On 28 March 2021, the Sudanese government concluded an agreement, formally known as a “Declaration of Principles,” with a major rebel group, the Hilu faction of Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), in Juba, South Sudan. The declaration seeks to consolidate Sudan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This action marks a key achievement for Sudan’s peace progress. After this agreement, only one rebel group, the Nur faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), didn’t agree on the government’s peace talks.
The declaration recognizes many principles that pave the way to a stable, democratic state. Firstly, it separates the state and religions. It agrees that “the freedom of religion, the freedom of belief and religious practices shall be guaranteed to all Sudanese people.” Islamist Sharia law has been imposed in Sudan for almost 40 years, and the agreement formally expressed this practice won’t continue. Secondly, it acknowledges the importance to decentralize the state and enhance cross-party negotiations. It emphasizes “the rights of the peoples of the regions of Sudan to manage their affairs through decentralization or federalism,” which expects to create a more open political atmosphere. Thirdly, it builds a single professional army. It confirms “a military solution cannot lead to lasting peace and stability in the country,” which creates an army that aligns with the country instead of political parties.
The Sudanese government is as close to end civil conflicts as it can be. After the Sundanese Revolution in 2019, the new transitional government began peace talks with regional rebel groups. The government has granted a few seats for rebel groups for its collective head of state, Sovereignty Council, since August 2020. On 3 October 2020, it signed a peace agreement with most rebel groups (except for SPLM-N and SLA), granting those groups political representation and economic rights. As the government is approaching the SFA, a comprehensive peace solution between all parties is in sight.
Meanwhile, SPLM-N has contributed to Sudan’s transition to a modern democracy. Its core demand has been building a secular state and dispenses with Sharia laws. As early as July 2020, SPLM-N met the Sudan Professionals Association, a driving force of the Sundanese revolution, and agreed to remove legal discrimination against non-Muslims. In September 2020, it reached a six-principle agreement with the Sudanese government. Among the six principles, four are pushing the government to affirm the equal rights of all religions. The 2021 declaration is essentially a step forward that reconfirm religious equality in future Sudan.
The future of peace talks is positive. Now, the Sudanese government and other groups need to think about the next stage. Civil conflicts have caused hundreds of thousands of casualties, millions of refugees and exacerbated property loss. It’s necessary to plan how to recover from such damages and compensate civilian losses. The government should consider not only political rapprochement but also economic recovery. The international community, especially international institutions like the UN and African Union, need to monitor Sudan’s economic and humanitarian conditions and continue to provide aid to severely affected civilians.
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