The Editors
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In just a few days, as many as three million people will participate in a referendum that will almost certainly endorse secession and independence for southern Sudan. Sudan’s Catholic bishops have urged practical and prayerful support for a peaceful vote and transition to independence if that is the choice of the Sudanese. They have also called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities in Sudan and the governments in Khartoum in the north and Juba in the south to show restraint and “neighborliness,” whatever the outcome on Jan. 9.

These hopeful exhortations are unfortunately matched by preparations for war in the new year in a land that has known little else since independence. Thousands of soldiers from the north are already massing along the border. One minor revelation out of the WikiLeaks cable dump has been evidence that the administration of George W. Bush clearly knew of large arms transfers, including Soviet-era tanks, to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south, the region’s de facto government since the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2005. For its part, Khartoum has made frequent arms purchases from China, Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union in apparent violation of a 2005 arms embargo.

There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the likelihood of a peaceful transition in Sudan. A referendum in Abyei, a disputed border province and the center of Sudan’s oil production, has been indefinitely postponed; and now the province, where both sides have deep ethnic connections, threatens to become the Kashmir of the Sudan. Final borders, citizenship and the division of oil revenues remain undetermined, and Khartoum has been persistently noncompliant in the face of growing international pressure to prepare for the vote. There is no reason to trust that Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, with two international war crimes indictments hanging over his head, is honestly committed to a successful vote and peaceful transition. Behind him lurk other figures in the northern military even more hostile to southern independence. Thousands of southern Sudanese living in the north are heading south to escape an anticipated orgy of retaliatory violence, should secession succeed at the ballot box.

Sudan is derived from al-Sudd, the Arabic term for the vast swamplands in the south. Certainly, Al-Sudd has proved to be a swamp for diplomatic initiatives over the last five years. Could it be that the international community, like many of Sudan’s residents, has become resigned to the return of conflict to a nation that has already endured two million deaths in decades of fighting? “Sudan fatigue,” one international analyst said, may be understandable given the country’s deep complex of ethnic, religious, political and economic tensions.

Even in this 11th hour, however, there is still cause for hope. In recent months the Obama administration and U.N. diplomats have re-energized negotiations aimed at a successful referendum by offering to drop Sudan from the list of terrorist states if it accepts the outcome of the vote. The sudden rush of activity in the few short months left before the vote was certainly welcome, but it is fair to wonder why so little progress was made in the five years that have already passed since the signing of the peace accord. Perhaps the diplomatic fire brigade would not be required now to put out this regional fire if southern Sudan had been given this level of attention a year or, better, two years ago. At least now, said one Sudan analyst, “there are a lot of buckets, and they’re all heading in the same direction.”

The consequences of renewed violence and economic disruption will be grave for Sudan, but it is not the only nation with much at risk on Jan. 9. In September 2005, partly in response to the crisis in Sudan, U.N. member states accepted the principle of the responsibility to protect—an internationally shared responsibility to protect civilian populations from war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide when “national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations.” The United States and the Obama administration have gone even further. The 2010 U.S. National Security Strategy commits the United States to “mobilize diplomatic, humanitarian, financial and—in certain instances—military means to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities.”

It appears, on paper at least, that the United States will not sit back and allow another Rwanda to unfold. But, stretched thin on two war fronts, the United States may not have the will or capacity to respond. If the worst unfolds after Jan. 9, no doubt many nations, from the members of the Security Council to the African Union, will be able to offer reasonable explanations for why they could not have done more. They ought, however, to find the means to exercise their acknowledged obligation to protect the innocent.

Comments

LARRY | 1/10/2011 - 9:34pm
Recall "Famous Last Words", (AMERICA, November 8, 2010)


Re “Independence Vote Could Reignite Civil War” (Signs of the Times, 10/25): Bishop Paride Taban’s reference to a possible Islamic government’s “continued oppression of the ethnic and religious minorities” of Southern Sudan, brought back bad memories.


The same is true of his reminder at the University of Notre Dame last October that “the people of the South are beating day and night the drum of secession and independence.” This reminded me of the terrible years of persecution, torture and murders suffered by the animists and Christians of South Sudan and by the people of the Diocese of Torit.


In the late 1980s I was serving in Rome as Vatican director of the documentation, information and press office of Caritas Internationalis. I shall never forget the three-line telex that Bishop Taban probably expected to be his last message to us at Caritas: “God reward you for trying to help us. Now pray God will grant us a happy death.”

Tom Maher | 1/2/2011 - 4:49pm
ABC's Sunday news program "This Week" of 1/2/11 interviewed George Clooney and John Pendergast about their projects that address the real possibility of wide-spread Sudanies government sponsored military action over the independence refereendum that is about to take place. 

This interview is on the internet under ABC News "This Week".

The intview reveals new insights such as th use of "prozy militias' by the Sudanese goverment to make it appear that Sudan is not mobilizing when in fact Sudan is massivley mobilizing "proxy militias".  These militias include significant air power components with extenisve fire power and bombing capabilities.  Air power could be use very much as it was used by Iraq against its own citizens after the first Gulf war where tens of thousands of Kurds and Shiites were slaughtered by their own government.  Attack by air power of these proxy militias on civilian villages of south Sudan could readily exterminate masses of people.   Terms like "civil war" do not begin to describe the potential deadly effects these air attacks could have.  

 Clooney and Pendergast recognize the Sudan mobilization going on and any actual attacks are too much in the dark to most people in the world.  Clooney and Pendergast address this lack of public information on what is going on in Sudan.   Clooney's Satellite Sentinel Project and Pendergast "Enough" project will monitor and document mobilizations and any use of military force  by satellite.  This satellite monitoring is now to th eworldwide public on the internet.  Any attacks will be documented by satellite photo for use by the United Nations for follow-up action such as  sanctions on Sudan and its leaders who already have significant indictments against them and sanctions against Sudan.  But these projects will make whatever happens in south Sudan known in detail to all the world.
Tom Maher | 12/30/2010 - 11:30pm
Sound like the same Sudan of 35 years ago which was the same as the Sudan back in the 1950s.   Over the decades since the 1950s all of Sudans dictators have systematically eliminated any insurgents in the south or anywhere else.    Some of these campaigns of extermination would take years of effort.  What did all these dictators including the present dictator have in common?  They are all Moslem leaders of a very Moslem country.   Allowing the Christians of the south to go off and peacefully practice their Christianity in a separate new non-Moslem country is not acceptable to these leaders as Moslems and it is not acceptable to the people  of this fundementalist Moslem Sudan.  Leaders of Moslem countires are strickly obliged to maintain and spread the Moslem religion.   

Sadly but very likely we can expect more of the same with this referendum  The Sudenese are not western liberals.  The minute noone is looking they will be back to their ususual mode of suppressing anything or anyone that challenges Moslem total control of the Sudan.  And yes they are stockpileing arms and ammunition to keep the south Moslem by force.

Yhe United States with critical involvment in Moslem countires such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan run extreme risk if it gets involved what every Moslem in the world will recongize is a clash between oslems and  Christians.  Moslem extremist will say the United States is at war with Moslems.  Effective support for the Christians will be seen worldwide as a attack on a Moslem nation.  Our involvment in the conflict will likely be a hugh loss to United States relations in the Moslem world which are already strained.  

But it is important to recognize when we are talking Sudan we are primrily talking about a Moslem nation with Moslem prospectives.   We had better be alert to the dangers of seeming to control another Moslem nation.  This could easily casues hugh backlash by Moslems in countires we already involved with militarily. 
C Walter Mattingly | 12/28/2010 - 11:40am
It is encouraging to see in America support and approval for the Obama administration's statement under the National Security Statement to "commit the United States to 'mobilize diplomatic, humanitarian, financial and-in certain instances-military means to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities.' " This is in keeping with our military response to the genocide of Milosevic and the genocidal actions and mass atrocities of Saddam Hussein after political, economic, and UN sanctions failed. President Clinton considered his refusal to employ military action to save the hundred plus thousand slaughtered in the Hutu-Tutsi conflict the greatest humanitarian failing of his administration. We can't always save a million plus from certain death as we did under the Bush administration  with our support of Aids victims in Africa without military action, and if it comes to the point in the Sudan that "diplomatic, humanitarian, and financial" resources fail, all Americans must go in with eyes open to an expensive and difficult campaign likely to have unforseen twists and turns, as we found out in conflicts from the Civil War to Afghanistan. Or to allow the proceedings to continue.

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