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Sudan: A critical period

NewsNotes, November-December 2009

On October 19 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and Maj. General Scott Gration unveiled the long-awaited results of its review of U.S. policy in Sudan. The new U.S. policy calls for a mixture of “incentives and pressures,” enabling the U.S. to take a more conciliatory stance toward Khartoum if verifiable progress is made toward tackling its various challenges.

Increasing concerns about the coming period of time in Sudan are visible in all directions. In a joint statement issued on October 12, the Sudanese churches wrote, “If the CPA is renegotiated or is allowed to fall apart, war or oppressive unity will be the outcome, with serious effects for the whole region, as demonstrated in IKV Pax Christi’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA] alert of September 2009….The CPA guarantor governments have a duty to their promises and the people of Sudan. As the voice of the large majority of Southern Sudanese people on the ground, the Church proclaims ‘Let my people choose,’ and stands by the rights of all Sudanese people to their fundamental human rights and their right under the internationally-guaranteed CPA to determine their own future.”

On September 20, Duk Padiet village in Twich, Sudan was attacked and at least 167 people, including women, children and elderly people, were killed. Fifty-four civilians died, along with 28 policemen, prison officials and wildlife conservation staff. A military counter-offensive killed 85 attackers and another 50 people were taken to Juba for treatment.

The escalation of violence is such that the rate of violent deaths in the South is now greater than in Darfur. According to the Integrated Regional Information Network, more than 2,000 people have died and 250,000 have been displaced by inter-ethnic violence across the region. Unlike traditional violence between different ethnic groups, these attacks were not about cattle rustling; they raised deep concerns about greater violence in the region, which is awash with weapons, prior to the general elections in 2010 and referendum in 2011.

A government of South Sudan (GOSS) program begun in September to seize illegal weapons collected – in Juba alone - over 1,000 weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles, several heavy machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades with launchers.
Many in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) claim the violence is backed by former civil war enemies in the north. John Ashworth, staff in Sudan for IKV Pax Christi said, “Senior figures in the SPLM have blamed the north for supplying arms, and there are plenty of grassroots reports of military aircraft being used, and military uniforms and brand new weapons being seen.” But he added, “Not all the culprits can be traced to Khartoum, and some may have links to SPLM.” Officials in Khartoum have repeatedly denied such claims.

Disarmament efforts like the present GOSS campaign are extremely difficult, especially in areas where there is limited security provided by the state. Previous disarmament campaigns have been criticized for exacerbating violence through selective targeting of communities based on ethnic and political lines, leaving some communities at risk of attack from their still armed neighbors.

The Joint Statement of Sudanese Churches asserts that if the CPA had been “fully and honestly implemented from the outset, a peaceful, attractive unity would have had a chance in Sudan. However, since the signing of the CPA, every protocol has either not been fully implemented or is under discussion for less-than-full implementation, and therefore unity is no longer attractive, especially to Sudanese Christians and those in the marginalised areas…

“[Among other concerns,] reconciliation has not been fully pursued; the National Interim Constitution 2005 declared in Article 5 that all Northern Sudanese legislation is still based on Islamic Sharia Law. Article 139 declared that such legislation cannot be altered without the signature of the President of the Republic. Citizens in the North therefore lack freedoms and are penalised by un-repealed Northern laws which are contrary to the spirit of the CPA…”

In addition, the statement noted that the national census was deeply flawed, the general elections have been postponed twice, bills have not yet been passed governing the referendum process or popular consultations in Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei, and there remains a lack of transparency around the national oil revenue figures.

The threats to peace in Sudan are very real. For more information see IKV Pax Christi.

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