Mid-April elections saw Sudan’s strongman Omar al-Bashir retain power as president in what was widely regarded as an electoral travesty. Massive fraud occurred in both the census and the registration process leading up to the election; countless abuses at voting centers and with ballot boxes were reported by a wide range of on-the-ground sources; the brutal security services were widely deployed; and al-Bashir’s Khartoum regime made full use of its virtual monopoly on national wealth and power, including broadcast and most print media.
Since the elections, al-Bashir’s regime has dramatically accelerated military actions in Darfur, not only bombing and displacing civilians as well as rebel groups, but further compromising security for the immense humanitarian operation that serves some 4.7 million people in need. At the same time, there has been a sharp crackdown on political dissent in northern Sudan, especially in Khartoum, prompting strong condemnation by numerous human rights groups. Most ominously, al-Bashir and his security cabal continue to obstruct meaningful progress in resolving key issues in the north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The CPA is the basis for a southern self-determination referendum scheduled for January 2011, and most agree that delay or abrogation of this key provision of the CPA guarantees renewed war, which will likely engulf much of Sudan.
Al-Bashir has also been indicted by the International Criminal Court, or ICC, for multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He may yet be indicted for genocide. Yet his regime has spurned all international efforts to secure justice for the victims of massive atrocity crimes committed in Darfur—even a weak African Union proposal for “hybrid” courts in Sudan, comprising Sudanese and Arab or African jurists. The ICC has received precious little support from signatories to the Rome Statute that created the Court, and is about to suffer another blow—this from the United Nations, which supposedly supports the ICC.
For attending al-Bashir’s May 27 inauguration are both Haile Menkerios of South Africa, head of the U.N. Mission in Sudan, known as UNMIS, and Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria, joint head of the African Union/U.N. Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID. It should be clear—both from Khartoum’s conduct of the elections and subsequent military and security actions—that this U.N. presence is deeply inappropriate, indeed violates the U.N.’s own guidelines concerning attendance at ceremonial events involving leaders indicted for atrocity crimes. A U.N. presence at the al-Bashir inauguration can only work to confer the legitimacy that he so desperately craves. Indeed, legitimacy was the whole purpose of the electoral exercise in the eyes of al-Bashir’s National Congress Party, or NCP—the best way to hold off the ICC, and to carry more negotiating leverage into peace negotiations with the Darfur rebels.
Each of these two U.N. representatives heads an extremely important mission within Sudan—UNMIS is supposedly monitoring implementation of the CPA in southern Sudan, and UNAMID is supposedly providing security in Darfur. Both missions have left many Sudanese in Darfur and the south deeply disaffected, particularly with UNAMID in Darfur. Gambari has already lost the trust of many Darfuri leaders and is perceived as much too close to Khartoum. His attendance at al-Bashir’s inauguration will grate especially harshly upon those Darfuris who resent the disingenuously upbeat accounts he has offered, following a pattern set by his predecessor Rodolphe Adada of Congo.
UNMIS is regarded by many southerners and outside observers as an extravagant and ineffective monitoring mission, which has failed to forestall violence in obvious flashpoints such as Abyei and Malakal. It has too often been timid in its actions and far too limited in conceiving of how to make most effective use of its U.N. mandate.
It is hardly surprising that the African Union and Arab League will celebrate al-Bashir’s inauguration. Both organizations have long made clear that they stand with Khartoum on issues of international justice and atrocity crimes in Darfur (the same crimes committed in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains earlier in the NCP’s tyrannical rule). But that the leaders of both U.N. missions in Sudan will attend al-Bashir’s inauguration—with full knowledge of the U.N. leadership in New York—gives the most significant ratification yet to massive electoral fraud by a criminal regime. Their presence will compromise the U.N. itself in any attempt to bring peace and justice to Sudan.
One U.N. official has described the presence of Gambari and Menkerios as merely a “diplomatic courtesy.” This seems a perverse virtue to put in the balance with the international justice so desperately needed in Sudan.
This piece originally appeared on Dissent Magazine‘s website.
Dr. Eric Reeves is a professor of English language and literature at Smith College. He has spent the past 11 years working full-time as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively both in the U.S. and internationally.