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ThinkProgress: 7 Things You Need to Know About The Prayer Breakfast’s Second Most Controversial Guest

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ThinkProgress: 7 Things You Need to Know About The Prayer Breakfast’s Second Most Controversial Guest

Posted by Akshaya Kumar on February 5, 2015

Editor's Note: This blog was written by Akshaya and originally appeared on ThinkProgress on February 4, 2015.

China’s opposition to the Dalai Lama’s participation in tomorrow’s Prayer Breakfast has been drawing headlines all week, but the last minute inclusion of Sudan’s foreign minister, Ali Karti, has triggered protests from anti-genocide activists.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Who is Ali Karti?

Ali Karti currently serves as Sudan’s foreign minister and primary diplomat. But he rose to power based on his role as coordinator of country’s paramilitary Popular Defence Force (PDF) militias in the 1990s. The PDF, which evolved into the Janjaweed, were implicated in slave trading and brutal attacks on dark skinned minorities in the country’s southern states. More recently, Karti has been instrumental in an attempt to get the African Union to push for the end of International Criminal Court proceedings against Sudan’s President Bashir, who stands accused of genocide in Darfur. This is especially worrying because fighting continues there. In fact, more than a million people have been pushed from their homes by violence in the past two years.

2. But, I thought things were getting better in Darfur?

Unfortunately not. In a recent 134 page UN report, a five-member panel of experts found that rising violence “threatened to produce levels of violence, chaos, and confusion not seen in Darfur since 2004.” Three main factors continue to stoke deadly violence in Darfur, Sudan’s restive western region: attacks by government forces, paramilitaries, and militias on populations collectively seen as sympathetic to the rebels; infighting among members of pro-government militias over local issues; fighting between Darfur armed movements and government forces and militias.

3. What about the rest of the country?

As fighting between government and rebel forces rages on, human rights abuses continue across Sudan, especially in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. After their hospital in South Kordofan was bombed for the second time, Médecins Sans Frontières was forced to end its operations in many parts of the country. Unfortunately, the international community has been unable to respond comprehensively to these abuses. As a result, the UN’s annual expert reports are limited to Darfur and the joint AU-UN peacekeeping UNAMID peacekeeping mission only focuses on Darfur too.

4. Who’s responsible for the rising human rights abuses and violent displacement in Darfur?

The UN panel’s recent report documented more than 40 specific incidents where the new government Rapid Support Forces troops were found burning villages, assaulting civilians, displacing thousands and destroying hospitals and water pumps. This trend is particularly alarming because the UN found that the other two factors in violence — operations initiated by the rebel opposition and inter-tribal fighting,– actually dropped during the same period.

5. So, government forces are fighting rebels. Isn’t this the same as what Ukraine is doing in the east against pro-Russian rebels?

No. Sudan’s forces disproportionately focus on attacking civilians. In fact, only 10% of the operations that the UN panel identified as initiated by Sudanese government forces were directed against the armed opposition or rebels.

The vast majority of the confirmed government attacks were directed at either civilians or internally displaced persons. This assessment matches the Enough Project’s previous reporting on the Rapid Support Forces as the janjaweed reincarnate in June 2014 and Human Rights Watch’s research in August 2014. In recent weeks, SUDO UK has confirmed that these attacks on civilians continue.

6. What does Karti have to do with all of this?

Just as things are getting worse for Darfur’s civilians, Karti is working to prevent them from getting the help that they need. In the past three months, Karti has spearheaded Sudan’s effort to kick out senior UN officials from Sudan. He is also pushing for the peacekeeping mission in Darfur to end its operations. Finally, Karti led an effort to prevent investigators from visiting Tabit, a town where Sudanese forces stand accused of raping over 200 women.

7. So, now that Karti’s here, what should the U.S. government do to try to make things better in Sudan?

The U.S. government should use its influence on the Council to push against Karti’s attempt to close down the UN peacekeeping mission. Instead, the Security Council should hold the Sudanese government responsible for its repeated arms embargo violations, and add the Rapid Support Forces to its consolidated sanctions list.

Akshaya Kumar is Sudan and South Sudan Policy Analyst at the Enough Project. Follow her on Twitter: @AkshayaSays

Photo: Sudan Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti at a news conference in Berlin, June 4, 2014 (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)