The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Brenda Bowser Soder,,O -202/370-3323, C - 301/906-4460

Obama Administration Must Tackle Tough Issues About Sudan at U.N. Gathering

U.N. General Assembly Gathering Offers Opportunity to Demonstrate Leadership, Reinforce Key Priorities


This week as President Obama seizes the opportunity provided by the
United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly to personally engage on Sudan,
Human Rights First is urging him to assert U.S. leadership to ensure
that January's referenda votes happen smoothly and on time. The group
notes that President Obama should also work with key countries to stifle
the potential for violence in the coming months.

In less than four months, on January 9, 2011, two referenda will take
place in Sudan that mark a critical moment for Africa's largest
country. The implementation of the referendum on self-determination for
Southern Sudan and a second referendum on the status of the border
region of Abyei are two core provisions of the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005. That document brought an end to the
decades-long civil war between north and south Sudan.

In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials have clearly conveyed their
concern about the current moment in Sudan's history. Secretary Clinton
described a "ticking time-bomb," and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan
Rice called the current situation "a very precarious moment." Later this
week, President Obama will meet with both Northern and Southern
leaders, which will mark his first direct interaction with Sudanese
leaders since he took office. The President will also join a high-level
meeting led by the U.N. Secretary-General on Friday that will focus on
international attention and support ahead of the January referenda.

"This week, President Obama has the opportunity to defuse what
Secretary Clinton has labeled a "ticking time-bomb' and to help ensure
that Sudan's future is not dictated by its troubled past," said Elisa
Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First. "There is no
substitute for U.S. leadership in the effort to bring peace to Sudan.
The United States must also be vigilant and prepared to address the
potential for violence in the aftermath of the referenda votes."

Human Rights First notes that there are ongoing concerns about the
fragility of the situation in Sudan at present and about how much still
remains to be done to prepare for these critical votes. There are also
well-founded fears about the potential for a return to violence and mass
atrocities against civilians in the south, even as atrocities continue
in the western region of Darfur. It notes that there is a clear need for
adequate diplomatic, financial, and technical resources to ensure these
votes happen on time, are carried off smoothly, and are a legitimate
expression of the will of the voters. There is also an urgent need to
prepare for what happens after the referenda to ensure their outcomes
are respected and that they form the basis for a peaceful future for all
of Sudan's people.

In advance of President Obama's meetings on Sudan this week in New York,Human Rights First is urging President Obama to affirm U.S. commitment to the following five priorities:

  • Support existing multilateral mechanisms: The U.S.
    was one of the so-called Guarantors to the CPA when it was signed in
    2005, along with the U.K., Norway, Netherlands, Egypt, Italy, and the
    following institutions: African Union (A.U.), European Union (E.U.),
    Arab League, and the U.N. President Obama should now mobilize this group
    of international actors to help ensure the CPA is implemented and to
    avoid a return to violence, including by supporting existing
    multilateral mechanisms such as the A.U.-U.N. Consultative Forum and the
    A.U. High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan.
  • Engage key countries with leverage in Sudan: While
    broad international engagement on Sudan is needed at this moment, there
    are certain countries with strong ties to the Government of Sudan and
    therefore with particular leverage that the U.S. should seek to enlist.
    China's role as a major economic partner of Khartoum and as a
    significant source of arms flows to the Sudanese government throughout
    its campaign of atrocities in Darfur warrants particular attention.
    President Obama should encourage China to use its relationship to help
    pave the way for smooth referenda and for a peaceful outcome to those
    votes. Not only China but also other countries such as Russia, Chad, and
    the UAE, which have been sources or transit points for military
    materials and other critical goods and services that have helped sustain
    the capacity of armed forces to commit atrocities in Darfur, should be
    urged by the U.S. to act as constructive stakeholders and avoid enabling
    atrocities anywhere in Sudan.
  • Don't forget Darfur: International attention
    has shifted to focus on Southern Sudan as the referenda approach, but
    insecurity continues to plague the western region of Darfur, and
    persistent violence against civilians there should remain a concern for
    U.S. policy makers. Next month, the final report of the U.N. Panel of
    Experts on Sudan is expected to reveal serious violations of the arms
    embargo on Darfur, just as its predecessor panels concluded in their
    reports over the past several years. The failure of third parties to
    comply with these U.N. sanctions in Darfur and the failure of the U.N.
    Security Council to take new measures to enforce the embargo have
    contributed to the ongoing atrocities in that region. The U.S. should
    carefully review the Panel's report and recommendations next month, and
    action on that front should be one of several ways in which the U.S.
    shows a concrete commitment to Darfur and to a holistic approach that
    address all flashpoints in Sudan at present.
  • Make clear that a return to north-south violence is not an option:
    President Obama should send a clear message to the parties to the CPA
    and to others that resorting to violence in the run-up to--or the
    aftermath of--the referenda is not an option. All parties in Sudan, and
    all third parties with ties to that country, should be put on notice
    that the U.S. and the international community are committed to avoiding
    violence against civilians, are prepared to act to prevent it, and will
    levy consequences on any who plan or perpetrate it.
  • Be prepared for risks of mass atrocities against civilians in Southern Sudan: Even
    as the Obama administration focuses on ensuring smooth preparations for
    the referenda, it should remain alert to the potential for a recurrence
    of violence around or after those critical votes. Given Sudan's history
    of government-sponsored atrocities against civilians, the U.S. should
    keep a watchful eye for early warning signs of plans for violence
    targeting civilian populations, and should be prepared for that worst
    case scenario. Part of its contingency planning should include support
    for the preventive deployment of peacekeepers from UNMIS to flashpoint
    areas to monitor the situation and deter localized violence. Another
    critical part of preparedness and prevention efforts should include the
    use of intelligence assets to track the flow of arms, ammunition, and
    other goods and services to those who may be engaged in planning or
    committing atrocities in the coming months. With Sudan's history of mass
    atrocities, the past may offer a prologue; previous patterns and
    perpetrators, as well as potential third-party enablers, deserve special
    attention at this fragile time.

For more information about Human Rights First's work on Sudan and its
ongoing work to hold accountable the enablers of atrocities, please

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.