Obama Administration Must Tackle Tough Issues About Sudan at U.N. Gathering

U.N. General Assembly Gathering Offers Opportunity to Demonstrate Leadership, Reinforce Key Priorities Washington, DC – This week as President Obama seizes the opportunity provided by the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly to personally engage on Sudan, Human Rights First is urging him to assert U.S. leadership to ensure that January’s referenda votes happen smoothly and on time. The group notes that President Obama should also work with key countries to stifle the potential for violence in the coming months. In less than four months, on January 9, 2011, two referenda will take place in Sudan that mark a critical moment for Africa’s largest country. The implementation of the referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan and a second referendum on the status of the border region of Abyei are two core provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005. That document brought an end to the decades-long civil war between north and south Sudan. In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials have clearly conveyed their concern about the current moment in Sudan’s history.  Secretary Clinton described a “ticking time-bomb,” and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice called the current situation “a very precarious moment.” Later this week, President Obama will meet with both Northern and Southern leaders, which will mark his first direct interaction with Sudanese leaders since he took office. The President will also join a high-level meeting led by the U.N. Secretary-General on Friday that will focus on international attention and support ahead of the January referenda. “This week, President Obama has the opportunity to defuse what Secretary Clinton has labeled a “ticking time-bomb’ and to help ensure that Sudan’s future is not dictated by its troubled past,” said Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First. “There is no substitute for U.S. leadership in the effort to bring peace to Sudan. The United States must also be vigilant and prepared to address the potential for violence in the aftermath of the referenda votes.” Human Rights First notes that there are ongoing concerns about the fragility of the situation in Sudan at present and about how much still remains to be done to prepare for these critical votes. There are also well-founded fears about the potential for a return to violence and mass atrocities against civilians in the south, even as atrocities continue in the western region of Darfur. It notes that there is a clear need for adequate diplomatic, financial, and technical resources to ensure these votes happen on time, are carried off smoothly, and are a legitimate expression of the will of the voters. There is also an urgent need to prepare for what happens after the referenda to ensure their outcomes are respected and that they form the basis for a peaceful future for all of Sudan’s people. In advance of President Obama’s meetings on Sudan this week in New York, Human Rights First is urging President Obama to affirm U.S. commitment to the following five priorities:

  • Support existing multilateral mechanisms: The U.S. was one of the so-called Guarantors to the CPA when it was signed in 2005, along with the U.K., Norway, Netherlands, Egypt, Italy, and the following institutions: African Union (A.U.), European Union (E.U.), Arab League, and the U.N. President Obama should now mobilize this group of international actors to help ensure the CPA is implemented and to avoid a return to violence, including by supporting existing multilateral mechanisms such as the A.U.-U.N. Consultative Forum and the A.U. High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan.
  • Engage key countries with leverage in Sudan: While broad international engagement on Sudan is needed at this moment, there are certain countries with strong ties to the Government of Sudan and therefore with particular leverage that the U.S. should seek to enlist. China’s role as a major economic partner of Khartoum and as a significant source of arms flows to the Sudanese government throughout its campaign of atrocities in Darfur warrants particular attention. President Obama should encourage China to use its relationship to help pave the way for smooth referenda and for a peaceful outcome to those votes. Not only China but also other countries such as Russia, Chad, and the UAE, which have been sources or transit points for military materials and other critical goods and services that have helped sustain the capacity of armed forces to commit atrocities in Darfur, should be urged by the U.S. to act as constructive stakeholders and avoid enabling atrocities anywhere in Sudan.
  • Don’t forget Darfur: International attention has shifted to focus on Southern Sudan as the referenda approach, but insecurity continues to plague the western region of Darfur, and persistent violence against civilians there should remain a concern for U.S. policy makers. Next month, the final report of the U.N. Panel of Experts on Sudan is expected to reveal serious violations of the arms embargo on Darfur, just as its predecessor panels concluded in their reports over the past several years. The failure of third parties to comply with these U.N. sanctions in Darfur and the failure of the U.N. Security Council to take new measures to enforce the embargo have contributed to the ongoing atrocities in that region. The U.S. should carefully review the Panel’s report and recommendations next month, and action on that front should be one of several ways in which the U.S. shows a concrete commitment to Darfur and to a holistic approach that address all flashpoints in Sudan at present.
  • Make clear that a return to north-south violence is not an option: President Obama should send a clear message to the parties to the CPA and to others that resorting to violence in the run-up to—or the aftermath of—the referenda is not an option. All parties in Sudan, and all third parties with ties to that country, should be put on notice that the U.S. and the international community are committed to avoiding violence against civilians, are prepared to act to prevent it, and will levy consequences on any who plan or perpetrate it.
  • Be prepared for risks of mass atrocities against civilians in Southern Sudan: Even as the Obama administration focuses on ensuring smooth preparations for the referenda, it should remain alert to the potential for a recurrence of violence around or after those critical votes. Given Sudan’s history of government-sponsored atrocities against civilians, the U.S. should keep a watchful eye for early warning signs of plans for violence targeting civilian populations, and should be prepared for that worst case scenario. Part of its contingency planning should include support for the preventive deployment of peacekeepers from UNMIS to flashpoint areas to monitor the situation and deter localized violence. Another critical part of preparedness and prevention efforts should include the use of intelligence assets to track the flow of arms, ammunition, and other goods and services to those who may be engaged in planning or committing atrocities in the coming months. With Sudan’s history of mass atrocities, the past may offer a prologue; previous patterns and perpetrators, as well as potential third-party enablers, deserve special attention at this fragile time.

For more information about Human Rights First’s work on Sudan and its ongoing work to hold accountable the enablers of atrocities, please visit http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/cahp/index.aspx.


Published on September 22, 2010


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