Global Policy Forum

In Sudan, War is Around the Corner

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The referendum for Southern Sudanese independence is only six months away.  Most suspect that the people of South Sudan will overwhelmingly support secession from the north and the formation of an independent state.  But the Khartoum-based government may undermine the voting process or refuse to accept the results.  If so, violence will most likely erupt once more, destroying the progress achieved when leaders from the north and south signed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  What can be done in advance to prevent further violence and human rights violations, and to prepare for a new, independent state?

By Dave Eggers and John Prendergast

July 12, 2010
New York Times

 

 

For many good reasons, Americans are doubting our ability as a nation to positively influence events abroad. We're involved in two conflicts with dubious outcomes and we've begun to question whether any step we take, anywhere, will be the right one. But it was not long ago that the United States intervened abroad in a bold way that led to undeniably positive results.

From 1983 to 2005, more than two million people died and four million were forced from their homes in southern Sudan during a war between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Shortly after George W. Bush entered the White House, he decided he would put the full diplomatic leverage of the United States to work in ending this war, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century.

He succeeded. In 2005, the United States helped broker a comprehensive peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the southerners. It was an important moment for international diplomacy and a prime example of what the United States can do when it focuses its influence effectively.

In the clear, simple and eminently enforceable peace agreement, South Sudan was granted three crucial things: robust participation in the central government while ruling the south semi-autonomously; a 50-50 split of all oil revenues (the country's oil is largely in the south); and the ability, in 2011, to vote to secede via referendum.

The assumption in Sudan is that when the referendum comes, southerners will vote overwhelmingly for secession. Since Sudan became independent in 1956, the people in the south have been marginalized, terrorized and subjected to countless human rights violations under successive regimes in Khartoum, and the possibility of forming a new nation in 2011 is viewed by southerners as a sacred right.

But the referendum is scheduled for January, a mere six months away, and all signs indicate that the Khartoum government will undermine the voting process or not recognize its results. The ruling National Congress Party has stalled on virtually every pertinent part of the peace agreement, and the national and local elections in April - which most international observers agree were stained by fraud - are a foreboding precedent.

If January comes and goes without a referendum, or if the results are manipulated, then fighting will break out. Both sides have been arming themselves since the peace agreement, so this iteration of north-south violence will be far worse than ever before. And if war resumes in the south, the conflict in Darfur, in western Sudan, will surely explode again.

To allow this triumph of international diplomacy to collapse and leave the people of southern Sudan vulnerable is unconscionable. But the questions are stark: what can the United States do to help prevent a war that could cost millions of lives? How can the United States once again influence the behavior of a government willing to commit crimes against humanity to maintain power?

These are certainly the worries of the Obama administration. Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, the administration's special envoy to Sudan, recently said: "We have no leverage. We really have no pressure."

But we do have leverage. The peace in Sudan is one the United States "owns." Developing a more robust package of carrots and sticks - rolled out multilaterally when possible, unilaterally if necessary - would strengthen America's diplomatic hand, not weaken it.

We propose that the threatened pressures should include placing sanctions on key ruling party officials, blocking debt relief from the International Monetary Fund, supporting International Criminal Court arrest warrants (including the one issued on Monday for Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for three counts of genocide in Darfur), tightening the United Nations arms embargo and providing further support to the south.

For this diplomatic effort to be effective, real incentives should be on the table as well: If - and only if - true peace comes to Sudan, we could offer conditional, one-year suspensions of the International Criminal Court warrants and normalization of relations between Khartoum and Washington. And experienced American negotiating teams should be deployed immediately to support African Union and United Nations efforts already under way to end the war in Darfur and prevent one between the north and south, just as we did with the 2005 deal.

Bill Clinton often says his greatest regret as president is that he didn't do more to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. There were signs that trouble was brewing long before the killing started, but when it did begin, Mr. Clinton and the international community did not act decisively.

This is President Obama's Rwanda moment, and it is unfolding now, in slow motion. It is not too late to prevent the coming war in Sudan, and protect the peace we helped build five short years ago.

Dave Eggers is the author of "What Is the What." John Prendergast, the co-founder of the Enough Project, is the co-author with Don Cheadle of the forthcoming "The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa's Worst Human Rights Crimes."


 

 

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