Will the Cease-fire Hold in Sudan Border Regions? A Timeline of Agreements Made and Abrogated by Khartoum

If history is any guide, Khartoum’s agreement to the cease-fire terms dictated by the May 2, 2012 UN Security Council Resolution, supported by the African Union, will prove meaningless; follow-up agreements will be signed, and they too will prove meaningless. The National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime has never abided by any agreement with a Sudanese party—and never will, certainly not without much more vigorous international pressure on Khartoum, pressure that is not disabled by a factitious “even-handedness,” a moral equivalency between the NIF/NCP génocidaires and the struggling leadership in Juba.

By Eric Reeves


May 7, 2012 (SSNA) — That we should be asking with such uncertainty about the fate of a cease-fire agreement that may hold the key to whether Sudan and South Sudan resume war is not surprising.  At countless junctures in the past year and a half, the Khartoum regime has been encouraged to think that it can, without real consequence, abrogate or renounce agreements made with various Sudanese and South Sudanese parties.  The military seizure of Abyei represents only the most conspicuous example.  Present uncertainty, then, is not surprising; what is surprising is how rapidly the international community, and too often news reporting, has lost sight of the historical context out of which our uncertainty grows.  Since fall of 2010 there have been a great many agreements abandoned by Khartoum—indeed, if we are even slightly scrupulous, all agreements the regime has made have been abrogated, renounced, violated, or simply ignored. 

This in turn continues a pattern that stretches back to the beginning of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime following its military coup in June 1989—a coup, we should recall, deliberately timed to abort the most promising chance for a North/South peace agreement since independence in 1956.  Both the Umma of Sadiq al-Mahdi and the Democratic Unionist Party seemed prepared to reach an agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army.

Instead, unfathomably destructive war continued, in which more than 2 million people were killed, and as many as 5 million displaced.  The human suffering, overwhelmingly by Southern and Nuba civilians, defies all description.  And yet, despite the demands of a UN Security Council resolution on Wednesday, May 2, Khartoum violated the cease-fire on Friday, May 4 according to reports from Juba: Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) used long-range artillery to target Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) positions within the Tishwin, Lalop and Panakuach area of Unity State.  Indeed, on the very day following the UNSC cease-fire demand, backing the African Union peace mediation effort, Juba reported that twelve bombs again targeted Lalop, critically wounding a child and mother.  There are unconfirmed but highly plausible reports of artillery fire into these same areas on Saturday, May 5.  The cease-fire has already been violated by Khartoum.

We should note that the UN Security Council threw its support squarely behind the AU effort despite the fact that the Southern leadership has long been distinctly unhappy with chief AU mediator Thabo Mbeki (as were Darfuris before Southerners).  Even so, it was Juba that first and eagerly embraced the cease-fire proposal and continued AU mediation, even before the Security Council resolution; it was Khartoum that accepted the AU framework only "in principle"—a qualification behind which massive violence is likely to be justified.

We have only to look at comments coming from the Foreign Ministry to see the implications of Khartoum’s "acceptance in principle," and its claims that the SPLA is still "occupying" parts of northern Sudan.  Encouraged by the hasty and deeply misguided international effort to describe SPLA seizure of Heglig as an "invasion" of the North, Khartoum is now making a series of commensurately misleading claims:

"[The Foreign Ministry cited] ‘continuous aggression and attack from South Sudan’s army on Sudanese soil until today.’ ‘The government of Sudan hopes the other party will commit to stop the hostilities completely and withdraw its troops from the disputed areas so as not to put SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces) in a situation where it has to defend itself,’ the ministry added." (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], May 4, 2012)

Here we see the dangerous result of South Sudan becoming independent without strong international commitment and assistance in resolving border disputes with Khartoum and overseeing final border demarcation.  We can expect to see this excuse for military actions on Khartoum’s part for the foreseeable future, even as some of the "disputed" areas are disputed only on the basis of regime intransigence (see, for example, the Rift Valley Institute analysis of the Kafia Kingi area in Western Bahr el-Ghazal, where the January 1, 1956 border conspicuously puts the enclave in South Sudan). Without clearly delineated and demarcated borders, the opportunities for Khartoum to initiate military actions self-described as "self-defense" will be many and continuous. In turn, the grim and dispiriting lessons of Abyei have certainly not been lost on Juba.

Yet again, the international community focuses on only one issue in Sudan

Arguably the most dangerous part of this uneasy "cease-fire" is that it diverts international attention away from the massive humanitarian crises the regime has engineered in other parts of Sudan, including the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, Blue Nile, the refugee camps for people who have fled from conflict in these regions (more than 100,000 in Upper Nile; likely more than 40,000 in Unity; and perhaps 40,000 in Ethiopia)—and of course Darfur. Relentlessly suffering, and increasingly invisibly, the people of Darfur have been betrayed repeatedly by the international community, most recently and destructively in the form of the widely despised Doha Peace Agreement (July 2011) (see Appendix 1 to Part 1 for a bibliography of recent reports on humanitarian and security conditions in Darfur).  As Darfur was sacrificed on the altar of CPA completion in 2004, at the very height of the genocide—and beyond—so it is again the victim of diplomatic tunnel vision.

Despite increasingly desperate calls from humanitarian organizations, especially those working on food, water, and sanitation, many of these humanitarian efforts remain under-funded and without adequate resources. More dangerously, there is still no access to the Nuba Mountains or displaced persons in Blue Nile.  Although Juba accepted a joint UN/African Union/Arab League proposal for humanitarian access to all in need on February 9—three months ago—Khartoum has recently declared that it is still studying this multilateral proposal, which it again welcomes "in principle."  The clear effort is to wait out the remainder of the dry season, and offer limited access only once the rains have begun (any week now), making delivery inordinately more difficult.

One measure of how little access there is to these desperate regions is the continually recycled figure of "417,000 displaced by fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile."  This figure was first promulgated by the UN in early December 2011 (see a Reuters dispatch of December 13, 2011).  That the figure has not changed in five months—it continues to be regularly cited in a range of dispatches and reports, without any acknowledgement of its original date—is a measure of how little we know about the scale of the catastrophe that is unfolding, largely invisibly; substantial anecdotal reports, however, from a wide range of observers in the Nuba make clear that this number almost certainly vastly understates.  That the UN is not in a position to update this figure—only the relentlessly increasing number of refugees pouring into Upper Nile and Unity States (South Sudan) and Ethiopia—should be a scandal. Instead, the figure is uncritically re-cycled.

Attention remains diverted as well from Abyei, where we are approaching the one-year anniversary of Khartoum’s military seizure of the contested region, in violation of the Abyei Protocol and the 2009 ruling by the PCA.  More than 100,000 Dinka Ngok who were forced to flee Abyei to Warrap and other Southern states are still unable to return, and confront grim humanitarian conditions.  There is no evident pressure on Khartoum to withdraw its forces from Abyei, despite a June 20, 2011 commitment to do so with deployment of an Ethiopian peacekeeping force under UN auspices.  Indeed, Khartoum still refuses to negotiate in good faith a Status of Forces Agreement with the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).  The international community, taking its cue from the U.S., seems content to see the dream of self-determination for the "residents" of Abyei, promised by the CPA, slowly wither away.

The need for historical context

No assessment of prospects for the current cease-fire agreement, such as it is, can possibly be meaningful without taking account of the Khartoum regime’s 23 years of relentless abjuring, reneging, renouncing, ignoring, and denial of agreements it has signed or committed to.  That it continues to receive international diplomatic credit for these agreements—despite relentlessly consistent bad faith—of course only encourages the regime to sign more agreements, agreements that it has no intention of abiding by.

This promiscuous agreement-making and -signing is part of what energizes the deeply misguided "moral equivalence" that has stalked Sudan diplomacy for well over a decade.  It is the illusion that the political, diplomatic, and finally moral equities of Southerners and the Khartoum regime are somehow equivalent when they clearly are not.  This is the same illusion that leads U.S. special envoy Princeton Lyman to oppose regime change in Khartoum, and at the same time to declare his confidence in the regime’s ability to "carry out reform via constitutional democratic measured." Once Khartoum has been conceded this much, it is no surprise that the results are the very opposite of those Lyman professes to believe possible under this tyrannical regime.

With such a perspective dominant within the international community, we can do no more at present than survey recent and more distant history: the chances that this cease-fire agreement is more likely to hold than Khartoum’s commitment to previous agreements can be calculated only on the basis of previous abrogations. 

The present time-line focuses in Part 1 on those agreements Khartoum has made and/or violated in the first five months of 2012. It extends the time-line running through December 31, 2011, which appears here—in revised form—as Part 2.  Part 2 focuses on events leading up to and including the May 2011military seizure of Abyei, which abrogated the agreement represented by the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), as had the earlier denial of a self-determination referendum to the people "resident" in Abyei, as defined geographically by the 2009 PCA ruling.  The timeline continues through Khartoum’s military assaults on Southern Kordofan (June 5, 2011) and Blue Nile (September 1, 2011).

[Significant violations of agreements, signed or committed to, are highlighted by §.  All emphases, bold and italics, throughout these timelines have been added.]

Introduction: A time-line of reneging and bad faith

§ 1999:  As a framework for understanding the agreements to which Sudan has formally committed itself (Parts 1 and 2), we should recall a time when the UN human rights reports on the "situation in Sudan" were actually worth reading—here from May 1999 (E/CN.4/1999/38/17):

"As a Member State of the United Nations, the Sudan is bound by the Charter of the United Nations. Further, it is obliged to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons within its territory, as set out inter alia in the following instruments to which the Sudan has become a party:

the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;

the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;

the Convention on the Rights of the Child;

the Slavery Convention, as amended;

the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery;

the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Additional Protocol thereto.

"As a member of the International Labour Organization, the Sudan has ratified its Conventions concerning Forced Labour (No. 29), the Abolition of Forced Labour (No. 105), the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (No. 98), Employment Policy (No. 122) and Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) (No. 111).

"On 23 September 1957, the Sudan became a party to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which set out humanitarian rules for armed conflicts.

"Further, it is to be noted that the Sudan has signed the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Although signature has not yet been followed by ratification, the Sudan has, by signing, shown the intention to accept the obligations under this Convention and, under customary international law, as reflected in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, is obligated not to do anything which would defeat the object and purpose of the Convention against Torture, pending a decision on ratification.

"In addition to the obligations arising from conventional international law, the Sudan is also bound to respect the standards of international customary law."

This list of obligations will seem a dismaying grotesquerie to those familiar with the regime’s long history of brutal domestic repression, it policy of enslaving Southerners, its massive and continuous violations of the Geneva Conventions to which it is party, the vast crimes against humanity represented by the systematic denial of humanitarian assistance to desperate civilians, as well as by widespread and systematic bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets for more than a decade, its routine use of torture as an instrument of the security forces, and the conspicuous racism embodied not only in the practice of slavery, the widespread institutional exclusion of "Africans," the racial basis for targeted human destruction (including the Nuba and the people of Darfur), but the present practice of "ethnic culling" of the northern population, a policy that de-nationalizes "Southerners" solely on the basis of race and ethnicity (see July 4, 2011 in Part 2).

The violations of these various "agreements" are so utterly routine that only the most dogged human rights organizations continue to make mention of them.

Other agreements violated over the past decade:

§  January 2002: Although usually touted as impressive success, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Nuba Mountains was responsible for securing compliance with an agreement that included, inter alia, the demand that there be no redeployment of military forces.  On signing the agreement, and in direct contravention of its terms, Khartoum immediately took military advantage of the cease-fire and re-deployed two full brigades from South Kordofan to the fighting in the oil regions of what was then Western Upper Nile.  In January 2003 I questioned in Kauda the head of this mission, Norwegian Brigadier-General Jan Erik Wilhelmsen, about the redeployment of the two SAF brigades in violation of the agreement.  The General sniffed contemptuously and said only that "this occurred before I got here."  Such casual acceptance of violations of agreements set the stage for much that would follow.

§  October 2002: Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army signed a "Cessation of Hostilities Agreement."  And yet three months later I was interviewing civilians from Western Upper Nile who had recently been badly wounded by helicopter gunships.  Not until further international pressure in February 2003 was the cease-fire meaningfully observed by Khartoum, in large part because of the superb work of the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) based in Rumbek (Lakes State).

§  2004: The breakthrough Abyei Protocol—negotiated in 2004—was a linchpin in the successful completion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (signed January 9, 2005).  As discussed above and below, Khartoum massively violated this agreement and construed its terms in ways that were contemptibly disingenuous.  Especially conspicuous actions included:

§  July 2005: President Omar al-Bashir refuses to accept the findings of the Abyei Boundaries Commission, established by the CPA and whose membership was agreed to by both Khartoum and Juba.

§  May 2008:  Khartoum’s regular and militia forces burn Abyei town to the ground, and in a prelude to the military seizure of May 2011, force many tens of thousands of Dinka Ngok to flee southward to Warrap State.

§  January 2011: efforts by the regime to delay and ultimately prevent the agreed upon self-determination referendum prove fully successful.

March 2011: SAF military deployments captured in satellite photography make unambiguously clear that Khartoum intends to seize Abyei militarily; there is no meaningful response from the international community, which is well aware of what is impending.

§  May 20 – 21, 2011: Khartoum easily moves from its positions of forward deployment to seize Abyei militarily.  A year later, the SAF remains in full military control, despite the presence of an Ethiopian peacekeeping brigade with UN auspices.

[for a detailed timeline of the events in Abyei through late May 2011, see: "An Abyei Timeline: The Long Road to Khartoum’s Military Invasion."]

§  2005 – 2011: The various terms of the CPA designed to "make unity attractive" for all Sudanese quickly fall apart, as many of the most powerful officials in Khartoum’s security cabal have no intention of fulfilling the terms of the CPA.  Southerners quickly find that whatever portfolio they might nominally hold, a "shadow ministry"—staffed by senior regime officials—wields real control over the ministry portfolio.  Key meetings are either secret or deliberately conducted in an Arabic that goes at a pace and with a colloquial content that often makes it difficult even for those with fluent "Juba Arabic" to keep up with important points of discussion.  This is the regime’s vision of "power-sharing."

§  Wealth-sharing quickly became for Khartoum an exercise in bookkeeping obscurantism: we will never know how many billions of dollars altogether were kept from the South by means of accounting legerdemain, but it is a very substantial number.  Khartoum’s willingness to cheat on the terms of wealth-sharing were recently underscored when during fighting between Tishwin and Heglig, the SPLA discovered an illegal and surreptitious "tie-in" pipeline designed.

Khartoum also refused to convene in a timely way the boundary commission charged with first delineating and the demarcating the North/South border as it stood on January 1, 1956.  What participation occurred was largely in bad faith, at least at the highest political levels.  The deliberate obstruction of this critical task was, it is now clear, designed to make possible the present militarily ambiguous situations, which profit only Khartoum; Juba gains nothing from such indeterminate borders, and international policing is made infinitively more difficult in the absence of demarcation, indeed even delineation in far too many places.

§  The CPA was also to have afforded "popular consultations" for the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile; they were to address key outstanding political issues in these long marginalized regions.  Precisely what these "consultations" were to provide, and by what mechanisms, was never adequately specified.  But Khartoum’s intentions were easily discerned when in early May 2011 the regime engineered the election of Ahmed Haroun as governor of South Kordofan.  Haroun is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for scores of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He was put in his present position by Khartoum to continue those crimes against the Nuba.

Although hastily and foolishly ratified by the Carter Center, the South Kordofan elections were yet another violation of the CPA, no matter how we construe "popular consultations."  Moreover, the Carter Center account was subsequently vigorously challenged by a forceful and fully informed critique from the Rift Valley Institute; but the damage had been done, and a month after Haroun’s election, South Kordofan was turned into a bloodbath by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces

§  October/November 2010: Obama administration officials, including special envoy Scott Gration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, bring conspicuous pressure to bear on Juba to compromise further on Abyei, despite the compromises already represented in both the Abyei Protocol and Juba’s acceptance of the July 2009 ruling on Abyei’s boundaries by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.  Senator John Kerry, part-time administration envoy and aspirant to the office of Secretary of State, reveals a contemptible but consequential ignorance in declaring Abyei to be an insignificant "few hundred square miles" standing in the way of peace for millions (in fact, Abyei as defined by the PCA is over 4,000 square miles, almost the size of Kerry’s larger neighbor to the south, the state of Connecticut.

§  November 2010: Khartoum begins regular bombings of South Sudan, right up to and following the self-determination referendum of January 9, 2011. Even before the recent massive wave of aerial attacks, there had been more than 40 confirmed attacks on civilians or humanitarians in the South—or attacks so indiscriminate as to have no possible primary military purpose. These attacks violate a wide range of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Part (2012), including Darfur Appendix, can be found at: http://www.sudanreeves.org/2012/05/07/part-1-a-timeline-for-khartoums-abrogation-of-agreements-to-date-in-2012/

Part 2 (2011) can be found at:


Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

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