November 2006

After I had been declared persona non grata by the Government of Sudan I have received hundreds and hundreds of e-mails. About ninety percent were positive. People thanked me for candid reporting, shared their criticism of the violations of the peace agreement with me and urged me to continue. A small minority was negative. Some Dutch said that they had been happy that I, as a left wing politician, had left Dutch politics a couple of years earlier. They urged me to stay away. Others, mainly Sudanese, told me that they were fully in agreement with the Government. Some of them told me to stay away from Sudan and threatened me in case I would return. However, I also received quite a few positive reactions from Sudanese people, both from Darfur, the South, Khartoum and the Diaspora. I have tried to answer all mail in person, the positive as well as the critical ones, provided that rational arguing was possible.

Some people have raised the issue of the weblog itself. As I wrote in my previous weblog, nr 37, the Government had argued that throughout the year I had developed a history of hostility against the Government of Sudan and its armed forces. As an example the Government mentioned, in its letter to the Secretary General of the UN, “damaging and negative statements to the media and in his (i.e. my) own website.” However, I am convinced that the real reason was that the Government wanted to silence me. I had regularly reported that the Government and the army, despite the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement, had continued to violate this agreement as well as Security Council Resolutions. They did so, I argued, by bringing more and more military forces to Darfur, by incorporating the Janjaweed in its own para-military forces and by arming in stead of disarming them, by continuing attacks and bombardments on positions of rebel movements and by allowing and supporting attacks on civilians. The Government, I argued, though having agreed to making peace, clearly continued to seek a military victory.

Since then the facts on the ground in Darfur have shown that I was right. Attacks have continued and intensified. The number of casualties has increased. Villages have been burned down. Many innocent civilians have been killed and chased away. The cleansing continues. There is no peace whatsoever in Darfur. To a great extent this is the responsibility of the Government. I will refrain from documenting this in my weblog of today. It has been documented in the daily situation reports published by UNMIS, in press releases by the African Union, in statements made by my colleague Under-Secretary General Jan Egeland, following his recent visit to Sudan, as well as in reports published by UNHCR and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. It is public knowledge.

Should I have published this in my weblog? Some people have argued that my weblog has contributed to the conflict with the Government. In their view I should have exercised restraint in criticizing the Government. I have been told that this is the position of some members of the UN bureaucracy, though none of them ever communicated this to me directly. The bureaucracy is not familiar with the phenomenon of UN diplomats writing blogs. Politicians writing blogs are a more regular phenomenon. From their side I have received only positive comments. In the meeting of the Security Council, which I briefed after I had been expelled from Sudan, no criticism on my writing of a blog was raised. On the contrary, all criticisms were directed at the Government of Sudan for having taken an unjustified and illegitimate decision. From the side of non-governmental organisations and Sudan watchers I have always been stimulated to continue writing. Some press commentaries were a bit more critical, but the attitude of journalists towards journalistic blogs by people in responsible positions is generally rather ambivalent.

I can understand such an ambivalent position. Politicians, high officials and other decision makers writing about their experiences are not objective, neutral, impartial analysts. They tend to be selective and subjective. They will be inclined to emphasize certain aspects of events more than others and to report in a rather coloured fashion. In writing my blog I was aware of this risk. I have made an effort to avoid undue subjectivity. I certainly did not pretend to write my blog as a substitute for independent writings by journalists.

Why did I write? I had two reasons. First, I like combining my work as a politician with analytical reflections on what I am doing and on the environment within which I am working. I have always done so, by lecturing, by writing articles and essays and by making extensive notes for myself. It helps me focus. Blogging for me was a convenient extension of this practice, simply by using a new instrument. I had a second reason. Why not share my reflections with others? I wanted to be accountable, not only to the UN bureaucracy in New York, whom we were sending regularly extensive analytical reports, but broader. I consider myself much more a politician than a diplomat. Politicians have to be accountable and transparent.

I wrote to inform, in particular, the people in Sudan. I gave quite a few press conferences in Khartoum. However, despite the lifting of press censorship in Sudan one and a half year ago, the press did not always feel free to print what was not to the liking of the Government. Instead of being censored before a text was put to print, which until mid 2005 had daily been the case for all texts of all newspapers, press freedom got increasingly curtailed by a combination of self censorship and threats to be charged with violations of security laws. Moreover, the Sudanese press is not free to visit Darfur on its own initiative. Sudanese radio and TV refused to interview UN personnel or to broadcast information contradicting the official position of the authorities, let alone dissenting opinions. For these reasons reports about events in Sudan, published by UNMIS on its website, news broadcast by radio Miraya and the background information that I provided on my own website were a useful complement to what the general public in Sudan could read in the newspapers, hear on the radio or see on TV.

In my weblog I wrote the same as what I said in press conferences, in interviews with the international press, in public speeches or in reports which were published either by UNMIS itself or through UN Headquarters in New York. It has been said that my blog reflected my personal opinion, different from an opinion in my capacity as Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Sudan. This is nonsense. In my blog I said the same as in press conferences and on other public occasions, attended in my official capacity. How could somebody in my position make a distinction between official and private? Such a distinction can only be made for statements about issues which do not fall under my mandate, such as the reform of the UN, the war in Lebanon or the elections in The Netherlands. Once appointed as Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, any view expressed by me about Sudan, at any time, anywhere and with the help of any medium, is the official view.

As a public official I am a participant in a process, not a spectator. As a participant I am subjective. However, that official subjectivity is rooted in norms and values enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Charter on Human Rights. It is my duty to disseminate these values and to highlight violations. I am duty bound to do so in a credible and legitimate manner. I have always tried to do so, transparently and consistently. For that reason I have set myself some rules which I should keep while writing my blog:

First: Present only facts, not rumours or hearsay. Check the facts; don't make up stories.

Second: Present only quotes of public statements. Do not quote what other persons said in official or informal meetings. In references to such meetings only quote your self. Do not breach confidentiality.

Third: Present criticism in a balanced manner. Approach all parties alike. Be even handed.

Fourth: Do not attack individual persons. Criticize organizations, institutions or movements. Criticize their values, policies and behaviour, when they are in conflict with internationally agreed principles and norms.

Fifth: Do not only present criticism. Do not only report negative developments. Highlight also positive facts. Do not withhold praise, when deserved.

Together these rules can ensure a fair degree of honesty. Of course it is always difficult to combine, in one text, news with commentaries. That is the eternal dilemma of a journalist. As I said, I am not a journalist, but a politician. It is the duty of a politician to present opinions on the basis of facts, and to translate these opinions into action. In my position I had to combine a political posture with a diplomatic approach.

In the end I may not have been successful. However, that has nothing to do with blogging. As I said earlier, I had to combine the two approaches also when giving a press conference and when addressing the Security Council or other forums. The Government of Sudan, requesting me to leave Sudanese territory, did not only refer to what I had written in my weblog, but to 'statements to the media and in (the) website'. They criticized me for the content of my statements, not for the channels that I had used. I utterly disagree with the views and policies of the Government, but in one aspect they are right: it is not important where you say something, but what you say. So, if bureaucrats want to criticize views expressed by politicians or diplomats, they should not criticize the medium, but the message.

Many people have asked me whether I deplore what I had written in my weblog. I don't. Some sentences could have been written differently. If I would have known before how the Government would react, I would have chosen other language. However, the sole purpose of my statements was to persuade the rebel movements to refrain from further attacks on the Sudanese Armed Forces. I succeeded, because the rebel commanders committed themselves to a purely defensive posture and requested me to bring this message to the Government. However, the Government clearly did not want to lose a possible justification for the attacks by the Army and the militia. For that reason they bombed the place where I had met the rebel commanders before I could bring the message to Khartoum. Since then they have continued to seek a military victory. They would have found another reason to declare me persona non grata if I would have persisted in my public criticism.

The Government is still violating peace and ceasefire agreements as well as principles, norms and values of the UN. It continues to do so, despite having signed these agreements and despite that Sudan, as a member state of the United Nations, is bound to uphold these principles. In my capacity as Special Representative of the United Nations I still consider it my duty to disseminate these norms and values and to report about violations.

On October 22 I was told by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Karti, that the Government of National Unity of Sudan had decided to consider my mission as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in the Sudan as terminated. They requested me to leave the territory of Sudan within 72 hours. I responded that I would report this to Secretary General Kofi Annan and that I would wait for his instructions. At the same time I informed Minister Karti that I would advise the Secretary General to instruct me to return to New York for consultations. I was indeed requested by the Secretary General to held consultations in New York and also to brief the Security Council. This I did on 27 October. See my address to the Council on this website.

In an official letter, signed by the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lam Akol (SPLM), the government presented a number of reasons for its decision. The letter has been made public. The Government is of the opinion that I have interfered unwarrentedly “in matters that do not fall within (my) mandate” and “acted in a way incompatible with the impartial and international nature of (my) duties or inconsistent with the spirit of (my) assignment”. The letter then continues as follows: “Regrettably, Mr. Jan Pronk had developed a history of a pattern of hostility against the Government of the Sudan and its armed forces. He has repeatedly abused the powers of his office (and) violated his terms of engagement”.

This is not true. I have never expressed hostility against the Government of Sudan and the armed forces. I have reported about their actions, criticized them when necessary and praised them when appropriate. I have even tried, more than once, to gain some international understanding for the position of the Government and have sought ways and means to foster cooperation between the Government of Sudan and the international community in order to protect innocent citizens.

The Government has illustrated its position by referring to my visit to Tawila, four days earlier. According to the letter I “made statements that the Government of the Sudan did not implement the Darfur Peace Accord (DPA) and is deceiving those who signed the DPA casting doubts about its achievements. He also stated that the Government of the Sudan is biased and is siding with the Arab Janjaweed with the purpose of cleansing the African tribes. ….. Mr. Jan Pronk is now enticing, aiding and abetting the armed groups, signatories to the DPA to break away from the peace process”.

It is a fact that I have criticized the Government of Sudan for violating the DPA and the cease fire agreement implied by this accord. I have also said, time and again, that the Janjaweed should be disarmed rather than allowed to continue attacking villages, raping women and killing unarmed farmers. I have expressed this criticism repeatedly, in my reports to the Security Council, in my press conferences as well as in numerous discussions with members of the government. I was not the only one. At the same time I have also condemned atrocities and violations carried out by rebel movements. However, I have never enticed them to break away from the peace agreement. On the contrary, I always told them: “stick to it, do not throw away the child along with the bathwater, unite with the other movements, signatories as well as non-signatories. Unite with them not in order to fight, but to negotiate further, in order to improve the text of the agreement. Unite for peace, not war”.

In order to persuade the movements I told them that, though they might think having won two battles against the Sudanese Armed Forces, the latter would be able of defeating them, because the Government was mobilizing new forces, coming from Southern Sudan. The Government was also incorporating Janjaweed and militia into the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces. This is what I wrote also in my weblog nr 35, which has been objected to by the Government. It was not meant as a negative comment about the armed forces, but as a criticism of the Government itself and a warning against further violations of both the Darfur Peace Agreement and Resolutions of the Security Council that forbid mobilisation for hostile purposes. A few days before the Government took the decision to consider my assignment terminated, I had stated to government officials seeking clarification about my remarks, that I had not intended to provoke or insult the army. I regretted that such a perception had arisen. I added that, if I had written untruths, I would be willing to correct them. I also offered to clarify my statements in a meeting with the Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces.

This was taken for granted. The Government must have understood that my criticism did not refer to the army itself, but to the political leadership responsible for the instructions to the army.

The Government has stated that I have “actually engaged in activities incompatible with (my) status and had needlessly and recklessly endangered and undermined the nascent Darfur peace process.” In the view of the Government “the ultimate effect of (these) recent actions ….. abrogates the legal and moral responsibilities of (my) position as a Special Representative, violates the UN Charter and compromises the neutrality and integrity of he United Nations.” The opposite is true. I did not endanger or undermine the peace process. On the contrary, I was able to convince those rebel movements who had continued fighting to refrain from launching further attacks on the Government forces. This was a breakthrough. During my visit to Birmaza the rebel commanders committed themselves to a non-aggression posture. Their political leadership confirmed this later on. However, before I was able to bring this message to the authorities in Al Fashr and Khartoum, the military had already bombed the very area where I had met the commanders. It seemed as if the Government was not interested in peace with these rebel movements, but preferred to cherish a justification for further military action. In order to make this point, one week later another bombing attack took place, on the very day that I reported to the Security Council in New York.

It is not up to the Government of Sudan to declare that I may have taken steps beyond my mandate. Only the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Security Council, which has given the mandate for the UN peace mission in Sudan and Darfur, are in a position to provide such a judgement. Both have rejected the decision of the Government to consider my mission terminated. In my most recent address to the Council, which I delivered on 27 October, I stated that in July this year I had already informed the Secretary General that I would not seek an extension of my present tenure after 31 December 2006. The Secretary General has decided that, in spite of the position taken by the Government, I should indeed continue my work till that date. This decision is meant to underscore that it is only up to the Secretary General himself to terminate an assignment. The Charter of the UN, the Convention on the Principles and Immunities of the UN and the Status of the Forces Agreement between the UN and the Government of Sudan do not allow for UN officials to be declared persona non grata. In the meantime Secretary General Kofi Annan and President Bashir of Sudan have agreed that I will return to Sudan for a short period, so that I can make orderly arrangements for handing over the leadership of the UN Mission in Sudan to the Officer in Charge, my present Deputy Taye Zerihoun. I intend to do so as soon as I receive the green light.

My position is not important. In the letter mentioned above the Government has “(reassured) the United Nations and the international community of Sudan's continued cooperation and commitment ….. in accordance with the agreements concluded with the United Nations and the recognized principles of international law”. That is a promise. The international community should see to it that this promise will be kept. The Mission of the United Nations in Sudan should no longer be hindered by the Sudanese bureaucracy or by National Security in the implementation of its mandate, its humanitarian work and the monitoring of the peace agreements. Even more important is that the international community should make clear to the Government of Sudan that adherence to principles of international law means that the signing of peace agreements and cease fire agreements implies an obligation to refrain from hostile military action.