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African Union suspends Sudan, demands civilian rule to end crisis

Thursday June 6 2019

Sudanese forces

Sudanese forces are deployed around Khartoum's army headquarters on June 3, 2019 as they try to disperse Khartoum's sit-in. PHOTO | ASHRAF SHAZLY | AFP 

AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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The African Union on Thursday moved to tame rising atrocities in Sudan by suspending Khartoum from the bloc’s meetings until the military rulers hand power to civilians.

After a fourth meeting since April, when protesters forced Omar al-Bashir out of power, the African Union Peace and Security Council said Khartoum must now hand power to civilians.

“The AU Peace and Security Council has, with immediate effect, suspended the participation of the Republic of Sudan in all AU activities,” the Council tweeted on Thursday.

The bloc said the suspension will be in place “until the effective establishment of a Civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow Sudan to exit from the current crisis".

SHUTTLE DIPLOMACY

The move came amid claims of a violent crackdown by Sudan’s authorities against protesters.

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Some reports indicated that as many as 100 bodies had been collected from the streets and River Nile, one of the highest death tolls since protests began in Sudan in 2018.

On Wednesday, the AU embarked on shuttle diplomacy as chairperson Moussa Mahamat Faki tried to resolve the standoff between military rulers and civilian groups on when elections should be held.

Mr Faki sent his envoy to Khartoum to speak to “all parties.” The envoy’s report influenced the decision of the 15-member council, whose main roles is to prevent conflicts or violation of democratic principles among member states.

Mr Faki, a Chadian diplomat, had said the solution to Khartoum must be consultative.

“No unilateral solution possible. Vital for the international community to speak with one voice and convince parties to resume talks on a consensual transition [sic],” he said on Wednesday.

SO FAR

A protest-led deposition of Bashir was immediately hijacked by the military rulers in April.

They formed the Transitional Military Council led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, which civilian protesters rejected.

After several weeks of negotiations, the council said it would organise elections in two years and hand power to civilians.

This was again rejected as activists led by local professional bodies asked for a shorter time.

This week, they cancelled all agreements with civilian bodies and unilaterally announced they will hold elections within nine months.

CONDEMNATION

When protesters opposed the move, security forces descended on them, leading to global condemnation.

“By ordering these attacks, the Transitional Military Council has put the transition process and peace in Sudan in jeopardy,” the US, UK and Norway said in a joint statement.

Commonly known as the Troika, the three countries called for an agreed transfer of power to a civilian-led government as demanded by the people of Sudan.

“The people of Sudan deserve an orderly transition, led by civilians, that can establish the conditions for free and fair elections, rather than have rushed elections imposed by the TMC’s security forces.

SUBTLE PRESSURE

The move to suspend Sudan become the first decisive action by the continental body on Sudan.

Though lacking the power to bite, suspension from the AU could be subtle pressure on the country already sanctioned by the US, not keep within the international community.

The move came as Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took over the mantle of the AU Assembly, composed of heads of state.

When he came to power himself, it was through a coup that ousted Mohammed Morsy. It forced the AU to suspend Cairo from the bloc’s meetings in 2013. Later, Egypt was re-instated after Sisi won an organised election.

AU'S POWERS

The AU’s move is based on its 2007 policy on ‘Unconstitutional Change of Government’ (UCG), which lists take-over of power through means other than those in local laws as illegal.

Known formally as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, it lists several decisions the African Union can adopt towards a guilty member state.

It mandates the chairperson of the AU Commission to "condemn" the coup and demand a speedy return to constitutional order" and adds that "the country where the coup happens may be suspended from participating in policy organs of the AU and the new authorities in the country given a period of up to six months to restore constitutional order".

Mali, Egypt and Guinea Bissau are some of the countries recently suspended. 

CONSEQUENCES

Though the AU can suspend its members through the Peace and Security Council, it lacks powers to expel members.

This means Sudan's suspension could only be subtle pressure to force an end to the crisis.

However, the move can also send a message to the more powerful UN Security Council that has powers to impose sanctions on member states.