All Eyes on Sudan This Weekend

In a historic event starting on Sunday, January 9, four million South Sudanese will have the opportunity to vote for self-determination. The referendum was mandated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, and follows years of civil war marked by brutality, discrimination and negligence of the central government in Khartoum. The people of the South are expected to vote in large numbers for the establishment of a new country. This is a critical time for the world to be watching and acting to protect the rights of all of the people of Sudan. During the build-up to the referendum, attacks on villages and civilians have continued in the western region of Darfur. Other requirements of the CPA including a referendum for the Abyei area and popular consultations for South Kordofan and the Blue Nile remain to be implemented. There is great risk of violence in the South following the referendum in January and related to the resolution of these other areas going forward. Next week’s major step in CPA implementation is in large part a result of engagement and diplomacy by governments including the United States, the European Community and the African Union. And it is also a response to global citizen pressure. Now, there is a major role to be played in development of a new “South Sudan.” Access to water and sanitation, health care and education are vital and currently are rudimentary at best. Therefore, respect for human rights by all parties must be at the core of the South’s future. They are the only guarantee of the life and wellbeing of the people of Sudan.The referendum, if its aftermath is peaceful, may well open the way to unprecedented development for the people of South Sudan. However, attention to the South should not preclude our urgent focus on Darfur where the Government of Sudan continues with its information blackout, persists in obstruction of humanitarian aid, and continuously suppresses dissent as it intimidates, arrests and tortures human rights advocates and other voices in civil society. We must remain alert in days ahead.

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