I have encouraging news from South Sudan, and I have troubling news from Darfur. Let's start with the South:
After more than 20 years of civil war and six years of intense preparation, the people of South Sudan have finally voted in a referendum to determine their own destiny. Voting ended on Saturday and according to election monitors from the European Union, the U.N. referendum panel, Carter Center, and other observer missions, the referendum process was peaceful, free, and fair.
President Obama praised the referendum process, declaring: "The past week has given the world renewed faith in the prospect of a peaceful, prosperous future for all of the Sudanese people -- a future that the American people long to see in Sudan."
This moment didn't happen by accident. It took years of hard work and cooperation among national governments, NGOs, civil society groups, and support from activists just like you.
One monumental event set the process in motion: In 2005, the government of Sudan and Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), creating the framework for this historic vote. It demonstrates how important a peace agreement is to allowing people to determine their own destiny.
We haven't crossed the finish line yet. While we celebrate the success of the referendum, we must remember that there are many more steps to reach a lasting peace.
The official results are not expected until February 7, at the earliest, and all accounts indicate the vote was overwhelmingly for independence for South Sudan. Then we begin five long months of negotiations on critical post-referendum issues between the North and South including oil-revenue sharing, border demarcation, citizenship, and the status of the contested Abyei region. July 9 is the soonest South Sudan could declare independence.
Now, let's talk about what's happening in Darfur. While the world has focused on South Sudan, the situation in Darfur has continued to deteriorate. According to a recent U.N. report, the conflict in Darfur claimed at least 2,300 lives in 2010. In addition, over 40,000 civilians were displaced in the last few weeks of December by government aerial attacks on villages and clashes between rebel groups and the Sudanese armed forces.
We believe -- we know -- that the violence in Darfur can be stopped, once and for all. The success of the referendum in South Sudan demonstrates what is possible when there is a comprehensive peace process and just how far the people of Darfur are from being able to live and work without fear of violence. This victory for peace reinforces our call for a comprehensive peace process in Darfur.
There is a real danger that the media, United States government, and international community will lose focus in the weeks and months ahead. During this critical time, we need your help to keep the spotlight on Sudan.
Thank you for your continued activism and support. The conclusion of a peaceful referendum in South Sudan is a moment to celebrate, but it's also a stark reminder of all the work we have to do before the people of Darfur are able to live in peace.
Mark Lotwis is the Senior Director of Campaign Advocacy at the Save Darfur Coalition/Genocide Intervention Network, where he formulates the group's short and long-term advocacy strategy and supervises the organization's advocacy programs, campaigns, movement building, coalition relations, events, and outreach. Lotwis has previously managed political campaigns, served as Chief of Staff for Rep. Ted Strickland (D-OH), and was a partner at two leading media consulting firms. He serves on the Board of Directors of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies and received his Ph.D. in political science from American University in 1993.