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From Juba to Brussels: our meetings with EU leaders

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“Our visit was very timely; just a few days ahead of the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting at which Sudan and South Sudan would be on the agenda.”  Mary Robinson blogs about visiting Brussels a week after travelling to Ethiopia and South Sudan on an Elders delegation. Together with her fellow Elder Martti Ahtisaari, she discussed the situation in the region with EU officials – as well as raising the issue of international sanctions against Zimbabwe.

As Elders, whenever we travel to war-torn regions, we always make it a priority to hear directly from the ordinary people who are suffering most. We then relay their concerns to their own leaders, and to governments and officials around the world who also have some influence on the situation.

Mary Robinson, Kristalina Georgieva and Martti Ahtisaari

The Elders with Kristalina Georgieva,
EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response

The European Union (EU), with its 27 Member States, not only has diplomatic and trade relations with Sudan and South Sudan, it is also a major donor to the region. The EU provides aid to help address humanitarian crises and emergencies in the two countries, and has a large financial and technical assistance programme to support the development of institutions and infrastructure.

And so together with my fellow Elder Martti Ahtisaari, with whom I visited South Sudan and Ethiopia earlier this month, I travelled to Brussels last week to talk to EU officials about ways in which Brussels might be able to step up its engagement with Sudan and South Sudan. We emphasised the importance of increasing humanitarian assistance to the tens of thousands of refugees from the current conflicts in the Sudanese states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

We had very productive and positive discussions with EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Kristalina Georgieva, Ambassadors of all EU Member States, the office of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, and the office of Andris Piebalgs, EU Commissioner for Development.

A welcome result in Brussels on Sudan and South Sudan

Our visit was very timely; just a few days ahead of the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting at which Sudan and South Sudan would be on the agenda. We were happy to see that the outcome of the meeting was very much in line with what the Elders had been advocating.

Having visited Yusuf Batil refugee camp near the Ethiopian border in South Sudan two weeks ago, and seen first-hand the extent of the refugee crisis, I am encouraged to see that the EU is paying serious attention to the worsening humanitarian situation in the region.

As Elders, we will continue to push for the EU, Member States and other donors around the world to step up their humanitarian assistance to support the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and other organisations assisting those in the region in dire need of help.

Above all, the Council conclusions, released this week, reaffirm EU support for the African Union Roadmap and UN Security Council Resolution 2046: it is vital to maintain pressure on the two countries to resolve their differences and implement the roadmap by the 2 August deadline. The international community remains united on this position.

It now falls upon the two leaders, President Omar al-Bashir and President Salva Kiir, to ensure implementation of this Roadmap. I believe this would bring substantial benefits to both countries; indeed, like others, the EU indicates that it is prepared to reward positive progress made by the two parties if they do so.

Sanctions and elections in Zimbabwe

Our visit to Brussels also gave us an opportunity to discuss Zimbabwe, which, like Sudan and South Sudan, was on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting. Governance, human rights and humanitarian conditions in Zimbabwe have long been issues of concern for the Elders.

I commend the EU for its decision on Monday to suspend some of the sanctions against Zimbabwe in order to allow discussions to take place between Brussels and Harare on development assistance issues. I also welcome the news that the EU will suspend targeted restrictive measures on certain individuals and entities in Zimbabwe in the event of a peaceful and credible constitutional referendum, due to be held later this year.

We had discussed the Zimbabwe sanctions issue with the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague during our visit to London earlier this month. Sanctions can be a useful tool when used strategically – as our Chair, Archbishop Tutu, would no doubt agree given his experience in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle. In the case of Zimbabwe, however, it was more doubtful whether the sanctions had been effective – they may even have been counterproductive, as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recently acknowledged.

This decision by the EU was a welcome acknowledgement of the positive steps taken by the Inclusive Government in Zimbabwe since its formation in 2009. It also signalled that the international community will recognise progress in carrying out the reforms necessary for a lasting and flourishing democracy – one that upholds human rights and the rule of law.

I hope that, going forward, the EU sustains and intensifies its dialogue with the Inclusive Government to encourage further political reform and help bring about the conditions for free, fair and peaceful elections. That is the ultimate prize that the people of Zimbabwe have long been waiting for.

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