Khalil Examines Prospects for Peace in the Sudan

By Wattad, Nizar | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Khalil Examines Prospects for Peace in the Sudan


Wattad, Nizar, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Washington, DC's Middle East Institute hosted a June 25 lecture by scholar-in-residence Dr. Mohamed I. Khalil, former Sudanese minister of foreign affairs and minister of justice. An attendance of about 40 people listened as Dr. Khalil provided a brief history of the conflict between the northern Sudanese government and the southern Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM). While the regions are not as polarized as media reports often indicate, Dr. Khalil asserted, differences do exist.

Historically, he explained, the south served as a source of ivory and slaves, with northern Sudanese as major participants in the human trafficking. Since Western missionaries traditionally focused on the history of the slave trade, he noted, Western history books emphasize a "northern Arab captors/southern Black captives" dichotomy.

A 1950s independence referendum yielded a southern agreement to preserve the country's territorial integrity, provided it was done under a federal system of government. According to Khalil, that promise has been "broken by every northern Sudanese government since." Over the years, southerners continued to be denied government positions and economic advancement. To make things worse, the government established "Sudanization" committees that included no southerners.

The civil war began 19 years ago, with the mutiny of a southern battalion, and has continued ever since. In Khalil's appraisal, the conflict has left approximately 2 million persons dead, more southerners than northerners, and has "dilapidated the human and natural resources of the country." In this light, Khalil noted, the July 28, 2002 agreement between the parties to end the war "is a great achievement." It begs the question, however: what happens if the peace treaty holds? Khalil's analysis focused on issues of self-determination and the form of an interim Sudanese self-government.

According to the former minister, the assumption that the southern Sudan has an inherent right to independence "is debatable under international law." Khalil differentiated between internal self-determination-generally understood and accepted as a fundamental human right-and external self-determination, recognized for former colonies such as East Timor and the Western Sahara-both of which were invaded. This is not the case with the southern Sudan, Khalil observed, leading him to conclude that "the people of the southern Sudan (like Quebec) can only claim self-determination on the basis of a consensual agreement. …

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