Interview with Dr. Suliman Baldo
The wide spanning migration to Europe had led to a new type of partnership between the EU and Sudan, resulting in the EU spending millions of Euros to enable the government of Sudan to access technical tools and trainings to stop the flow of migrants from Sudan for those coming from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and other African countries South of the Sahara who trek across Sudan.
In April 2017, US-based Enough Project released a new report on the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the role it plays in migration which is a perspective that is often neglected in the narrative on the Khartoum process.The report, titled “Border Control from Hell: How the EU’s Migration Partnership Legitimizes Sudan’s Militia State” was written by Dr Suliman Baldo, a consultant for the ENOUGH Project, a group specialized in policies that combat violent crimes and aims at establishing a stronghold for justice and equality and enforcing real sanctions against criminals, and is also a strategic expert on peace, development and transitional justice issues. Dr. Suliman worked in Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia and is currently an independent expert for the United Nations on human rights in the Republic of Mali.
In this interview, Dr. Baldo will give us the full picture behind this report.
Dr. Suliman, as the author of the report for the ENOUGH PROJECT, can you tell us more about the report and its importance at the moment.
The report focuses on two issues. The first is about the EU-Sudan government partnership for the management or prevention of migrants’ movement across the Sudanese territories into Europe through border surpassing into Libya. This project has a lot of hurdles; including lack of transparency, enabling the Rapid Support Forces militia that was tasked by the Sudanese government to monitor and control the borders and prevent migrants’ movements across into Libya. This militia is marred with human right violations in its missions against armed rebels in Darfur and the Blue Nile state and across Sudan wherever they were present; in Khartoum, Jebel Awliya, Bitaina, Sharg el Nil. Wherever they are present for training or stationed, they attack civilians and harass women, even sexually harassing girls, and robbing stores, assaulting civilians like the case in Jebel Awliya, leading to upheavals by civilians as in the case of Obeid in January 2014 and in many places.
The resulting conflict led the Sudanese government to withdraw the Rapid Support Forces in a quick manner so things don’t escalate. At the same time, this government allows these Forces to commit crimes against civilians in conflict areas, such as Nuba Mountains where they were sent in the fighting season of 2013-2014 and in 2014-2015 and until January 2016 in Southern Nyala and Jebel Marra areas. The Rapid Support Forces are known to have burned tens of villages and displaced tens of thousands of civilians. These are all recorded instances in independent reports such as the “Maintaining Peace in Darfur” report. This is why the EU project to enhance migration issues in the horn of Africa enables and legitimizes this militia that the government of Sudan assigned to conduct border patrol.
The second issue, which I think is very serious, is that this project not only supports and legitimizes the Rapid Support Forces militia, it does the same for the entire regime which I dubbed the militias country, referring to how the regime almost fully depends on non-formal militias which are under the coordination of the regime’s forces such as the Sudan Armed Forces and National Intelligence and Security Services. This dependence on militias that commit atrocities to enforce the authority and protect the regime from falling for armed rebels and political opposition, as when these militias were tasked to oppress the 2013 demonstrations by civilians against the removal of fuel subsidies. Any national project with any of these militias support and hands an unnecessary legitimacy, which is almost participatory in the crimes of these militias in the modern Sudanese nation built by this regime.
Dr. Baldo how were you able to gather information for this report in light of the media blackout by the government?
I’m an avid follower of the militias issue since its inception in the narrow and limited context, though with the same human rights violations and crimes, in the era of Nimeri with the name of “Friendly Forces” that were composed of tribal militias from the South of Sudan. These forces were used by the Armed Forces Intelligence against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The point of these militias was to attack Dinka as a tribe which was seen by the Nimeri regime as the backbone of the rebellion so their resources and belongings must be crushed and communities must be displaced so as to weaken the rebellion. These militias were mostly from the Nuer tribe and they were also tasked to displace Nuer communities from the petroleum rich areas, and they committed crimes against their own communities. When the government of Al Sayed Sadig Al Mahdi came to power it was fiercely opposed by the opposition, at that time it was the National Islamic Front, which had a hand in creating militias from the nomadic Arab tribes as an independent body. This led Al Sayed Sadig to adopt some of these nomadic militias so as to keep the favor of these tribes; he formed the Miseriya tribe militia in South Kordofan and Rizegat al Bagara in South Darfur. And we know from history the atrocities committed by them against Dinka in 1987 and especially the Dein massacre which I documented with my colleague Dr. Ushari in a book titled “The Dein Massacre and Slavery in Sudan – 1987”.
The massacre was the results of these disastrous policies. The National Salvation government created the Popular Defense Forces in November 1989 and overnight they had 100,000 soldiers by absorbing the militias from the South Kordofan and Darfur, but it was also a way to recruit civilians and students. At the beginning of the Darfur rebellion the government supported Arab tribes in Darfur with weapons and thus weapons became abundant which was a short-vision policy from the regime. These policies have created unprecedented levels of weapons distributions all over the tribes in Sudan. These policies have long lasting and deep effect as we can see now in the ongoing conflict by the Kababish and Hammar in the North and West Kordofan. This is where my interest in this problem is for its effect on the different tribes compositions in Sudan and because of the involvement of the youth in these violent crimes.
In January 2017, the former US president Barak Obama lifted the economic and trade sanctions on Sudan. The White House announced in a press release that lifting the sanctions will be delayed 180 days, which is a move that encourages the government of Sudan to keep up the efforts to combat terrorism and uphold human rights. Observers noted that the EU supported the US sanctions lifting to encourage Sudan’s regional role.
Dr. Baldo, the Khartoum operation, as it has become known in all media and political circles, as mentioned in your report, gave legitimacy to the Sudanese government and a large scale fund from the EU. Is there a relationship between lifting the sanctions and Sudan’s role in preventing migration?
This is one of the factors. The executive order signed by former president Obama in January declared that in the previous 6 months preceding the decision, the government of Khartoum was put under a test to better its performances in 5 specific tracks: easing humanitarian process, lessening the violence in conflict areas, not engaging in conflict with neighboring countries especially in South Sudan so as to not unsettle the regional and international efforts to bring peace there, and not protecting the remaining factions of the Ugandan Lord Army in Sudan, and collaborating with the American intelligence agencies in fighting terrorism. Sudan has been collaborating with US intelligence against terrorism for a long time by sharing information known to the Sudanese intelligence about AlQaeda and ISIS and this has been down to protect the government as perceived by the government – to avoid resentment by the US – to give some information about these groups. We all know there are groups from salafi and jihadi sects preaching in Sudan within universities and neighborhoods and they cannot be working with this freedom without support from the government. So there is this hypocrisy and double standards in how Khartoum acts, letting these groups preach extremist values and recruit people to send to Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Boko Haram areas. This hypocrisy by the government is to remain in power and the US government needs this information so it gave Sudan some space by lifting the sanctions with certain rules and in a specific timeframe which ends in July 2017.
In this period since the executive order Sudan is supposed to continue with its improvement in performance on the 5 main tracks. Unfortunately the five tracks did not delve deep into the internal issues of the Sudan; for example there was no mention of respecting basic human rights, freedom to assemble, freedom to organize, freedom of opinion and creed, freedom of mobility as one of the indicators to show Sudan is improving. Another issue is to find a comprehensive solution for the armed rebellion in Sudan. The government now figured it can continue abusing human rights and to find solutions that it finds perfect to solve armed rebellion. Thus nothing changed for the Sudanese inside the country in terms of what the government has been asked to focus on, because the conflicts and the root issues were not required to be tackled nor was the human rights a primary issue. These are the main issues when it comes to the lifting of the Sanctions.
There are still sanctions that remain to be lifted, more specifically, Sudan remains a country listed under fostering terrorism and it was imposed by the US congress and can only be lifted by it. There is also a few sanctions that were forced to encourage peace in Darfur that were also enforced by the US congress and can only be lifted by it. Thus even if the sanctions are lifted in July by the Trump administration then Sudan needs to find a solution for the conflict in the areas and to improve human rights conditions in Sudan.