Sudan's referendum is over, but the country still needs attention
Guest blogger Laura Heaton outlines the issues still facing Sudan after the south's independence referendum and urges the media and international community to not lose interest.
There was always going to be a dramatic drop-off in media coverage and international attention after the Sudan referendum ended. The official creation of the world’s newest country – with the long lines of exuberant voters, inked fingers, set against a contrast of decades of civil war – will be one of the stories of the year, and people far and wide wanted to be part of history in the making.Skip to next paragraph
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But if pulling off a smooth, peaceful vote seemed like the hard part, preparing the two would-be states for formal separation in July and adjusting to the new reality of cooperating peacefully as neighbors will require further high-level engagement from key international partners, namely the United States. To help generate that political will, journalists, researchers, academics, and activists will also need to stay involved.
One such event took place yesterday, co-hosted by the Human Rights Foundation, Poland’s Lech Walesea Institute, and NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service. The discussion “Eye on Sudan: Challenges After Referendum” drew an engaged audience of students, academics, and grassroots organizations from the NYC area.
The panel included Jimmy Mulla, president of Voices For Sudan, Maciej Kuziemski of Lech Walesea, and was moderated by David Philips of the Darfur Initiative at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. I was invited to present on behalf of Enough and to focus specifically on how the secession vote and separation of the South will affect human rights issues in Sudan. Here are some of the points I made about issues to watch:
- The impression we may have that the conflict in Darfur is over is simply not true. A field visit to the border area in southern Sudan, to an IDP camp for newly displaced Darfuris underscored in my mind that the horrors reminiscent of the early days of the conflict – aerial bombardments, followed by ground attacks by Janjaweed, torching of homes – still continue in some parts of Darfur.
- Reporting on fighting and humanitarian conditions is very difficult because the government controls access to the region, and the outside groups that are there fear being expelled or jeopardized if they speak out.
- Over past two months especially, the conflict is heating up, with renewed aerial bombardments by the Sudanese army and clashes between the army/government-aligned militias and Darfur rebel groups.
- It is clear that the government is still pursuing a strategy to crush Darfuri rebel movement militarily, despite its proposal for a negotiated approach to ending the conflict.
- Shameless plug for Sudan Now’s new report: A Roadmap for Peace in Darfur. In particular, look at the section about the downfalls of the government’s proposed “domestication” of the Darfur peace process.