By Alison Giffen – Today marks the one-year anniversary of South Sudan’s independence from Sudan. To measure what has been achieved, the baseline for progress should reach at least as far back as January 9, 2005, the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between what were then the northern and southern regions of a single Sudanese state. The CPA wasn’t just about a national census, elections, a referendum or even the division of one country into two. The CPA objective – as agreed by the parties and the international community – was a democratic system of governance founded in the values of justice, democracy, good governance, and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.
Regardless of which side of the border one looks, this objective seems far away. New versions of the same internal conflicts of 2005 are raging in Sudan today, marked by strikingly similar disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law. Amidst austerity and rising inflation, the Government of Sudan (GoS) continues to choose guns over governance in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states along the southern border, and with numerous rebel movements in its western region Darfur.
At the same time, the GoS continues to shut down or block access to international humanitarian and development assistance, despite the growing numbers in need. Of greatest concern are the active conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which have collectively displaced half a million people. Although 200,000 have reportedly fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia, hundreds of thousands remain trapped in Sudan without access to assistance. Last month, the government shut down seven international organizations serving eastern Sudan, which hosts 300,000 refugees and is plagued by cycles of drought and flooding. International organizations have continued to face expulsions and bureaucratic obstacles in Darfur.
The disputed boundary between north and south has been transformed into a contested international border that both the GoS and the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS) have used to cut off the flow of people, goods, and services. In January, South Sudan shut off oil production that supplied Sudan with three-fourths of its petroleum. Oil has been Sudan’s largest industry and revenue generator since it began exporting oil in 1999. To offset the loss, the GoS has announced and begun to implement austerity measures including abolishing fuel subsidies, and downsizing Sudan’s central and state governments. The move sparked rare popular protests and the government used a characteristically heavy hand to try to silence them.
The GRSS’s isn’t fairing much better internally. The South’s suspension of oil production may end up hurting South Sudan far more than its northern foe. South Sudan was 98 percent dependent on oil for revenue, much of which was used to support poorly integrated forces that tend to prey off communities and challenge the GRSS militarily when they aren’t being paid or rewarded for their service.
The GRSS has also demonstrated that it is not yet able to prevent conflict between its heavily armed citizenry. An escalation of the cycle of retaliatory violence between ethnic groups in Jonglei state resulted in hundreds dead, tens of thousands displaced, and the destruction of property. With such a weak hold on its economy and monopoly of power, the one-party dominated GRSS appears less open to dissent from other political parties and from within its own ranks. A multi-party, more representative government able to encourage and uphold human rights is a long-way off.
While Sudan and South Sudan continue to negotiate, they also continue to fight over the north-south border and the Abyei region with devastating impact on civilians. Over the last year, the GoS has used indiscriminate aerial bombing just inside the South. South Sudan’s army crossed the border in response, temporarily taking a strategic oil location before returning to their side. Both countries are accused of supporting proxies across the border.
Sudan and South Sudan are clear examples of why benchmarks of success in conflict-affected countries cannot be measured by the number of years elapsed, agreements signed, or elections held. As the people of Sudan and South Sudan wait for these processes to translate into positive changes on the ground, the need for external interventions to protect civilians will remain.
On Friday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) renewed the mandate of UNMISS, the peacekeeping operation in South Sudan, including the authorization to use all necessary means to protect civilians and welcoming the implementation of a strategy to protect civilians. The UNSC will consider doing the same for UNAMID, the peacekeeping operation in Darfur, in late July. A third operation, UNISFA, is helping to dissuade conflict and protect civilians in Abyei. But these three operations have limited assets, mandates, and areas of operations. For example, they can do almost nothing for the people caught in active conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The UN, African Union and League of Arab States should continue to work towards the realizations of a demilitarized zone and monitoring mechanism along the border of Sudan and South Sudan, and should reexamine and redouble efforts to allow for the delivery of independent and neutral humanitarian assistance throughout Sudan. At minimum, the international community must continue to seek ways to pressure the respective governments to comply with human rights and humanitarian law, and ideally find ways to support the implementation of the promises the CPA parties made to their people seven and a half years ago today.
Photo Credit: United Nations, http://www.unmultimedia.org/photo/detail.jsp?app=1&lang=en&id=478/478458&key=54&query=sudan&lang=en&sf