Thursday, 29 April 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Mark Dearey: I thank the Cathaoirleach for affording me the opportunity to raise the issue of the recent elections in Sudan. Last January, on a bitterly cold day in Dundalk, I was proud to witness the departing troops on their final inspection by the then Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, before they took up their role in Chad, which primarily was to deal with the humanitarian crisis that has been caused in Darfur. It is with a heavy heart that I note the recent elections did nothing to improve the lot of the poor people of Darfur. The election in northern Sudan was overseen by up to 3,500 volunteers from the independent civil society network in Sudan, and a report on the conduct of the election was issued that I have to hand. The election was won by President Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party. In 2009, Omar al-Bashir was indicted on five counts of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, ICC. While there always was going to be a question mark about the conduct of these elections, unfortunately people’s fears and those of the civil society network within Sudan have been realised.
The National Election Commission, NEC, was established under the comprehensive peace agreement that holds out hope for a stable and safe democratic society within Sudan in time but which is far from being delivered at present. However, the NEC, which oversaw the administration of the election, has been accused by the civil society network of a range of malpractices pertaining to how the census was conducted, how polling cards were distributed, how records were kept of voting on the day and how planned voter education programmes were not carried out. Moreover, recruitment to the NEC’s staff was neither neutral nor of an equal opportunity nature. The NEC failed to transport election materials or even to bring equipment to voting centres in many parts of the north. These and many other instances of malpractice and maladministration in the election process give rise to grave concerns about the legitimacy of the results, especially in the north. It may appear curious that Sudan, which is so vast and far away, should be of concern in Ireland. It is the largest country in Africa and is the same size as the whole of Western Europe. However, it is of concern to us in a real way because the lack of security and stability in Darfur affects Chad where Irish peacekeepers and peace enforcers have been working hard to ensure the safety of the people of Darfur as they flee from the war President al-Bashir initiated. Incidentally, he has described it as being an ordinary resource war, which is an absolutely appalling way to view it.
I hope for a strong response from the Minister of State on Ireland’s view of those elections and what can be done in their wake to ensure there can be a return to an agenda that will begin to establish a proper democracy in Sudan and, most critically, ensure the safety of the people of Darfur. I understand a referendum is due next year in which it is highly likely that southern Sudan will opt for self-determination. The civil society network in Sudan has stated that following this referendum on self-determination, a reorganisation of real elections should take place as soon as possible for the achievement of peace and security in Darfur. I hope the Minister of State can support this call for a reorganisation of real elections following the referendum in southern Sudan.
Presidential, national and local elections were held in Sudan from 11 to 15 April this year. These were the fifth competitive multi-party elections since Sudanese independence in 1956 and the first to be held in 24 years. The elections, which had been delayed since July 2009, were mandated by the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement that brought to an end to years of civil war between north and south Sudan. They were rightly perceived as representing a vital step in the development of a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Sudan. The elections were observed by a total of 17,000 national observers and 700 international observers. Of these, the European Union’s electoral observation mission was by far the largest. It included two long-term and two short-term observers from Ireland.
In the run-up to the polling days, it was clear that there were significant challenges to the proper conduct and observation of the elections and security remained a major concern throughout that time. The European Union mission suffered a number of security threats and in the end pulled out of Darfur after at least two death threats to observers. Furthermore, a number of candidates in northern constituencies decided to withdraw from the elections in protest against alleged irregularities and fraud on the part of the ruling party. These included Yasser Arman, representing the former rebel southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and Sadiq al-Mahdi of the former ruling Umma Party. The non-participation by such candidates raises questions over the democratic legitimacy of the final results. Notwithstanding these concerns, the fact that ultimately the elections were conducted in a relatively peaceful and orderly manner is to be welcomed. The people of Sudan are to be commended on their engagement in a complex and lengthy polling process and their increased civic participation in recent months. It also is to be hoped this will provide further impetus to securing full implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement and lasting peace in Sudan.
This week, the Foreign Affairs Council discussed the elections in Sudan. At the same time, the Sudanese National Election Commission declared the final results, which returned the incumbent President Omar al-Bashir with 68% of the votes counted and re-elected former rebel leader Salva Kiir as president of the semi-autonomous south, with 93% of the southern vote. The European Union, while welcoming the relatively peaceful conduct of the elections, also noted with concern the reports of international observers highlighting the many deficiencies in the electoral process and called on the Sudanese authorities to address the shortcomings in time to prepare for future voting processes. Together with its partners in the European Union, the Government believes that the elections, including the undoubted flaws which observers have noted, must be seen in the overall context of securing peace and stability in Sudan as a whole and in the region. Full implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement is a fundamental part of this process.
In particular, the referendum on southern self-determination scheduled for 2011 is of great significance for the country and the wider region. In that context, Ireland agrees that greater consideration must be given towards potential post-2011 scenarios, including a possible international presence. Ireland urges all stakeholders to advance preparations for the referendum, as well as for the necessary arrangements for the time thereafter. It continues to support a co-ordinated approach by the key international and regional partners, including the United Nations, the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development and the African Union’s high level implementation panel led by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki.
The continuing conflict in Darfur and the associated tensions with the international community over the International Criminal Court arrest warrant against President al-Bashir also impinge on the north-south peace process. In this regard, Ireland recognises the progress achieved by the Doha peace talks in advance of the elections under the leadership of the African Union-United Nations chief mediator. Ireland urges all parties involved to redouble their efforts to secure an inclusive and comprehensive peace agreement that addresses the root causes of the conflict in Darfur. At the same time, the Government recalls that impunity for the most serious crimes under international law can never be accepted. With its partners in the European Union, Ireland continues to support the International Criminal Court and calls upon the Government of Sudan to co-operate fully with the ICC in accordance with its obligations under international law. For its part, Ireland will continue its engagement in Sudan, including through development assistance targets for the benefit of the Sudanese population. Since 2007, Ireland has provided more than €45 million in funding to Sudan. These funds have been used to provide immediate humanitarian assistance in crisis areas and to establish longer-term programmes in primary health care, basic education, urban, community and rural development, human rights, the rights of the disabled and capacity building.
Ireland and the European Union are strongly committed to supporting the development of a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Sudan. The Government believes that only through an agreed approach, which is inclusive of all Sudanese, can these objectives be met. I am confident the European Union will remain engaged during this pivotal year for Sudan.
Senator Mark Dearey: I thank the Minister of State for that detailed response, some of which alludes to what I and my party would like to see happen post the referendum in southern Sudan next year, which is the development of new scenarios to help stabilise the Darfur region in particular and develop democracy in the country. This may sound cynical but I urge the Minister for Foreign Affairs to use the leverage our €45 million funding provides us with to make known our grave concerns about the running of these elections. I recognise there is a delicate balance to be struck in terms of keeping some semblance of order within the country but, as the Minster of State said, the non-participation of opposition candidates raises serious questions over the democratic legitimacy of the final results. I welcome that frank acknowledgement, given that we cannot, as the Minister of State also said, deal with any impunity with the most serious crimes that could be envisaged. Given the Minister of State also acknowledged that, it is extremely important we continue to press for fresh elections. It is 24 years since the last multi-party elections. Let it not be another 24 years before there are fresh elections, rather let them be held within the next year. I urge the Minster of State to convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs that whatever can be done should be done to bring such elections to bear to bed down democracy and secure a future for the people of Darfur and, at a self-interested level, to make the region safer for our own participation.
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