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Africa

UN threats fail to resolve Sudan stalemate

A UN ultimatum to the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan has failed to produce the desired results. Not even the threat of sanctions could bring the two neighbors to a peace agreement.

Once again history repeated itself as Sudan and South Sudan frantically tried to reach an agreement before the ultimatum set by the UN Security Council expired on Thursday August 2.

The deadline was set on May 2, in accordance with Sudan Resolution 2046 which called on the two neighbors to resolve border disputes and the division of oil resources and revenues or face sanctions. The AU-mediated peace negotiations, chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, have been dragging on for weeks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Unlike the draft resolution on Syria in which Moscow and Beijing were a stumbling block, the adoption of the Sudan resolution was unanimously approved by all member states.

Ultimatum not taken seriously

A close up of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

Sudanese President al Bashir still moves freely despite an arrest warrant

Despite that unanimity, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has not taken the Security Council ultimatum seriously. His country "is not intimidated by the ultimatum" said Saddiq Mutris, spokesman for the Sudanese delegation at the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa. He was speaking shortly after Sudan rejected South Sudan's proposals to resolve some of the outstanding issues.

The UN Security Council has one week to digest the ultimatum's outcome. On August 9, the mediator for the African Union (AU), Thabo Mbeki, will present his report to the Security Council. Based on that, a decision on whether to extend the deadline or impose sanctions will be made. The last option could lead to more conflict in Sudan.

Sanctions against both countries?

The US and the UK want rapid political and economic sanctions to be imposed against Sudanese President al-Bashir. But China and Russia would prefer, if anything, sanctions against both countries if no agreement is reached.

It remains unclear, though, which sanctions could resolve the conflict.

Economic sanctions seem not to be ideal, since oil production in both countries is still largely at a standstill and neither country exports any other business-related goods.

If sanctions, then what kind?

An arms embargo was imposed on (then united) Sudan in 2005. Back then, Russia and China were the main suppliers. China and Russia might now call for that embargo to be extended to South Sudan, a move that the US would probably veto.

Four people are waving a South Sudanese independence flag

South Sudan split off from united Sudan in July last year

Individual sanctions, such as blocking bank accounts abroad, or travel restrictions on political and military leaders of both countries, are also not likely to have any impact. In 2009 the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir, a warrant that was initiated by the Security Council. Nevertheless, Bashir enjoys almost unlimited freedom to travel in some African countries.

What can the UN do?

The Sudan conflict shows that the UN Security Council's ability to produce results by means of sanctions has not increased since the Cold War ended 20 years ago. This is partly due to old, unresolved differences between Russia and the West. In addition, there are the geopolitical interests of emerging world powers such as China, Brazil, India and South Africa, which are non-permanent members of the Security Council.

The United Nations remains reluctant to impose so-called smart sanctions that affect only political and military leaders, but not the general population. This is because of the bad experiences made when such sanctions were imposed on Iraq in the 90s.

Hopes that regional bodies, such as the AU, would take over greater responsibility for dealing with conflicts in their part of the world have also remained unfulfilled. In fact, in the case of the two Sudans, some AU member states have even undermined the efforts of the Security Council. For as long as these states still allow Sudan's president to travel through their territories and welcome him in their capitals, Bashir is hardly likely to bow to pressure from the UN Security Council.

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