Talk to Al Jazeera

Sudan: From troublemaker to peacemaker?

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Al Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed on human rights, South Sudan peace and the war in Yemen.

In October of last year, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order lifting some trade and economic sanctions against Sudan. It followed a US Department of State report that said Khartoum had improved its fight against armed groups.

But the US still designates Sudan a “state sponsor of terrorism” – along with Iran, North Korea and Syria. 

Regionally, it’s mediating a peace deal between the warring parties in South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011. Sudan has also been playing a role in the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen with troops on the ground and several fighter jets. 

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1989, is the first head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for suspected war crimes. He dissolved his government last month amid a widespread economic crisis.

But after almost 30 years as president, will Bashir seek another term in 2020? What’s the state of human rights in Sudan? Why is Omar al-Bashir mediating South Sudan peace talks?

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Al-Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed talked to Al Jazeera about his country’s human rights record, the lifting of US sanctions, the war in Yemen, and Sudan’s role as peacemaker in South Sudan.

According to him, ending the conflict between warring parties in South Sudan is a matter of regional security and that recently improved relations between Sudan and Uganda are related to national and regional stability.

“Sudan is the most connected to South Sudan for so many obvious reasons … Uganda is a neighbouring country that will benefit from peace and stability in South Sudan … The new thing is that Sudan and Uganda started working together … We found that if South Sudan is going to continue as is and the situation in South Sudan is going to deteriorate, we will be having a black hole in the region, another Somalia,” he told Al Jazeera.

Sudan’s position as a member of both the African Union and the Arab League makes it vulnerable to fraught relations between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Nile and potentially shifting political axes with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt on one side and Qatar and Turkey on the other.

“We are working with all the players in the region to ensure that the region is stable, Turkey included and Qatar included. And we hope, also, that this will not mean that Sudan is also taking sides in any dispute. We hope for the best for all of the region and we are doing our best to see that all the problems that are being faced by the states in the region will be resolved peacefully and amicably,” he said.

Asked about rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and their reports of ongoing human rights violations in Sudan, including the suppression of peaceful protests, attacks on the media, torture and ongoing violence, he said: “Democracy needs time to take root.”

“We have started a process of democratisation in our country. We have right now a constitution that everybody respects and accepts, opposition parties included. Some of the people who are right now fighting with us are all of the time voicing concern about respect of the Constitution. This has not been the case a few years ago before that constitution was put in place. This is a huge step taken forward, and then democracy will gradually take root.”