On 5th of March 2017, the Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) released 125 Prisoners of War (PoW) affiliated to the Sudanese government forces and militias. This operation came to be known as the Goodwill Operation. The initiative was accomplished through an effective facilitation by the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The transfer of the released PoWs from the SPLM-N controlled areas to South Sudan, then Uganda and lastly to Khartoum, was carried out under supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The Goodwill Operation initiated by the SPLM-N, restored hope for hundreds of Sudanese families, who had lost their sons in the through the war and their subsequent captivation. The operation clearly demonstrated the meaning and value of separating humanitarian initiatives from political constraints, and additionally set an example for the need of solidarity and effective regional diplomatic interventions, as made evident by the South Sudanese and Ugandan governments in facilitating this operation. The Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minawi, the Justice and Equity Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement Abdel Wahid, previously undertook similar steps of releasing PoWs in Darfur.
Sudan Democracy First Group, (SDFG) congratulates the released PoWs for their regained freedom; and their families and loved ones to this reunion. SDFG appreciates the SPLM-N’s initiative for taking a humanitarian stand on the issues of PoWs. We recognize this as a positive step towards achieving peace and stability in Sudan and value the impact of breaking the deadlock and turning towards hope. Thus we argue that similar and additional steps from all parties are needed, to pave the road to peace, through particularly addressing the humanitarian crisis and the violations of human rights.
The positive value and spirit of the Goodwill Operation raised several matters, which need to be taken up by Sudanese parties and international actors concerned with Sudan. Further trust building is needed; and opportunities for a comprehensive peaceful solution, through upholding the value of humanitarian issues, need to be seized.
SDFG therefore calls on all involved actors to continue to expand the impact of the Goodwill operation through:
- Releasing and transferring of all PoWs, affiliated to political organizations adopting armed resistance, including those politically convicted; as a humanitarian gesture and to extend the impact of the Goodwill Operation, as well as to utilize the regional support and solidarity, demonstrated through this operation to establish practical confidence-building measures based on the return of these PoWs to the locations of their organizations.
- Releasing all political prisoners and those who are detained for reasons related to their geographical, ethnic, religious, or political backgrounds from across Sudan. Sudanese civil society, particularly organizations working in the human rights field, should seize the opportunity created by the Goodwill operation to prepare lists, as well as provide technical support, and apply political pressure for the release of all political prisoners and detainees.
- The momentum and success of the Goodwill Operation in transferring PoWs to Khartoum through external routes, with the agreement of all parties and the facilitation of the Ugandan government, should be utilized to find a permanent solution for the dilemma of humanitarian aid delivery to civilians affected by war.
Lastly, we call upon all regional and international actors concerned with the multiple crisis of Sudan, particularly the AUHIP, to benefit from and utilize the approach and the humanitarian model used in the Goodwill operation. The resulted positive atmosphere including the effective mediation by the Ugandan government, should be expanded to building of real trust and confidence between the Sudanese parties, and for the creation of a conducive environment of political transition, starting by resolving obstacles related to the violations of human rights and basic freedoms and humanitarian crises, and then launching of an inclusive process of national and peaceful solution.