Deputy Assistant Secretary Makila James’ Remarks at NED’s 2020 Democracy Award

As prepared for delivery.

Good morning all.  I am delighted to be a part of this important event and want to thank the National Endowment for Democracy, Secretary Andy Card and President Carl Gersham, for including me in this momentous event to honor Sudan’s Civil Society.

Also pleased to be on a panel with Acting Foreign Minister Omer Ismail, Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari, and Amb. Linda Thomas Greenfield, as well as the phenomenal Sudanese civil society recipients.

I’m pleased to recognize the Regional Centre for Development and Training, the Nuba Women for Education and Development Association, and the Darfur Bar Association – all of which are being honored today for  the work that they have done to help establish and facilitate a democratic transition in Sudan.

Your organizations are a testament to how important civil society is to a peaceful transition.  We recognize that the monumental change that has occurred in Sudan is in large part due to civil society leadership.  Now more than ever it is important that the voices of women, youth and Sudan’s marginalized communities continue to be heard and are a part of the transition in Sudan.

We know who was the force behind the revolutionary change that occurred in Sudan last year – women and youth!  They inspired, challenged, and demanded many of the positive changes we see today.

And so we recognize the energy, dedication, and enormous courage women and youth brought to the peaceful protests that led to Omar Bashir’s ouster and believe it is only fitting believe women and youth should play significant roles in the institutions that will shape Sudan’s future.

To that end  we commend the recent actions taken by the government to repeal repressive laws designed to undermine the status of women, specifically the end to Female Genital Mutilation, restrictions on the rights of women to travel, and indecent dress laws, and welcome the criminalization of FMG.

But as we all know, changing the laws is one thing, changing the social norms to protect women and girls from Gender Based Violence and other abusive practices will continue to require substantial work from all of us.

We also recognize and wish to uplift the demands from Sudan’s peripheries – from Darfur to the East, from the Two Areas to those victimized by violence in Khartoum and other cities – in calling for accountability, protection, and representation.

Since the ouster of Bashir, the United States and Sudan have been building a new relationship.

We believe the civilian-led transitional government offers the best chance in more than a generation to address the center-periphery divide that has kept the Sudanese people at war with each other almost continuously since independence, to implement structural economic reforms that will give Sudan’s women and youth a chance for a better future, and to achieve some accountability for past crimes against the Sudanese people.

We recognize the many efforts the civilian-led transitional government is making to ensure the people of Sudan enjoy equality and respect for their human rights, including religious freedom

I traveled to Sudan twice since the Bashir regime was overthrown – first in April 2019, immediately following Bashir’s ouster and then again in August 2019 with the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, David Hale.   During my first trip, I met with leaders from the Forces of Freedom and Change, female activists, and entrepreneurs.   Under Secretary Hale and I later met with women and youth activists in August before the civilian-led transitional government formed.  We heard their heroic stories to bring about the changes we see today.

But I also visited Sudan many times before when I served in Juba in the 2006 when women, youth, and much of civil society had no voice and so I can fully appreciate just how profound the changes are that have taken place in Sudan.

So, in 2019 I was truly inspired by the stories of the Kandakas – and all they have done and are doing for Sudan.

We want to ensure women, youth and Sudan’s vibrant civil society continue to play the leading role they played during the protests.  That means providing support for women leaders and women-led projects.  It also means reaching out to allies, ensuring men are supporting women’s efforts and promoting women in decision making positions.

We are also supporting programming that enables civil society, including women’s and other marginalized groups, to play a greater role in political processes, including through leadership opportunities in political parties and meaningful participation in the peace process and implementation and in critical government institutions.

We are encouraged to see women taking on leadership roles within their communities to organize discussions, gather donations, and collaborate with the civilian led transitional government. We also commend the continued action and advocacy of civil society, including the resistance committees, the Darfur Bar Association and those engaging in sit-ins around the country.

Women are peacemakers; we look to the Nuba Women for Education and Development Association, to continue to lead the way, champion and push leaders in the Two Areas to make progress to enable increased development in the Nuba Mountains and the Two Areas.

Moving forward with the appointment of a Transitional Legislative Council and civilian governors is essential to the successful progress of the transition, and we are encouraging the CLTG to move quickly in this regard.

I am encouraged the Constitutional Declaration includes a provision for a 40 percent quota for women in the Transitional Legislative Council once it is formed.  It will also be important that women play a role in their local governments, both as governors and in other key positions.

It has been more than one year since the massacre of peaceful protestors on June 3, 2019.  The work of the National Independent Committee investigating the horrific violence perpetrated against protesters, including alleged extrajudicial killings, torture, and sexual and gender-based violence is ongoing.  I met some of those victims when I visited and speak for many when I say we hope for and will continuously call for justice for the victims.

The United States is providing direct support to the Ministry of Justice, the leading institution shepherding legal reforms during the transitional period, and we stand ready to support Sudanese civil society and the civilian led transitional government in their efforts to design and implement transitional justice mechanisms. We are encouraged by recent legal reforms and believe the civil society has a central role in helping inform and educate the Sudanese particularly in the marginalized areas about the positive steps towards a new Sudan.

Transitional justice will play a vital role in bringing lasting peace in Sudan.  It must be tailored to local circumstances, with communities playing a central role in the design and implementation of transitional justice mechanisms.  It is also imperative that women and girls, youth, ethnic and religious minorities, and other traditionally underrepresented or marginalized groups have a voice in shaping these mechanisms.

We recognize the global COVID-19 pandemic presents additional challenges for Sudan and the Sudanese people.  The pandemic complicates an important moment in Sudanese history.  COVID-19 is a test for all of us working to build the new U.S.-Sudan relationship.  We must respond to the immediate crisis without losing sight of the goals of the transition or of the importance of championing women’s voices along every step of the way.

The U.S. government will continue to focus on how women, youth, and marginalized communities are able to meaningfully participate in the transition and other political processes at all levels in Sudan going forward.  And I am optimistic because the commitment of the groups being honored today, as well as the other civil society groups peacefully leading people to call for greater peace, stability, and opportunities, has inspired Sudanese and Americans alike.  The more we see those positive changes taking root, the more support there will be in the United States for positive engagement and support.

The future of Sudan must deliver on the promise of the revolution — freedom, democracy, and peace, but it must also deliver social and economic inclusiveness, as well as justice.

Thank you for including me today.