On January 9, South Sudan will vote on whether to secede from the North and form a new nation. This vote was promised in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005, which ended a brutal 22-year civil war between the Sudanese Government and groups in South Sudan that claimed more than two million lives.
The Government of Sudan, ruled by wanted war criminal Omar al-Bashir, has obstructed preparations for the vote and sent signals that it may not accept a vote for independence. South Sudanese have warned of violence if a credible referendum does not take place on time.
The key border region of Abyei, which has been a flash point for violence and includes valuable oil reserves, is also supposed to hold its own referendum on whether to remain part of Sudan or join the potential new nation in the South. But talks on preparations for the Abyei referendum recently collapsed, and the chance of a peaceful and on-time vote
in Abyei grows slimmer by the day.
Secretary of State Clinton has described the situation in Sudan as a "ticking time bomb." The former U.S. Director of National Intelligence called South Sudan the place where a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur.
Just this week the Government of Sudan arrested several Darfuri human rights activists, and new reports are coming in from Darfur that the Government of Sudan and allied militia groups are amassing troops.
The United States and international community must act now to prevent a potential new wave of violence and human rights violations. The U.S. should use urgent and high-level diplomacy to:
- Appoint a high-level diplomat specifically for Darfur.
- Press for free and on-time referenda in South Sudan and Abyei, and ensure that Sudanese parties and the international community respect the outcomes.
- Demand unimpeded access for peacekeepers and humanitarian aid organizations throughout Sudan and push for robust international human rights monitoring.
- Secure commitments from governments in North and South Sudan to protect human rights before, during and after the referendum, including citizenship rights of South Sudanese living in the North, and vice versa.
- Push Sudanese parties to reach agreements on key post-referendum issues such as, oil and wealth sharing and border demarcation, as well as citizenship and protections for human rights.
- Make clear to the Government of Sudan and intransigent rebel groups that violence against civilians, peacekeepers, and aid workers in Darfur will not be tolerated.
- Publicly denounce all acts of violence against civilians and violations of agreements by all parties in Sudan, and hold North and South accountable by offering both incentives for peace and consequences for backsliding.
The people of Sudan need the United States to be a force for peace during this extremely dangerous time. Make sure the people around you understand the significance of this moment. Talk to your neighbors about the January 9 referendum. It makes a difference.
Amir Osman is the senior director of policy and government relations at the recently-merged Save Darfur Coalition/Genocide Intervention Network. He directs policy and advocacy to foreign governments, in Africa, Europe, and the Arab world, serves as an expert on Sudanese and regional politics, and is the main spokesperson for Save Darfur Coalition / Genocide Intervention Network in Arab media. To learn more about Sudan and the January 9 referendum, visit SaveDarfur.org.