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Sudan, Divided: Addressing the Primary Challenges to the South’s Development (part 2 of 3)

Emily Winter and Susannah Sirkin on August 10, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, marks one month since South Sudan’s official independence and international recognition as Africa’s 54th state. As the new nation begins to form its policies on development issues, its leadership and citizenry must successfully overcome several obstacles. The international community must remain apprised of – and involved in – South Sudan’s progression toward stability and state building. This is the second post in a three-part series that will address the major questions central to South Sudan’s development. Read the first post and check back later this week for the third.

Ending the Border Conflicts

How can South Sudan move towards peaceful resolution of the ongoing border conflicts with the north? How and to what extent should the international community intervene in ending this violence?

The border disputes between Sudan and South Sudan, discussed in our previous post, persist. Particularly in South Kordofan and the Nuba mountains, the media continues to highlight allegations of ethnic cleansing, extra-judicial and indiscriminate killings, direct targeting of civilians, and evidence of mass graves. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir’s government forces are implicated as the primary perpetrator of systemic killing and human rights violations in the contested areas.

Media and humanitarian access to the conflict regions is severely restricted. Both national and ex-pat aid workers have been targets of the violence. Sudanese authorities obstruct the UN peacekeeping force from fulfilling its mandate in the region, and UN investigators cannot gain the necessary access to look into the alleged atrocities.

Omar al-Bashir
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for atrocities in Darfur. (photo: US Navy/Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt)

In the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, residual problems from the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) continue to complicate the border demarcation. The CPA ended Sudan’s long-running civil war between the Islamic north and Christian and Animist south, allowing South Sudan to become an autonomous region in 2005. However, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, both aligned with the SPLM (the south’s rebel military) during the civil war, fell north of the border.

To mitigate further disputes between SPLM militias in these north Sudan states, the CPA mandated a mechanism known as the popular consultation for Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The popular consultation protocol allowed these two states to either fully adopt the conditions of the CPA or to renegotiate its terms to better fit the needs and aspirations of the Blue Nile and South Kordofan populations. Yet, implementation of the CPA and the popular consultation has not started in South Kordofan, and has been slow and largely ineffective in Blue Nile.

Upon South Sudan’s official independence from the north last month, the Sudanese government aimed to absorb the Blue Nile and South Kordofan militias. However, dissidents in these states argue the popular consultation process failed and thus refuse to align with President al-Bashir’s government. This has led to military strikes by al-Bashir’s forces against SPLM groups in South Kordofan, resulting in widespread destruction and reported atrocities. The violence threatens to spill over into Blue Nile.

The historically contested, oil-rich region of Abyei is another concern requiring resolution. An international arbitration tribunal in 2008-2009 resulted in a revision of Abyei’s borders and a power-sharing negotiation in which Abyei would be controlled by both the north and the south; however, by 2010 the borders had yet to be officially demarcated or recognized by the Sudanese government.

Territorial and tribal disputes within Abyei were compounded by the ongoing north-south debate over control of the region. Violent conflict escalated in May 2011, resulting in looting and burning of homes and massive population displacement. Despite the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping forces and a current ceasefire, both Sudan and South Sudan continue to lay geographic claim to this region.

Identifying a resolution to each of these conflicts is a surmountable challenge, particularly in light of President al-Bashir’s stated motivation of suppressing ethnic diversity to establish an Arab-Islamic regime. Thus, the international community must immediately take a more robust stance and enforce a zero-tolerance policy for human rights abuses wielded by the Sudanese government. Global actors must pressure President al-Bashir’s regime to immediately cease all military offensives that result in widespread civilian casualties and threaten to destabilize the South’s peace and development process.

History shows us that peaceful compromises regarding the border disputes are unlikely to succeed without significant international arbitration and action on behalf of innocent civilians.

Emily Winter is a graduate student and programs intern at PHR.