While many observers are optimistic that the referendum in South Sudan this Sunday will go ahead peacefully, the last few months do not bode well for the future human rights situation in the country (no matter what the outcome of the referendum will be).
Thousands have been displaced by the government’s military offensive in Darfur, while the international community’s attention is focused on preparations for the referendum and the negotiation of a peace agreement for Darfur. Since December 2010, more than 20,000 people in Darfur have been displaced during attacks by the Khartoum government’s attacks on various parts of North and South Darfur, including camps for the displaced in Dar Al Salam, Shangil Tobaya and Khor Abeche. The international community shouldn’t repeat its mistakes from 2004 and 2005, when focus on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) led to an ignorance (and acceptance) of grave crimes committed in Darfur.
The April 2010 elections were marked by human rights violations and threats to freedom of expression in both the south and north of the country and we remain concerned that such violations would occur again during or after the referendum.
An Amnesty International delegation recently returned from Juba in southern Sudan where it assessed the human rights situation ahead of the referendum. To get detailed information about our human rights concerns in Sudan, please take a look at some of our resources:
For an interesting non-AI resource, don’t forget to follow the Sudan Vote Monitor (SVM), which was launched today. SVM is a Sudanese civil society initiative to monitor the referendum and is based on the powerful Ushahidi plattform.
No matter how uncertain the weeks following the referendum will be for Sudan, one thing is guaranteed: The situation in South Sudan is the best monitored and documented potential human rights crisis in history, with no shortage of comparisons to Rwanda and similar human rights catastrophes. What is different this time around is the fact that there is also no shortage of new monitoring tools to record – and potentially deter – human rights abuses.
Geography of Risk
For download of the background briefing, click on the image (pdf, 5.5 MB).
We have just put out a background briefing called “Geography of Risk” (pdf) that provides a series of maps to give a better context of the situation on the ground and to visualize some of the issues that we are concerned about (e.g. attacks against civilians). You can download all maps for use in your own advocacy and campaigning work about human rights in Sudan. This is only a small contribution to document the human rights situation in the
run-up to the referendum and we will continue to monitor the situation closely over the next months. Our ongoing concerns include abuses in both the north and south of the country; and don’t forget that there is still an active conflict going on in Darfur, a topic the public seems to have forgotten recently.
Recent reports have indicated that South Sudan will move forward as scheduled on January 9. Voter registration including the delivery of ballots went smoothly, the northern Sudan political leadership is openly hinting acceptance of the referendum, and negotiations on post referendum arrangements seem to advance. Still, risks of conflict and renewed war remain as long as agreements on sticky issues like Abyei, border demarcation, and post-referendum citizenship are not resolved ahead of the plebiscite.
Need of vigilance
The political uncertainty around the prospect of secession raises serious possibility of humanitarian and human rights crises. The deluge of southern returnees ahead of the referendum is already overwhelming the capacity of aid workers. The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have tentatively agreed upon principles of protection of both northerners and southerners in case of secession, but have not yet fully reached a clear agreement on citizenship. Fear of minority rights violations is real. We need to remain alert and monitor the developments on the ground to react quickly and appropriately to possible human right violations leading up to the referendum and after.
Watching out for human rights
While the international community is nervously awaiting the outcome of the referendum we will closely monitor those unfolding events on the ground, which can potentially lead to human rights violations regarding rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of movement, minority rights, and politically driven human displacement. Join us in watching out for such developments. Here are a few things you can do to get updated:
Lately, there’s been no shortage of news about Sudan. On January 9th, the people of South Sudan will vote in a referendum that will determine whether or not South Sudan becomes independent. Thousands of southern Sudanese who have been living in the north for decades are making their way back to South Sudan to participate in what is sure to a historic event.
But as we wait with impatience for the referendum and as we plan ahead for what is likely to be an independent South Sudan, let’s not forget about Darfur.
Civilians in Darfur continue to be faced with violence and are subjected to human rights violations on a regular basis. Humanitarian aid organizations struggle to reach the people who rely on the aid. Armed groups and militias continue to attack villages, leading to more death and more displacement. Human rights defenders are still being systematically targeted.
And these are just some examples of the ways in which the situation has been deteriorating over the past year. Just two days ago, rebel officials in Darfur announced that it was highly unlikely that a peace deal between the government of Sudan and the Darfuri rebel group the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), would be signed on December 19, as originally planned. While the international community focuses on the referendum and on the North-South dialogue, peace efforts in Darfur are going nowhere.
So as we prepare ourselves for what might come next, let’s make sure that we remember the people of Darfur.
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.
The AP is reporting today that merchants are starting to flee South Sudan ahead of January’s referendum, which will decide the fate of Africa’s largest country. For over 20 years civil war took place in Sudan between the largely Muslim Arab north and the mostly Christian and Animist south. As part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the warring parties have agreed to a referendum that will decide if the semi-autonomous South Sudan will stay part of the country or secede. Abyei will hold a referendum simultaneously with the southern Sudan referendum to decide whether to remain in northern Sudan or become part of southern Sudan.
Map of Sudan, highlighting the oil rich and most contentious area of Abyei. Click to enlarge. (c) Amnesty International USA
Since the signing of the CPA in 2005, the north and south have squabbled over several implementations of the agreement. Most observers now expect that the south will vote for independence.
Several new developments have recently emerged. In a rare joint-statement made last week the south’s minister for the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) and the north’s Minister of Defense tried to mitigate tensions. In the midst of recent accusations by both sides of troop and military buildup, the two officials vowed that there would not be a return to war following the referendum.
Voter registration for the referendum started this week in the more than 2600 registration centers across the south. Registration is also available to southerners in the north and for those residing in eight countries outside of Sudan.
In anticipation of the vote, the United Nations has been keeping a close eye on the situation. On Monday the UN’s chief peacekeeper, Moses Obi, made a statement quelling rumors that there have been major military build-ups by both the north and the south. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated the next day that the UN is considering measures to increase their peacekeeping force, currently numbering at over 10,000.