The Current Situation
Sudan faces challenges on many fronts, among them the ongoing crisis in Darfur, a fragile Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and South that ended decades of civil war, and significant local violence in the southern and central parts of the country. Heightening the already tense situation is the looming referendum in the South scheduled for January 2011 to determine whether the South will remain part of a united Sudan or secede. The U.S. Institute of Peace is engaging all of these issues in an effort to help build a more stable Sudan.
The conflict in Darfur has devastated the region. While clashes between government forces, rebel groups, and allied militias have decreased in recent years, there has yet to be a lasting peace agreement that establishes a sustainable cessation of the violence and provides a workable political solution to the conflict. Talks are currently underway in Doha between the Government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement, a coalition of some of the many rebel groups. While it is unclear whether the Doha process will result in a peace agreement, to make these or other negotiations viable it is critical that the Darfuri people, including the diaspora and local civil society, are included in the process.
As Darfur negotiations continue, the fragile peace between Sudan’s North and the South is holding on tenuously as the Sudanese people look ahead to the referendum on unity or southern secession. Regardless of the outcome, the border between North and South will remain tense. That border has yet to be demarcated, and many citizens living in these areas are members of nomadic communities that regularly cross what may become an international border. The CPA also grants two key border states on the Northern side of the border their own processes – known as Popular Consultation – to determine how they will relate with the post-referendum government(s) of Sudan. Given the history of violence in these states and the oil-rich Abyei area (which will have its own referendum on whether to remain a part of the North or follow the South, depending on how the South votes in its referendum), building the capacity of local actors in these areas and engaging with the public and various stakeholders in the Popular Consultation and referenda processes are essential to ensure a peaceful transition.
The nationwide elections in April 2010 and the January 2011 referendum on southern secssion were a key milestones in the implementation of the CPA. The elections were logistically complicated, and the January 2011 referendum faced extreme logistical and political obstacles. Given the heightened tension and political competition that occurs as a result of the elections and referendum processes, USIP worked with civil society in both the north and south on how to prevent electoral or referendum competition from turning violent.
As Southern Sudan prepares for possible statehood, it faces many challenges in creating a functional government responsive to the people. One key challenge is the creation of a judicial system and the implementation of rule of law. While the Government of South Sudan has been operating largely autonomously since the CPA, many formal justice structures have yet to be put in place, and as a result customary law plays a major role in the Southern Sudan legal system. Looking to the future for Southern Sudan, a major priority is the need to clarify the role of customary law in the administration of justice.
As the interim period of the CPA comes to a close, Sudan faces a critical moment in its history. Decisions made over the next year have the potential to lay the foundation for sustainable peace across the whole of Sudan, or to reignite violence and propel the country, and potentially the region, back to war.