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International Community Moves to Address Worrisome Dynamics in Sudan

Refugee Rights News
June 2009

With less than one and a half years remaining before the end of the interim period of the 2005 Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the international community can no longer afford to halfheartedly address the worrisome dynamics in Sudan. One example of international engagement has been in international arbitration on disputed Abyei boundaries, which is a positive international engagement in tackling conflict and advancing peace in Sudan.

On 23 June 2009, advocated and organized by the Obama administration, key signatories of the CPA and more than 30 countries and organizations met in Washington, DC to review the implementation of the agreement. This forum was the largest of its kind since 2005 and was an effort to reinvigorate CPA implementation. The renewed diplomatic push at the forum has, thus far, marked a first step in reengaging the parties and the international community in CPA implementation. Participants restated their fundamental support to lasting peace, stability, security and prosperity in Sudan through full implementation of the CPA. They particularly underlined the responsibility of the parties to fulfill their obligations under the Agreement. Specifically, as recorded by United States Department of State, the participants:

underscored the fundamental importance of the CPA and they reaffirmed their firm commitment to the core principle of the CPA to make the unity of Sudan attractive. Besides, they emphasized the importance of credible, peaceful, and transparent nationwide elections and referendum on selfdetermination while in the meantime expressed that they would commit themselves to providing appropriate support accordingly.

Equally important, during the meeting Sudan’s central government in Khartoum and the southern rebel movement leaders reaffirmed their agreement to accept the findings of the ruling of Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague on Abyei, Sudan’s richest oil-producing region that straddles the border between north and south. In the past, Sudan’s government in Khartoum turned down the southern Sudanese leaders’ and international arbiters’ terms for boundary rights around the disputed oil area. Nonetheless, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Sudan’s Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who also serves as the President of Southern Sudan, agreed to let the PCA in the Hague adjudicate the border claims.

On 22 July 2009, as a second and step-forward progress, the PCA cautiously redrew the boundaries of Abyei region and reduced the size of the area. The decision puts the Heglig oilfield outside of Abyei where most of the population is said to be loyal to the south. The decision was welcomed by the Sudan Human Rights Organization in Cairo as “a significant step to ensure the stability and democratic transition in the country, in general, and the Abyei region, in particular.” Successful implementation of the PCA decision
may help move the country towards implementation of the other major portions of the CPA. Most encouragingly, the initial reaction to the decision, at least, seems to be respect for the decision. In the near future, however, the international community should be alert to the possibility of backsliding. As noted by Alex Vines, African specialist at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, “[t]hough Northern and Southern Sudan have committed to respect the PCA decision, tensions have risen in the past few days and the new few months will be absolutely crucial”.

Although the Washington forum and the Hague border ruling saw some significant achievements, much more needs to be done. Inter-communal tensions and pervasive insecurity in Southern Sudan, for example, needs to be tackled as a priority. In the past several months, more than 1,000 people have been killed and more than 135,000 displaced by inter-ethnic and inter-clan fighting in Southern Sudan. The death toll in the south now exceeds the number of violent deaths in Darfur during the same period, and as elections draw closer, violence and instability may dramatically increase. In the 15-page report “No One to Intervene: Gaps in Civilian Protection in southern Sudan,” published in June 2009 Human Rights Watch has documented a recent surge in ethnic violence and the failure of the southern Sudan government, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), and international donors to protect civilians. The danger of such violence across Southern Sudan could intensify in the months ahead, leading up to national elections
scheduled for April 2010 and the southern referendum on self-determination in 2011.

The myriad challenges and risks facing Sudan are very urgent. Robust, coordinated, and high-level engagement is essential from all, not just a few, of the CPA’s participants—those who witnessed the signing of the CPA and agreed to support its implementation.

First, many recommend that the United Nations should focus more efforts on establishing security at the local level in conflict-ridden areas in Sudan. UNMIS and UNAMID (the UN African Union Mission in Darfur) should play a more active role in engaging local actors to prevent violence through stronger conflict resolution programs and via effective response teams that can quickly deploy in instances of outbreaks of violence. As Human Rights Watch’s Africa Director Georgette Gagnon said, “in the face of mounting tensions, the United Nations ought to do more work with the local government of Southern Sudan to
improve security. The UN peacekeepers should increase its presence in hotspots through regular visits, patrols, and bases in an effort to prevent further attacks and protect civilians.”

Second, the international community could encourage negotiations between the north and the south. As pointed out by Prunier and Fick writing for the Enough Project, diplomatic efforts can get both parties to consider various scenarios for wealth sharing and lasting peace. In this context, the United States and other key guarantors including African Union, the Arab League, and the Europe Union, should play a proactive and leading role in facilitating dialogue.

Third, international non-governmental organizations can collaborate in advocacy efforts to assist Sudanese to promote CPA implementation. Advocacy networks could use “bearing witness” means to expose the humanitarian tragedy occurring in Sudan so as to draw more attention from the public. In addition, as Enough’s strategy paper “Sudan: The Countdown” analyzed, “advocacy networks should play a vital role in monitoring ceasefire violations, CPA implementation, and new conflicts generated inside of Sudan in order to secure a better environment for Sudan to go through the elections and referendum in a smooth and timely fashion”.

Fourth, experts such as Dr. Edward Thomas, who holds a PhD in the history of Sudan and has worked for the United Nations in Sudan, have recommended that international donors should consider funding studies to fill information gaps. A study of the politics of land and natural resources in Sudan would help address the problems in implementing the wealth-sharing agreement. Better outcome monitoring of financial allocations to states would also help the parties to quantify the peace in both northern and southern Sudan.