On January 9, 2011, Southern Sudan will vote on whether to secede from the North. This vote was promised as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005, which ended a brutal civil war between North and South Sudan that claimed some two million lives.

The northern Government of Sudan in Khartoum, ruled by Omar al-Bashir, has obstructed preparations for the vote and sent signals that a vote for independence may not be accepted. Southerners have warned of violence if a credible vote does not take place on time. Secretary of State Clinton has called the situation in Sudan a “ticking time bomb.” The U.S. Director of National Intelligence called Southern Sudan the place where a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur. In addition, the safety of over a million Southern Sudanese living in Northern Sudan is of great concern. As the referendum approaches, reports of inflammatory, racist rhetoric against Southerners in the North – the type that has preceded other outbreaks of genocidal violence - are growing.

The key border town of Abyei – which has been a flashpoint for violence and includes valuable oil reserves – is also supposed to hold its own referenda on January 9th on whether to remain part of North Sudan or join the South. However, talks on preparations for the Abyei referendum recently collapsed, and the chance of a peaceful and on-time vote in Abyei grows slimmer by the day.

The impact of the chaos in Sudan is felt by its neighboring countries. As of 2006, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda provided shelter for roughly 500,000 Sudanese refugees, this number includes about 240,000 residents of Darfur that were driven from their homes by the Janjawid armed militia and the Sudanese military forces. The United Nations estimates that 200,000 to 300,000 people have died in Darfur since the start of the current conflict in 2004 from direct violence and other conditions related to camp living or deprivation. In the Darfur region of Sudan, out of a total population of around 6.2 million, an estimated 4.7 million people are currently directly affected by the conflict.

The NAACP supports involvement by the United States and international community to prevent a new wave of violence and human rights violations. Specifically, the U.S. should use high-level diplomacy to:

  • Press for free and on-time referenda on the status of South Sudan and Abyei, and ensure that Sudanese parties and the international community to respect the outcomes.
  • Demand unimpeded access for peacekeepers and humanitarian aid organizations throughout Sudan, and push for robust international human rights monitoring.
  • Secure commitments from governments in North and South Sudan to protect human rights before, during and after the referendum, including citizenship rights of Southerners living in the North, and vice versa.
  • Push Sudanese parties to reach agreements on key post-referendum issues such as oil and wealth sharing and border demarcation, as well as citizenship and protections for human rights.
  • Publically denounce all acts of violence against civilians and violations of agreements by all parties in Sudan, and hold North and South accountable by offering both incentives for peace, and consequences for backsliding.