October 23, 2018

Jan Pronk answers your questions

In this 30-minute podcast I ask former UN Special Representative to the Secretary General for Sudan, Jan Pronk, questions that you submitted through the website, plus a few follow-up questions of my own. (My apologies for the poor sound quality at the beginning of the interview – it gets better once Pronk starts speaking at about 1.15 minutes in.)

Until you get time to listen, here are the questions we covered and some select highlights:

What do you think accounts for the drop in violent deaths that the CRED report suggested took place after April 2004?

Pronk explains different phases of the crisis and the improvements that came once the Security Council started addressing it, humanitarians got in there etc. But he also notes that one reason for the drop is that by the time he arrived in Sudan in “people had been killed already . . . there weren’t too many more people left to be killed.”

When I re-stated something he had referred to as an “improvement” in the statistics in camps once there was humanitarian access, he was very quick to pull me up on the use of the word “improvement” and to make clear that it was more accurate to call it a “new situation” that was partly due to humanitarian access, but also partly because “so many had been killed already” and that “to a certain extent the Government, together with the Janjaweed, had gotten what they wanted . . . they had wanted to empty that part of the country in order to make it available for themselves . . .”

Pronk made reference to R2P and also talked about how people within the UN system asked members of the Security Council about Darfur, but that throughout 2003 “they continuously refused to put it [Darfur] on the agenda of the Security Council . . .”

I asked who was blocking it and why. He said the requests were directed at the U.S. and U.K. – and that “later on we understood that they were afraid to make life too difficult for the government in Khartoum which was involved in a peace negotiation with SPLM/SPLA in southern Sudan . . . I understand it as a [sic] reasoning; I think it’s wrong reasoning . . .”

What can the Obama Administration can do to assist UNAMID?

His reply started with: “UNAMID is in disarray.”

He said UNAMID needs to get up to the authorized troop level and be given the equipment – in particular military helicopters – that it needs, and has been promised. “It is as if the international community thinks ‘they are only Africans’ . . ” he said.

In terms of what the Obama Administration can do to change this:

1. Get the force up to standard in terms of size and resources

2. Implement sanctions “to make life difficult for those who are responsible for the policies in Darfur”. Until this happens they can continue to make it difficult for whatever UNAMID contingent is there to operate effectively.

3. Demand that the Government of South Sudan starts to step up and take responsibility for Darfur now that they are part of the Government of National Unity.

Regarding the first point, I asked what Western countries can do to increase troop numbers to the authorized level when the GOS won’t let Western troops into Darfur. He said that there needs to be political pressure on, in particular, Asian countries – Bangledesh, Nepal – to increase numbers. But he also had a novel idea (which you should listen to properly rather than just rely on this brief summary) about getting GOS consent to re-deploy the (primarily non-Western) troops from UNMIS in South Sudan to UNAMID in Darfur. Then Western troops could be deployed to UNMIS to replace them, since the GOS “does not have the right to question the composition of UNMIS in the South.”

On the third point, I questioned whether the GOSS has the leverage to push on Darfur given their fear about the future of the CPA. You can listen to his answer, but in short, he acknowledges they are in a difficult position but thinks they have more leverage than they realize.

How many military helicopters are needed?

They only have four and they need “some dozens . . . it is outrageous that they have not been made available – as if there are no [military] helicopters in the world.”

Why, after almost 3 months, have the agencies that were expelled not been re-admitted. What can and should governments do to change this?

He talked about needing a strong and, most important, unified response. “The fact that the United Nations has divided the U.N. presence into two missions is of course not helpful. The Government of Sudan always tries to divide and rule. . . The U.N. has weakened itself. It was [a] stupid decision, asking the people of Sudan to stay together and then to make yourself into two missions in that specific country. I never understood the political wisdom of that decision . . .”

What do you see as the prospect for a united Sudan?

You need to guarantee:

1. Peace in the South

2. Peace in Darfur

3. Development

4. Guarantees of fundamental rights (He commented:  “In the period I was there, I really had the impression that they (the Government of South Sudan) were doing good things . . . they really did a good job in the first two years. . “)

“If these four conditions . . . would be met, there’s a chance for unity. If these conditions would not be met, I bet the people in the South would vote for independence. . . .”


  1. Marc Gustafson says:

    Dear Bec,

    Thanks for conducting this interview. I found it very informative and thoughtful, but I would like to take issue with two items relating to the first question.

    1) In your paraphrasing, you don’t mention Mr. Pronk’s other reasons for the drop in violence after April of 2004. In the podcast, he mentions that the ceasefire agreement (I’m assuming he means the April 8th agreements) in Chad and the involvement of the UN played a role in the drop of violence. This is very important because it demonstrates that the local-level peace agreements (the ones that were completely ignored by the activist groups) did have an effect on the conflict. If you look closely at the CRED report, you’ll see that the drop in violent deaths occurred almost immediately after the April 8th ceasefire, which is a good indicator that, like Mr. Pronk said, the ceasefire had a significant impact. But you left this out of the summary?

    2) If, as you emphasize, the sudden drop in violent deaths occurred mostly because there were no Darfurians left to kill, then why would activists, who began their campaigns in earnest in the summer of 2004, demand military intervention to ‘stop the violence’. Were they just out of touch with what was happening on the ground?

    3) If the goal of the GOS was to kill Darfurians, and this goal was mostly achieved by April of 2004 – as I think you, and perhaps Mr. Pronk suggest – then why did the violent death rate not continue at the same rate in the places where most of the Darfurians were resettled? Furthermore, if the CRED report is accurate, and 32,000 violent deaths occurred before April of 2004, and over 2.5 million people were displaced, then wouldn’t you say that the intent of the government was to displace the Darfurians and not to exterminate them? If you do the math (32,000/2532000 x 100%), you’ll see that less than one percent of the affected population was killed. What does this say about the genocide vs. ethnic cleansing debate and the “intent” to destroy vs. displace?

  2. Interesting site, but much advertisments on him. Shall read as subscription, rss.

  3. The following was sent by Eric Reeves. I am just posting on his behalf:

    Reply to Pronk’s UNMIS/UNAMID “switch-out” deployment plan

    Jan Pronk’s notion of securing from Khartoum permission to re-deploy the
    (primarily non-Western) troops from UNMIS in South Sudan to UNAMID in
    Darfur, and then deploying Western as replacements to UNMIS, is
    evidently premised on the notion that the regime “does not have the
    right to question the composition of UNMIS in the South.” This is more
    of Pronk’s foolishness, reflected earlier in countless moments of moral
    and intellectual failure during his tenure as special representative of
    the Secretary General to Sudan (ending in September 2006).

    It was Pronk, for example, who proposed the disastrous Darfur “safe
    areas” concept in August 2004, all too reminiscent of the tragic
    experiment in the Balkans (one might have thought that the Dutch Pronk
    would have been more sensitive to the ghastly precedent of Srebrenica
    and the failure of Dutch troops in the face of this massive atrocity
    crime). To secure Khartoum’s consent, Pronk essentially traded away UN
    SC Resolution 1556 (July 2004), which “demanded” that the regime disarm
    the Janjaweed and brings their leaders to justice. The “safe areas”
    concept received, appropriately, blistering criticism from Amnesty
    International and Human Rights Watch at the time (the plan worked to
    Khartoum’s clear military advantage), and by September had been quietly
    dropped—though without UN acknowledgement. The damage, however, had
    already been done.

    It was also Pronk who prematurely abandoned the peace support operation
    authorized by UN SC Resolution 1706, suggesting in its place an “African
    Union-Plus” force. This was what set diplomacy on the long and tortured
    road that brought us the present “hybrid” UN/African Union Mission in
    Darfur (UNAMID, authorized by UN SC only in August 2007). The Mission
    is failing, and even the fatuously optimistic UNAMID Joint Special
    Representative Rodolphe Adada admits the force is operating at only
    about one-third authorized capacity, almost two years following
    Resolution 1769 (July 2007). A great deal of UNAMID’s failure to deploy
    effectively is the responsibility of Khartoum’s relentless and
    consequential obstructionism.

    So why should we believe Pronk is any more insightful in suggesting that
    Khartoum would accommodate a transfer of UNMIS troops in Southern Sudan
    to Darfur? Especially if it were made clear that the re-deployed UNMIS
    troops would be replaced by Western troops? Without a political and
    diplomatic commitment of a sort seen nowhere during Pronk’s tenure or
    subsequently, this represents a dangerous wishful thinking. Khartoum
    would of course simply deny the movement of UNMIS troops to Darfur, one
    way or another. The regime was canny in trimming the UNMIS mandate, as
    well as insisting that it have no connection to Darfur and peacekeeping
    operations there (other than a feeble “liaison” relationship). They are
    not about to be fooled by such an obvious out-and-in switching
    stratagem. To think otherwise is to indulge in the foolishness that
    made Pronk’s tenure as Special Representative such a decisive failure.


  1. […] UNMIS/UNAMID “switch-out” deployment plan”  You can read it in the comments below the Pronk podcast. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a […]

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