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Monday, Mar 02nd, 2015

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Can a Democratic Government Extend its own Life?

By: Dr. Lam Akol

February 23, 2015 (SSNA) -- Last Thursday, the government tabled before parliament an amendment bill in order to amend the Constitution for the Government to extend its life for two more years. In a democratic setup, is a government allowed to extend its own term of office?

Before answering this question, let us consider our system and compare it to similar systems and experiences over the world.

Our system is a constitutional presidential democracy. In a Presidential Democracy, the president serves for a specific term and cannot exceed that amount of time. Elections to have fixed date not subject to change. This is in contrast to a parliamentary system in which the Prime Minister may call for elections any time he sees fit but, even here, there is always a set number of years he cannot exceed without calling for a general election.  All these measures are necessary to ensure a basic requirement of democracy; and that is guaranteeing smooth transfer of power. The essence is that the political party that wins a majority does not lengthen its term of office using the same majority to deny the rest their opportunity to be voted to power by the people. Such a move can be termed “Democracy Once” dictatorship; which is no democracy at all. If a need arises to change the terms of office, the matter must be referred to the people in one way or the other. These guarantees may be included in the constitution as explicit provisions or be understood as a given without which democracy is compromised.

We are governed through the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011. This constitution provides for a presidential system in which the president was to serve for four years up to 8 July 2015. This is the same period set for the election of a new Parliament. By tabling an amendment to extend the terms of office of the President of the Republic and the National Legislature without returning to the people the government is breaching a fundamental principle of presidential democracy. If we accept its claim that it was elected by the people in 2010 up to 2015, by whose mandate does it want to rule up to 2017? Does the political party that enjoys the majority in parliament have the right to amend the constitution at will to continue in power for a period more than what the electorate gave them? If this is allowed once, what prevents it becoming a precedent to be repeated time and again? Where will such a precedent leave the democratic requirement of the “transfer of power” between political parties through the mandate of the people?

True, our constitution has a provision that allows for amendments to be made to the constitution (Article 199). But does this provision apply to all articles in the constitution without affecting the nature of the state as provided for under Articles 1(4-5) and 2 of the same constitution? For example, is parliament allowed to amend the Bill of Rights (Articles 9-34)? It is the contention of this author that it cannot. By the same token it cannot amend the articles on the cyclical “transfer of power” (Articles 66 and 100) without seeking the consensus of the people from whose will the Constitution is derived (Article 3). These articles cannot be amended because they form the core of the constitutional presidential democracy we have adopted. This is the crux of the matter.

This matter becomes more critical if we look at the Parliament entrusted to amend the constitution on behalf of the people. The current National Legislature is composed of 332 members; 282 members of the National Legislative Assembly and 50 members of the Council of States. Only 170 members of the National Legislative Assembly were elected to the Legislative Assembly of South Sudan in 2010. The entire membership of the Council of States was appointed by the President in 2011, who also appointed the other 112 members of the National Legislative Assembly. Hence, the total number of appointed members in the National Legislature is 162 members. That is, 49%, which is about half the total membership< of the National Legislature is appointed. This is the body expected to make such a serious amendment!

The government was cognizant of this fact when it insisted on holding elections to renew its legitimacy. It was fully aware that it alone cannot amend the Constitution to attain that objective. If it did, that would be a breach of the Constitution on matters that are taken as given by practice and precedents. When President Museveni did amend the Ugandan Constitution to run for a third term, the move was resisted. This was the same reaction in a number of other countries which underwent similar experiences, the most recent of which was what took place in Burkina Faso last October. Beginning on 28 October 2014, the people of Burkina Faso went on the streets in Ouagadougou to protest against moves by President Blaise Compaore to amend the constitution so as to extend his rule by allowing him to stand for re-election in 2015. Indeed, the protesters did on 30 October force the MPs to suspend the vote on changing the constitution, leading to the overthrow of the President. All this goes to underline the point that there are articles in the Constitution that cannot be changed without changing the rules of the game. And the only accepted game changer is the people.

We all know that the main reason why the 2015 elections were not possible is the destructive war that broke out on the 15th of December 2013 and is still raging in the country. Insecurity is also prevalent in some parts of the country that is not related to the civil war, notably in the Lakes state. The insecurity militates against conducting a free and fair election. It was therefore, obvious that attaining peace must be the priority so that the situation returns to normalcy, after which the people will be able to exercise their democratic rights including taking part in the elections. However, both the government and the rebels could not make progress in the peace talks and, in fact, the Cessation of Hostilities agreement they signed in January 2014 was not respected and the fighting continues unabated. Despite this obvious reality, the government closed its mind and insisted on holding partial elections for the sole reason to gain legitimacy. After spending money on a futile exercise it finally realized that it cannot proceed with the elections but did not give up its determination to cling to power by all means. Hence, came the idea of unilaterally amending the constitution.

The consensus of the South Sudanese to amend the terms of elected institutions stipulated in the Constitution may come about in either of two ways. First, if the stakeholders in the peace talks reach a peace agreement, then this agreement will be incorporated into the Constitution by carrying out an amendment that includes the term of office of the transitional government. Second, if the peace talks are not conclusive, then all the political forces in the country shall hold an inclusive national conference that will deliberate on how to bring about peace to the country. The resolutions of the conference shall constitute the programme of the new government of national unity. It is this programme that will determine the length of time it takes to get it implemented by the new government, and in turn, determine the amendments to be made to the constitution on the strength of this consensus.

The amendments tabled by the government on Thursday were unilateral lacking the consensus of the people as shown above. The government should have waited for the outcome of the current round of peace talks (which started on the 19th instant), which, according to the government and the rebels in their first of February agreement, will see the conclusion of a peace agreement. If they conclude a peace agreement, then the first scenario becomes applicable. If they fail to reach a peace agreement then the second scenario becomes the course of action by default. Making a unilateral move to amend the constitution is a breach of the constitution as explained earlier since the proposed amendments are not backed by the consensus of the people of South Sudan.

Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin is a former Sudanese foreign minister from 2007 to 2010. He is the Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movememnt for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC).

The Face of War in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan: The death of "Yusef," father of three young children

By Eric Reeves

February 9, 2015 (SSNA) -- On February 3rd, I published a brief introduction to a set of gruesome photographs taken by Dr. Tom Catena, the only surgeon working in the Nuba Mountains (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Ak). I posted the photographs of bomb victims separately from the introduction, given their extremely graphic and disturbing nature. In the interim, Dr. Catena has given a very moving and powerful interview to Radio France Internationale, which I urge all to listen to carefully (seven minutes | http://goo.gl/WqMXNV). I conducted my own interview with Dr. Catena in March 2013 (http://wp.me/p45rOG-Zw), since the larger news organizations he approached showed no interest his extraordinarily courageous work.

Yesterday, Dr. Catena sent me one more photograph, and I believe I understand why he sent it alone. For there are all too many opportune moments for such photographs following the constant bombing raids in the area of his Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel (near Kauda in the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan), but this photograph stands out. It came identified only in terse terms— "Antonov Bombardment. February 7th, 2015. Near Tess, Nuba Mountains. Civilian 28 years old, father of three"—but it requires little imagination to imagine the impact of his death on his three children, likely all under ten years of age, and his wife, if she has managed to survive the past three and a half years of assaults on civilian lives and livelihoods in the Nuba. Their chances for survival have been dramatically reduced.

This unnamed man is one of thousands of such victims. Dr. Catena alone has treated more than 1,700 such patients at his hospital alone since the outbreak of violence in June 2011, and this represents only the population close enough to travel by foot to Gidel---if they have not been killed outright or died of their wounds on the way to the hospital.

We have known that attacks such as the one that killed this man have been ongoing for more than three and a half years (let us call him "Yusef" to spare him the utter anonymity that is the fate of most victims). The Khartoum regime deliberately sends Antonovs and advanced military jet aircraft to inflict precisely such civilian casualties. We know from the minutes of an August 31, 2014 meeting (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1tC) of the most senior military and security officials of the regime that their goal is to "starve" the people of the Nuba into submission by disrupting agricultural production. This year's promising sorghum crop—the staple grain of the region—was targeted for burning as part of this starvation campaign ("starve" accurately translates the Arabic original in the minutes).

People live in terror because of the death of people like "Yusef," often fleeing to caves, ravines, or other countries. And this photograph suggests why terror is a predictably human response:

And yet the international community remains unwilling to do anything to halt such attacks as killed "Yusef" and threaten his family and indeed all in the Nuba Mountains,; the international community is also unwilling to compel Khartoum to permit a humanitarian corridor to reaching the more than one million human being in desperate need of relief aid in the Nuba and Blue Nile. Condemnations of Khartoum's actions, when they occur, are meaningless: nothing attaches to the dismay that comes in unctuous and inconsequential form. The impunity felt by the regime is correspondingly increased.

The Europeans in general prefer to discuss trade and development rather than halting carnage in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and Darfur. There have even been suggestions from senior officials in countries such as Germany, Holland, and France of the possibility of debt relief for Khartoum, despite continuous profligate expenditures on advanced weapons and the hugely expensive conduct of three wars. The security and military budgets together represent at least 50 percent of national budget expenditures; estimates range as high as 70 percent. It would be hard to imagine a worse candidate for debt relief, especially given the extraordinary levels of corruption that have long prevailed within the regime. Transparency International ranks Sudan 177 out 179 countries surveyed in its annual corruption survey (http://www.transparency.org/country#SDN).

The UN is hopeless, as is the African Union. Although a humanitarian corridor was first proposed by the AU three years ago, Khartoum has agreed and the balked, agreed and the balked...and is prepared to continue this absurd diplomatic dance indefinitely. The pre-condition is unconditional surrender by the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North. The UN Secretariat is paralyzed, unwilling even to speak honestly about Sudan's crises, and the African Union Peace and Security Council is far too cozy with the Khartoum regime to play any effective role in halting or diminishing aerial attacks on civilians.

The Obama administration sees Khartoum primarily through the lens of counter-terrorism intelligence, even as the regime boasts of how little it actually gives the U.S. In the August 31 minutes, Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein comments:

“America is facing the crisis of the ISIS and the other Jihadist movements that are newly formed and can move freely outside the traditional surveillance networks. Currently, there are twenty thousand (20,000) Jihadists and fifteen (15) newly formed Jihadist Movements who are scattered all over, from Morocco to Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, all the Gulf States, a wide presence in Africa and Europe and nobody owns a data-base on that as the one we have. We release only limited information to the Americans according to request, and the price is the armed movements file."

No one in the Obama administration has commented publicly on this or other extraordinary revelations in the August 31 minutes; and a State Department official made it clear to me that there would be no comment, even as we may be sure that the administration has certainly ascertained that the minutes are authentic (see http://wp.me/p45rOG-1w5). To do so would be highly inconvenient for a Sudan policy that allows the lust for counter-terrorism to distort broader Sudan policy. It would certainly be more than inconvenient if the Obama administration were to explain exactly what Hussein means when he speaks about the "price" for the counter-terrorism intelligence as being "the armed movements file." Has the Obama administration actually given the regime intelligence assistance in its campaigns against the broad Sudan Revolutionary Front?

There are many questions the Obama administration has avoided, or not been compelled to face. Why has allowed Foreign Minister Ali Karti been given a multi-year, multi-entry visa to the U.S.—even as U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Donald Booth, can't secure a visa to Sudan for himself? Why has Ibrahim Ghandour come to the U.S.? (See http://wp.me/p45rOG-1AY.) Why can't Foreign Minister Karti handle whatever bilateral negotiations are underway? Does it not matter to the administration that Ghandour is revealed in the August 31 minutes as the point-person in rigging the April 2015 "re-election" of President Omar al-Bashir?

The truth is that the revelations of the August 31 minutes are too embarrassing of U.S. policy, still guided as it is by the assertion by former special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman:

“We do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Asharq Al-Awsat, 3 December 2011 | http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=3&id=27543 )

This is simply preposterous, as National Security Advisor Susan Rice, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, certainly knows full well. Where is her voice in challenging the absurd premise represented in Lyman's remarks? Or in condemning the atrocities that are accelerating in Darfur? And what of U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power? Why is she not an "upstander" in the face of the vast suffering in Sudan, the direct result of actions by a genocidal regime?

Unwilling to hold Khartoum accountable for it countless atrocity crimes, the U.S., the Europeans, the African Union, and the hopelessly compromised UN Security Council are all ensuring that there will be many more "Yusefs"—in the Nuba, in Blue Nile, and in Darfur.

Eric Reeves is the Author of Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007-2012 (www.CompromisingWithEvil.org).

The Armenian Genocide, the Khartoum Regime, and the National Prayer Breakfast

By Eric Reeves

February 4, 2015 (SSNA) -- The "National Prayer Breakfast"—a sixty-two year tradition in Washington, held annually on the first Friday in February—will this year commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Bringing together a wide range of guests from all fifty states and more than 100 countries, the event is hosted by the U.S. Congress and is designed to facilitate engagement between various social and religious groups. This year President Obama and the Dalai Lama are headline guests.

But we must wonder about the appropriateness of one of those invited, Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum, Sudan. Any perusal of Karti's "record of service" to this cabal of génocidaires should make all in attendance uneasy, particularly given the terrible genocide of a century ago that is being commemorated on this occasion. For Karti has long been a key member of the regime and done some of its dirtiest work, particularly as head of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF)—a militia organization notorious for its savage attacks on civilians (Karti was appointed in 1997). The PDF were particularly active in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, where the Nuba people were targeted for most of the 1990s in a brutal campaign of extermination. No student of the period characterizes the actions by Khartoum and its military and militia forces in the Nuba Mountains as anything other than genocide.

And Karti is presently the international face of a regime that remains committed to genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur. Indeed, efforts to destroy the lives and livelihoods of the non-Arab or African tribal populations of Darfur have accelerated dramatically over the past three years, particularly in 2014, when some 500,000 people were newly displaced. The UN Panel of Experts on Darfur has recently reported that in the first five months of 2014, more than 3,300 villages were destroyed—overwhelmingly those of the region's African tribal groups. As has long been the case, displacement and violence in Darfur correlate extremely highly. North Darfur is presently the region that is enduring the worst atrocities committed against civilians, including mass rape, indiscriminate bombardment of civilian targets, village destruction, land appropriation, and murder on a large scale. Again, the targets are inevitably the African tribal groups of the region perceived as supporting the longstanding rebellion; and Khartoum is using not only its regular Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), but the new Arab militia force known as the Rapid Response Forces (RSF), a part of the legacy of the PDF that Ali Karti once headed.

Currently some 3 million Darfuris are internally displaced or refugees in eastern Chad; many more are in critical need of relief efforts, efforts by distinguished international humanitarian organizations that Khartoum has, for more than a decade, systematically obstructed, harassed, expelled, and intimidated.

And yet Karti has attempted during his tenure as Foreign Minister—he was appointed in January 2010—to minimize the genocidal destruction in Darfur. In August 2011, speaking to a pending UN resolution—Karti's office declared at his behest:

"The resolution is full of negative and obsolete references to be resolved within the framework of the tripartite mechanism, such as visa problems and allegations of aerial bombardment and the violation of human rights," the foreign ministry said. (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], 2 August 2011.

In fact, what Karti referred to as "allegations" had for years been substantiated by every human rights group working on Darfur (until they were all expelled, along with all independent journalists). These include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Physicians for Human Rights. The civilian bombings were and have continued to be verified by the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur. To refer to confirmed atrocity crimes as mere "allegations" tells us that above all, Karti represents the NIF/NCP regime, not the people of Sudan. And there is nothing "obsolete" about the daily reports of atrocity crimes committed in Darfur.

In short, Khartoum continues to wage genocidal counter-insurgency war in Darfur, and efforts by Karti to minimize these realities make him deeply complicit.

The regime Karti represents to the world also continues its campaign of more than three years against the people of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State. Relentless aerial and ground assaults in the two areas have left more than one million people displaced and without humanitarian resources; many are close to starvation because Khartoum has imposed an embargo on all relief efforts in areas controlled by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N). It is nothing less than a repeat of the genocidal campaign of the 1990s in the Nuba. And for this, too, Karti makes no apology—even when SAF combat aircraft deliberately strike at hospitals, as has been the case at the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel and the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Frandala, South Kordofan. The latter, winner of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, has been attacked twice in the past year, despite apprising Khartoum of their location.

Because Karti is well-spoken, and has made some of the right noises for Western audiences, he is the point-person in Khartoum's present charm offensive, particularly as it is addressed to the U.S. and the Obama administration. Karti has met with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and twice with current Secretary of State John Kerry. The effort, evidently encouraged by the Obama administration, is to achieve a détente between Washington and Khartoum. So lustful for counter-terrorism intelligence is the Obama administration that it is willing to overlook all the crimes this regime must answer for. Notably, for example, at a meeting on October 1, 2013,

Secretary of State John Kerry met his Sudanese counterpart [Karti] for talks on Monday on the South Sudan peace process and conflict-hit areas like Darfur, but did not raise U.S. concerns over the government’s crackdown on protesters, the State Department said. (Reuters [UN/New York], 1 October 2013…

This meeting followed immediately upon an extraordinarily bloody effort by the regime to put down a popular uprising over rapidly declining economic conditions. Amnesty International reported at the time that security personnel had been given "shoot to kill" orders in dealing with demonstrators, and many hundreds were killed or wounded in Khartoum, Omdurman, and other major towns in Sudan. Kerry knew this, but chose not to raise the issue with Karti. Karti for his part would have subsequently reported to the génocidaires in Khartoum that the U.S. was not inclined to press the regime on human rights abuses of the worst sort, this in exchange for putative counter-terrorism intelligence provided by Khartoum (which hosted Osama bin Laden from 1992 – 1996, the years during which al-Qaeda came to fruition).

Nor has the Obama administration pushed for a humanitarian corridor to be opened to the people of the Nuba or Blue Nile; indeed, the administration never speaks about these scenes of terrible human suffering and destruction. Thousands have already died from malnutrition and disease, and some 200,000 have fled to Ethiopia or South Sudan. People have fled their homes and villages to live in caves or ravines—desperate to escape the shrapnel-loaded barrel bombs that are a daily reality, particularly in the Nuba. For this Karti makes no apology; indeed, he and other civilians in the regime have long ceded decisions about war and peace to senior military officials. One of these men, Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein, has been indicted by the international Criminal Court for massive crimes against humanity in Darfur; President and Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the Court on multiple counts of crimes against humanity and genocide.

The failure of the Obama administration to push hard and publicly for a humanitarian corridor to provide food, medicine, and shelter to many hundreds of thousands of human beings gives us all too clear a picture of the cost of doing business with the regime Karti represents.

Karti has arrived in the U.S. for the National Prayer Breakfast with a visa issued by the Obama administration's State Department. He is accompanied by a less conspicuous but no less savage regime survivalist, political secretary of the NIF/NCP Ibrahim Ghandour, who was also issued a visa by the State Department. Ghandour's views are revealed in the leaked minutes of a secret August 31, 2014 meeting of the most senior military and security officials, where he reveals his support for (among other policies) a scorched-earth campaign in the Nuba Mountains, designed to "starve"—the word accurately translates the Arabic—the Nuba people by burning their fall sorghum crop, the staple grain of the region. His comments from the minutes are excerpted and annotated at http://wp.me/p45rOG-1AO . His main task is clearly to rig the "re-election" of President al-Bashir; and the lengths to which the regime is prepared to go to orchestrate a "legitimizing" electoral process are both extraordinary and extraordinarily comprehensive—and completely corrupt.

The Obama administration has already declared its willingness to stand by the regime despite its record of serial genocides, which includes the massive human destruction and displacement of the Nuer people during the "oil war" (1997 – 2002) in what was then Western Upper Nile, now Unity State. Karti's PDF militias were active participants in the conflict at this point. Former special presidential envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, declared in late 2011—after the campaigns of annihilation were well underway in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and continuing in Darfur:

“We do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Asharq Al-Awsat, 3 December 2011 | http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=3&id=27543

By "we" Lyman meant the Obama administration, which has expediently indulged this preposterous political scenario. This is the same administration that decided to "de-couple" Darfur from the issue of real strategic interest: counter-terrorism cooperation with Khartoum. The word "de-couple" was used by an unnamed senior State Department official, but was reported in the official transcript.

The Armenian genocide should be commemorated at a National Prayer Breakfast; the refusal to recognize this genocide—and the belated recognition by much of the world—is a failure to acknowledge the terrible suffering and destruction of the Armenian people a century ago—it remains a "stain on our soul." But this is the same phrase that candidate Obama used to describe Darfur in 2007:

"When you see a genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia or in Darfur, that is a stain on all of us, a stain on our souls .... We can’t say 'never again' and then allow it to happen again, and as a president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter." ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEd583-fA8M#t=15 )

Obama's attendance at this year's National Prayer Breakfast, in the company of Khartoum's Foreign Minister Ali Karti, signals precisely that he is "turning a blind eye" to realities in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile—that he has "abandoned" them to on the going slaughter in which Ali Karti is deeply complicit.

It is a day of national disgrace.

Eric Reeves is the Author of Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007-2012 (www.CompromisingWithEvil.org).

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