisite for better relations between the two sides. A concrete recommendation from Dr Distefano was the extension of UNISFA`s mandate to monitor border activities.

Finally, Mr DàƒÂ©siràƒÂ© Assogbavi in his presentation said that the PSC should take stronger steps to ensure that the protection of civilians was being well articulated in the Peace Support Operations` mandates; that the internal AUC Task Force on the Protection of Civilians should be boosted; that a clear accountability mechanism should be implemented in regard to forces to be signed off by troop-contributing countries; and that adequate communication mechanisms with communities should be developed in order to effectively involve them in protection issues. His recommendations highlighted the need to have peace support missions ensure high standards of conduct at all times; that the viewpoints, roles and values of other actors, including local government, NGOs, UN agencies and in particular communities themselves, be understood at all times; and that communication, in both directions, needed to be prioritised and seen as an essential part of the protection of civilians. It was essential to listen and respond to what communities were saying and requesting. Mr Assogbavi highlighted important issues such as providing appropriate human resources, in particular community liaison, interpreters and female staff; evaluating, expanding and adapting good practices; prioritising, together with other actors, the use of protection of civilians` resources, based on perceived threats and impacts; and clearly explaining decisions to all stakeholders.

In a summary of the discussions and presentations, Dr Mehari Taddele Maru, the CPRA manager, Addis Ababa office, noted that the significant diplomatic attendance indicated the interest of the diplomatic community in the topic and the increasing relevance of ISS seminars and roundtables to the daily work of primary stakeholders such as the AU. He said that the roundtable had provided adequate analyses of the root causes of the problems in Sudan and South Sudan. He reminded the audience that the roundtable was meant to have ‘a seeping effect` on the decision-making bodies of the AU by helping to inform the members of the PSC and officials of the AUC about key human security issues within and between the Sudans.

Dr Mehari re-emphasised the need for a comprehensive root cause approach to solving the border crisis in Sudan and South Sudan and, in this regard, the importance of addressing the outstanding issues. He went on to point out that the pending issues between and within Sudan and South Sudan had turned into causes of conflict and could take some time to resolve. Dr Mehari emphasised that there was no military solution. He reminded the audience that the root cause of the problems was political and that solutions were to be found in the political transformations of both countries. He called for the strict implementation of the AU Roadmap. A key problem, according to Dr Mehari, was the uncertain viability of the South Sudanese state in Juba and the required democratic transformation of the Khartoum government in Sudan.

He emphasised the vital role of political will on both sides and observance of the decisions of the AU and its High Level Implementation Panel (HLP). What is more, the spillover effect of the conflict in the wider region would force neighbouring countries, particularly Ethiopia, to engage in efforts being made to solve the crisis as soon as possible. The immediate objective should be to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid and protect civilians. In the meantime, the AU PSC and AUHIP should deal with civilian and humanitarian protection as a matter of urgency.

As the main victims and the beneficiaries of the dividends of peace, the populations of the border areas should also be represented in all political settlements. The contribution of local institutions to solving the problem has been undermined by the overly-internationalised nature of the response by the international community to the extent that neither regional bodies alone nor local institutions could handle the problem effectively. Local civil society organisations (CSOs) could significantly assist in the revival of traditional institutions of conflict resolution and the monitoring and implementation of key decisions made by the PSC. Dr Mehari stressed the complementary role of think tanks like the ISS and CSOs in supplementing the work of the PSC. He called for future chairs of the AU PSC to engage more with the ISS and other CSOs working in the field. He explained in detail the objectives of humanitarian organisations, aimed at civilian protection from 1) direct threats to the safety of civilians due to military actions, including bombings and hostilities; and 2) indirect threats to the safety and security of civilians due to the disruption of livelihood activities and the displacement (external and internal) of millions of people. 

Dr Mehari re-emphasised the call made for a separate diplomatic track for humanitarian and civilian protection, and identified five key recommendations as a summary of the roundtable. These are:

  • The AU PSC and AUHIP should focus on humanitarian and civilian protection as a matter of urgency
  • The AU PSC should request the African Commission on Human and People`s Rights to investigate the situation on the ground in the border areas and brief the PSC on the results of investigation and take necessary measures on the basis of the investigation
  • The AU PSC should consider the need to expand the mandate for UNISFA to engage in the protection and assistance of civilians in the border areas
  • The AU PSC should consider incentives for the two regimes in Khartoum and Juba to encourage them to implement the Roadmap and decisions of the AUHIP
  • The AU PSC should encourage CSOs in the monitoring of the implementation of the decisions of the PSC on the border areas by providing 1) evidence-based reports from the ground for the PSC to verify, and accordingly take action; and 2) assistance in the assessment of the implementation of the April 2012 PSC CommuniquàƒÂ© (the Roadmap) and the UNSC Resolution 2046
Lastly, Dr Mehari pointed out that these recommendations and other suggestions about humanitarian and civilian protection would be forwarded to the future chairs of the AU PSC for their consideration and further action.

Mrs. Beakal Bisrat
Phone: +251 11 515 6320/24
Fax: +251 11 515 6449
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