Waging war against aspirations for peace in Dafur
Last week, Australia accepted Mr Ibrahim Bushra Mohamed Ali as the Sudanese Ambassador to Australia.
The acceptance has been made in spite of the current crisis in Darfur, which is alleged to have been fuelled by the Khartoum government, and without apparent consideration of Australian Darfuris.
This move has distressed members of the local Darfuri community because of the legitimacy it affords Khartoum and out of fear for their own safety.
Mr Bushra Mohamed Ali, currently the Sudanese Ambassador to Indonesia, visited Australia to provide the Governor-General with Letters of Credence that requested his appointment as Sudan’s official representative in Australia . He was accepted without government consultation of the Darfuri or other Sudanese communities, many of whom have resettled here after fleeing government persecution and related atrocities in Sudan.
The crisis in Darfur, the Western region of Sudan, continues with no end in sight. Causalities are currently at their highest levels since 2008. May was recognised as the bloodiest month in Darfur in two years.
Various reports estimate that since the outbreak of violence in 2003, between 200,000 and 400,000 people have died as a result of fighting and conflict-induced malnutrition and disease. Three million people have been displaced (half of the Darfuri population) and four million people remain entirely dependent on limited humanitarian assistance (two-thirds of the Darfuri population). According to the UN more than 500,000 civilians have been newly displaced since January 2008, when UNAMID (the United Nations African Union Mission) formally took up its mandate of civilian and humanitarian protection.
All recent estimates are likely to be grossly understated as aid groups are now banned by the Khartoum government from reporting statistics.
The Sudanese government continues to claim that this conflict is over. Yet as recently as August, the region has seen attacks on and denial of aid by the Khartoum government to the people of Darfur.
Peace efforts between the Government of Sudan and the two main rebel groups; Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement, continue to deteriorate. As fighting between the government and rebel groups continues, the Darfur people are being left voiceless at the negotiation table.
Added to the Darfur conflict, the fragile peace in the oil-rich South Sudan, which has been at war with the North for two decades, looks set to unravel following the January 2011 referendum. The outcome of the referendum will more than likely result in South Sudan succeeding from the north; a decision that will undermine the Khartoum regime. It is also predicted to be a tipping point back into conflict in the region.
In this context of conflict and uncertainty, and considering the arrest warrants issued against the Sudanese President and other senior ministers, is now the time for Australia to establish official relations with the Government of Sudan?
Accepting Mr Ibrahim as the Sudanese Ambassador to Australia has been seen by members of the Darfur community as an endorsement of the Sudanese Government’s impunity for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The Australian government has a responsibility to protect the people of Darfur, to use its influence to help bring peace to the region, and to consider the aspirations of the Darfuri people now resettled in Australia. These are people who have endured rape and persecution and fled genocide. The Sudanese government is far from a benevolent power and any representative will doubtfully have the concerns of the Darfuri people at heart.
Mr Ibrahim’s appointment also creates a possible security risk. The Australian Darfuri community believes that the regime uses its international representatives to gather information about overseas-based Sudanese. There have been cases of overseas-based Sudanese returning to Sudan for a visit and being picked up by the regime at the border. This appointment has the potential to endanger any Sudanese expatriate who hopes to visit their family back in Sudan, as well as to re-instate the fear that this community had hoped to be free of since their arrival in Australia.
Now that the official relationship with the Sudanese Government has been established, the Australian government needs to think and act strategically. It must prioritise the achievement of lasting peace in Darfur. It must build stronger avenues for pressure on the Khartoum government. It can use its position to ensure justice is met, that displaced Darfuris are safely resettled, and that lasting development takes place within Darfur. It must also put in place plans that do not allow fear to take hold of the Australian Darfuri people; to assure them that they are not at risk following this appointment, and to protect their safe passage to and from Sudan.
Australia has already demonstrated its commitment to the Darfuri people by granting humanitarian visas and safe resettlement in Australia. It must not falter on this commitment. Despite the lack of respect shown for the communities’ opinions on this appointment, it must show that it stands against the longest genocide of the Twenty First Century and will do all in its power to uphold its global Human Rights principles and responsibilities.
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