One Month To Go: Sudan Moves Toward Tipping Point

This is the first posting in the Sudan Referendum Watch series

Today starts the one-month countdown to the referendum in South Sudan. A lot is at stake in the plebiscite that is widely expected to split Africa’s largest country in two. Considering Sudan’s history of past mass violence and an ongoing culture of impunity, we are at high alert and will closely monitor the situation on the ground. Looking at the daily news coming out of Sudan, which increasingly consist of reports about border disputes and other violent clashes, I think our concern is justified.

What will happen in one month?
The referendum on self-determination of southern Sudan, scheduled for 9 January 2011, is a key milestone, indeed the culminating event, of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended more than two decades of civil war in Sudan. Besides determining the independence of southern Sudan, the referendum will also provide arrangements for the three transitional areas. Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States will remain a part of northern Sudan with the potential for increased autonomy. Abyei, however, will hold a simultaneous referendum with the southern Sudan vote to decide whether it will remain a part of northern Sudan or become a part of the south.

Despite having an active arrest warrant for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, President Omar Al Bashir was reelected in April 2010. The election was regarded as flawed and did not meet full international standards, according to the EU and Carter Center observer missions. During and after the elections, human rights violations were increasingly carried out by the government including harassment, intimidation and arrests of opposition leaders, journalists and human rights defenders in both northern and southern Sudan.

At this crucial time it is of critical importance that all those involved in the referendum promote the respect, protection, and promotion of human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression, association, movement, and peaceful assembly. Referendum monitoring, in addition to observing the referendum process itself, must take full account of the human rights factors necessary to ensure a vote by the people of Sudan.

Monitoring human rights in the context of the referendum
We will closely monitor the human rights situation in the run up and aftermath of the referendum, and be on stand-by to act quickly should the situation escalate. While many organizations focus on political developments, we will naturally provide a view that focuses solely on the human rights situation, and we encourage you to join us. Here are a few simple things you can do to get up to speed:

  1. Read our Sudan Referendum Briefing (pdf)
  2. Follow this weekly blogging series. For daily updates and breaking news, follow me or Amnesty on Twitter
  3. Look out for new materials, such as more maps and a resource guide, in the weeks running up to the referendum on January 9. New content will be posted on this blog or on our Sudan Country Page
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About Christoph Koettl

Christoph Koettl is the Emergency Response Manager at Amnesty International USA and works on urgent human rights situations such as armed conflicts. In his work he focuses on exploring the intersection of technology and human rights, specializing in utilizing satellite imagery or citizen video for human rights research and advocacy. He previously worked and studied in Austria, the Netherlands and Italy and holds an MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His expertise is in International Humanitarian Law, conflict analysis, crisis mapping, video validation and social media forensics and he is a regular speaker on technology and human rights. He has testified on war crimes in Sri Lanka before the United States Congress and his work is covered regularly by numerous national and international media, including Associated Press, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and Reuters.
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