7-5-2011By Crimes Against Humanity Program
Human Rights First
This coming Saturday, July 9, South Sudan will declare independence from the Republic of Sudan and become the world’s newest country. The historic move was decided in the Southern Sudan referendum – a major requirement of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that put an end to Sudan’s twenty-year civil war – held in January, in which 98.8 percent of Southern Sudanese voters opted for independence.
Despite predictions that the January referendum could trigger widespread violence against civilians, keen attention by the Obama administration to the region in the months leading up to the vote helped avert the worst-case scenarios. Indeed, the peace and order in the weeks following the referendum proved a notable political achievement and deserve praise for all parties involved. But delayed decisions – such as whether Abyei will join the South or stay in the North – and political tactics in the weeks leading up to the South’s July 9 independence have led to increased violence in several regions of Sudan. Some of the Government of Sudan’s tactics in recent weeks are reminiscent of past attacks on their own civilian populations.
The most serious incidents of violence have taken place in Abyei and the Nuba Mountains, both of which lie in the border regions of northern and southern Sudan. The United Nations is sending peacekeeping forces into Abyei following military clashes in the region in May and a recent agreement calling for Northern troops to withdraw. In the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, there have been reports of the Khartoum government engaging in ethnic cleansing, aerial bombardments of villages (made possible by Russian jets), and systematic targeting of civilians. The U.S. government, however, has taken a more careful position and is calling on the UN to investigate the situation.
The recent violence casts an ominous shadow on South Sudan’s independence day. Whether or not this violence degenerates into a full-blown war, the civilian casualties and displacement to date warrant broader attention and stronger responses from the international community. In addition to pressuring the Khartoum government to halt the violence, the U.S. government should lead the international community in identifying all actors – including third-party suppliers of goods and services that support the Khartoum government’s tactics – and then in taking steps to disrupt their enabling activities.
Each day this week, in the run-up to South Sudan’s declaration of independence, Human Rights First’s website will highlight different components of the years of violence against civilians in Sudan. This series will be catalogued on the HRF blog and on the Crimes Against Humanity program page, providing information on Sudan’s history and overlapping conflicts, and ways the U.S. government can help prevent and mitigate mass atrocities not only in that region but anywhere they may occur. Additionally, test your knowledge of Sudan by taking our online quiz.