> South Sudan: Referendum - One Year On
13 January 2012
South Sudan's declaration of a humanitarian disaster following ethnic
clashes in Jonglei state is a grim occasion to mark the anniversary of the
referendum on independence which took place one year ago. The violence
unleashed in recent days is a stark reminder of the formidable challenges
facing the new nation of South Sudan.
Efforts to consolidate peace and stability have a particular historical
significance in Jonglei, a region which saw the first military mutinies
leading to the formation of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army
(SPLM/A) and which suffered the most acute backlash from the splintering of
the SPLM/A in 1991.
Many of the problems the region faces today are rooted in this violent past.
Numerous semi-autonomous 'armed groups', mostly arranged along ethnic lines,
emerged during the long civil war, the region is awash with arms and is
devoid of the customary checks and balances traditionally asserted by tribal
elders and chiefs. Cattle feuds have intensified and are now waged on a
larger and more violent scale. In the absence of adequate protection and
administration of justice by the Government of South Sudan, young men are
taking justice into their own hands to protect their communities.
The escalation of the conflict in Jonglei represents a serious threat to the
peace and stability of South Sudan. The challenges are however not limited
to internal conflicts. Fighting over the border with Sudan has also
intensified in recent weeks, creating a significant refugee crisis both
within South Sudan and in Ethiopia.
The provisions for last January's referendum were established by the 2005
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government of Sudan and the
SPLM - a major achievement in view of the bloodshed that marked the
North/South conflict, which claimed at least two million lives and displaced
more than four million in Africa's longest-running civil war.
But although the implementation of the CPA led to South Sudan's
independence, it failed to provide a solution for the highly contested
border areas of Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile State. An
all-too-predictable conflict resumed in June 2011, with each side accusing
the other of waging a proxy war by supporting rival insurgent groups.
Verifying the current humanitarian situation in the border areas is
difficult because the government of Sudan has banned international aid
agencies and media from the region. It is however clear that government
counter-insurgency operations against the SPLA-North have exacted a high
toll on the civilian population. Although the UN peacekeeping mission's
mandate was wound up by the government of Sudan upon the independence of the
South, the UN has nevertheless documented a catalogue of atrocities,
extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and looting, along
with mass displacement after the bombardment of densely populated civilian
It is estimated that 417,000 people have fled their homes - forcing many to
miss the planting season or abandon their crops. This is in part why the UN
is now warning that the region faces an imminent food crisis, describing
malnutrition rates as 'alarming', especially in areas controlled by the
SPLM-North. Tens of thousands have fled into South Sudan, prompting a huge
humanitarian operation in a country with barely any infrastructure or basic
The international support that made the CPA and the creation of the state of
South Sudan possible is urgently needed now to ensure that the fragility of
the two Sudans doesn't deteriorate further. More robust political action is
required to help identify solutions to outstanding issues between the two
countries and bring the conflict in the border areas to an end. The capacity
of the UN mission to South Sudan should be reinforced to ensure more
effective protection of civilians and hold the Government of South Sudan to
account for its responsibilities to governance, justice and transparency.
Critically, efforts should be made to support the massive humanitarian
operation to reach the displaced in Jonglei state, protect and assist South
Kordofan refugees in Unity State and persuade the government of Sudan to
reverse its ban on international aid agencies so that there can be a full
assessment of all Sudanese populations at risk.
Dr. Sara Pantuliano is Sudan analyst and head of the Humanitarian Policy
Group at the Overseas Development Institute.
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Received on Fri Jan 13 2012 - 15:23:34 EST