Skip to main content

Sudan at the Crossroads: A Bearing Witness Trip Browse

Sudan at the Crossroads Briefing


Michael Abramowitz: Good morning. I’m Mike Abramowitz, and I’m the Director of the Genocide Prevention Program at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I want to start by apologizing for not producing George Clooney. He had agreed to come initially, but he was detained in Juba and couldn’t make it back. So you’re just going to have to deal with Andrew and myself.

Most of you probably know a little bit about the Committee On Conscience but just for a bit of background we are the genocide prevention program of the museum. And our focus is on raising awareness both with the broad public and our visitors as well as policymakers about ongoing cases of genocide in the world and also cases of potential genocide. We have done a lot of work over the last 10 years on Sudan. It’s been a major interest of the museum, both the events in Darfur and the North/South conflict.

I wanted to explain to you a little bit about the background of the trip that Andrew and I took. We were in Southern Sudan for about 11 or 12 days at the end of September and early October. And we went to Southern Sudan because we were very concerned about the risks of mass atrocities following the referendum in January. We all know from the history of Sudan that there is a long history of political disputes that have resulted in armed conflict and with civilians, particularly ethnic groups, bearing the brunt of much of this violence. And we believe that a lot of this can be laid at the steps of the Khartoum government. As you know roughly two million people died during the North/South war, another, at least, 200,000 during the genocide in Darfur.

We wanted to go to Southern Sudan to basically assess the situation on the eve of the referendum. We believe strongly that there are warning signs that really concern us, one being the history of conflict and violence against civilians. Number two, just the fact that there is major political change coming. And also that there are hard liners especially in the North using inflammatory language and who are spoiling to undo the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. That’s something you may also know that the director of national intelligence earlier this year, Dennis Blair, said during congressional testimony that he was worried about the risk of genocide in South Sudan over the next three to five years.

It was very appropriate for the museum to visit. And we invited Professor Natsios to come with us because of his long experience in the region. We wanted to go to Khartoum. I wanted to put this on the record but we were not welcome. We really have been asking for almost a year because we wanted to get a complete picture of what’s going on. I also wanted to mention that we invited along -- he’s not with us today -- Lucian Perkins, who is a former colleague of mine from The Washington Post who’s really one of the most skilled photographers and videographers working today. Lucian is actually still in Southern Sudan. One of the purposes of the trip in addition to assessing the situation was also Lucian, and I wanted to talk to really collect stories about what the Southerners have been through over the last 30 years. And we talked to many ordinary Sudanese about what had happened during the North/South conflict, and the stories we heard were quite interesting and moving. I actually have a few slides that I’m going to show you to give you a taste of what Lucian has done. He’s going to be coming back, and we’re going to try to do some other event at the Museum and use his material for various multimedia presentations both on our website and beyond. But it will give you a sense of our trip.

I wanted to say one thing the trip would not have been possible without the help of a number of very helpful non-governmental organizations and governmental organizations. We want to thank the US Consul General in Juba, Ambassador Barrie Walkley who was quite hospitable to us, the United Nations and the World Food Program helped us move around the South. The International Rescue Committee and Women for Women and also Catholic Relief Services were quite helpful to us in arranging visits. And so we’re very grateful to them. They really made the trip possible.

We went to three places. First, we went to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan where-- and let me just sort of show you where we went. So Juba there. And then we went to Rumbek, which is the capital of Lake State, and then we went to Malakal, which is in Upper Nile, which is really very near the border of between the two, the North and South, the border roughly -- it’s obviously being argued about but that’s roughly it. So those are the three places we went to.

I would say over the course of our visit we probably talked to close to 100 different people. We talked to at least six of the cabinet ministers in the government of Southern Sudan. We talked to the president of Southern Sudan. We talked to many of the top U.N. people, humanitarian officials, Sudanese civil society, politicians. We even talked to some of the people in the Sudanese, the dissenters, the SPLM-DC, which is sort of a breakaway group from the SPLM.

So that’s us in Rumbek. And this is in Juba. This is Rebecca Garang, who is the widow of John Garang, the long-time leader of Southern Sudan who led the fight for independence. You can really see the sadness in her eyes. She’s really seen a lot. And we paid a courtesy call on her when we were in Juba.

This woman is quite interesting. Her name is Sunday. And she is someone who was born in a village called Omao and she and her parents had fled to Uganda during the North/South war. And while in Uganda she had been taken captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army. And you can see from her face the Lord’s Resistance Army had killed her mother and attacked her in the face with knives and left her for dead. She survived and Lucian spent a couple of days following her around and seeing her life. She’s now a maid in a hotel in Juba.

I just mention this because everybody that you meet in Southern Sudan has some story either they witnessed an atrocity; they walked hundreds of miles to be in a displaced person’s camp; they lost their mother or father. It’s just incredible when you actually are there to see the kind of impact that the war had on the people of Southern Sudan. These are some of the people we met in Rumbek. This gives you a flavor of what life is like.

We went to a festival, sort of a street festival one Sunday in Rumbek, and we saw people dancing, playing basketball. This is another woman we talked to who’s with the Women for Women group. It’s a very political situation. Lots of signs, women wearing kerchiefs saying vote for Salva. It gives you a taste, it’s a highly political moment right now in the South.

This is in a Catholic Church we visited. We met some ministers. There are 101 days of prayer for peace in Sudan. And that’s what they’re organizing. This is a prayer that they’re saying. This is a school in Rumbek.

This is Malakal, which is closer to the border. It’s a very tense place. It is obviously near the oil fields, which are the subject of so much dispute. We were told that there were a lot of NCP operatives and security people from the North who are in plain clothes going around the city. They have these joint integrated units that were set up by the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005. They were supposed to bring together the forces of the North and the South. We saw the camp and basically the two sides they’re in the same camp but they don’t talk to each other. They’re in separate barracks and it just gives you a sense of how tense it is. This is a UNICEF program for orphans that we visited. Girls at a school. And just scenes of life in Malakal. Very poor.

There’s been a building boom in Juba, but the rural parts of Sudan are extremely poor. It’s probably not correct to say it’s undeveloped -- or it would be incorrect to say it needs redeveloping because it hasn’t been developed in the first place. It’s really been ignored really for 50 or 60 years and beyond by the British and then by the central authorities in Khartoum.

Lucian actually was there a day or two ago when Susan Rice and the Security Council showed up in Juba. We had left. He was there for another week gathering material for the Museum. And so he caught some pictures from people waiting to see the Security Council. And it was quite a scene people lining the roads in Juba. As you know, the U.N. Security Council is right now in the middle of a trip to Sudan. They’ve gone to Darfur, I think, yesterday and they’re supposed to go to Khartoum, as well.

So that gives you a little taste of what we did. I wanted to give you a few key takeaways that I had, and then I’m going to let Andrew to give his takeaways, and then we really invite a lot of questions. So as I emphasized in the beginning, the trip really underscored what a dangerous time it is in Sudan. And, I think, if there’s one major takeaway it really is about how important it is for the international community to prevent the outbreak of war. If the two sides can manage to avoid war, it’s not going to be an ideal situation. There are very severe humanitarian situations in Darfur. There’s continuing violence in the South. But we thought that it was unlikely that the North would direct massive amounts of violence against civilian groups short of warfare. The risk of mass atrocities rises exponentially if war breaks out, because that’s been the pattern in Sudan.

And that’s what we think that the focus of international policymakers ought to be: drawing red lines and preventing such a deadly war from breaking out. So what we saw is that the two sides are basically negotiating the terms of a divorce. And that the divorce can be very violent and that clear red lines must be established about what is acceptable. That number one: a resort to armed conflict will not be tolerated. Number two: that Sudan’s most vulnerable populations must be protected.

We thought it was very interesting that a lot of the commentary we got from both the Sudanese government officials we talked to as well as the humanitarian groups is they’re quite concerned about roughly a million or so Sudanese southerners, who have basically stayed in Khartoum for a variety of reasons. While we were there some radicals in the northern government made some very inflammatory comments about the people. And we had many people tell us that they’re very worried that this population would be at severe risk of reprisal if something goes wrong, if the referendum does not go off properly, if the North were not to accept the referendum or if the South goes and the North tries to take revenge.

Both Andrew and I -- and I’ll let Andrew speak for himself -- came away convinced that violence against civilians is not inevitable and both the North and the South have very serious reasons to pull back from the abyss, and that a negotiated settlement is possible. That we saw that both have very serious interests that will be threatened in the event of the war, specifically the interruption of the flow of revenue from oil that have sustained both the North and the South over the last five years and have been a real dividend to the peace.

There are very high expectations in the South about the referendum that there’s really a belief that the referendum and the vote for succession will really-- will bring peace and will bring economic nirvana. It is one of the things that’s going to really confront the new government of Southern Sudan if all goes well is meeting the expectations of the people.

What’s really astonishing to me, at least, from having been there for the first time is that for all that the Sudanese have been through over the last 30 years that people were still quite hopeful about the future. And that we visited a girl’s school in Rumbek that’s run by a terrific order of Catholic Nuns, the Loreto Order, and we talked to some of the young girls, 16, 17, 18. They’ve been through lots of stuff, but they all talk about being a lawyer or being a doctor or being a teacher. They still had hope. And that was one of the great takeaways for me.

I’m going to now turn it over to Andrew to give us his reactions. I want to make one caveat, Andrew and I have become very good friends and as many of you know the museum does not formally engage in lobbying or really getting involved in the policy debate. Our focus is on raising awareness and trying to get attention to these problems. Andrew is in a different position. He’s a private citizen. As many you know who know Andrew, he has some strong opinions, and I just want to make it clear that Andrew -- we went together because we share a lot of the same interests. We analyzed the situation very similarly but he has his own views. And to the extent that he talks about policy, it’s really Andrew’s own views.

But one thing that I would just like to say about Andrew, he’s a wonderful traveling partner. We had a great time. He’s full of wonderful stories. He’s a real expert on Sudan. He’s been going there since 1980, since he was an official at the USAID. And he stayed engaged in Sudan both as the USAID administrator during the first part of the Bush administration, then as President Bush’s special envoy for Sudan. He now has a new book coming out about Sudan being published, I believe, in a few months by Oxford University press. And I would just say the one thing that was really quite remarkable to me is what a major figure Andrew is in the South. He’s a real hero because many people who in the West did not really pay attention to what was happening to the Southerners and Andrew was one of the few people who focused on the plight of the Southerners and there was a lot of enthusiasm about him being there. So with that, I’d like to turn it over to Andrew and for your comments.

Andrew Natsios: Thank you, Michael. It was a very interesting trip. I haven’t been back since I was Envoy. So my last trip to Juba, I think, was in October or November of 2007, three years ago. Let me go through some of the concerns, the risks.

The first risk from a humanitarian and human rights perspective is: if war takes place, it’s going to be a conventional war. And the South has said publicly they will bring the war to the North. They will go after Khartoum. Whether they can do that or not is a different matter, but they will attempt to do that. It’s not a secret. And the reason they will is because one of the strategies of the North during since 1956 was to make sure the war never got to Khartoum. They always kept it-- Khartoum was never under attack during the entire period since 1956, from the South. That is different now.

The South has bought heavy weaponry. They have 125,000 person standing army, one of the largest standing armies in Europe with a lot of combat experience and they were beating the heck out of -- I was going to use cruder language, the heck out of the North during the latter stages of the civil war which was one reason that the North agreed to a peace settlement. They would never have developed the other oil fields given how powerful Garang’s army had become in the South.

The reason we’re worried about the million Southerners who are left in the North in displaced camps, a million-and-a-half, two million have all ready come back to the South is this: there have been race riots in Khartoum going back to the ’50s and large displaced camps during the entire period of the civil war that actually goes back to 1956. And two incidents took place the year the peace agreement was signed in 2005. When Garang returned after being gone for 22 years he told me four million people visited him or listened to him when he spoke. The American Embassy said maybe two million. You can debate how many but it was a huge crowd.

The Sudanese government lost control of the city when Garang returned. If John Garang wanted to have a revolt in the city to take over he could have done it because they couldn’t have controlled two million people. And they’re afraid of those displaced people. Over the years, they’ve bulldozed their settlements and moved them into the desert because they don’t trust them. They’re afraid of them. When Garang died in the helicopter crash there were riots in Khartoum because people believed he had been assassinated by the North. And, in fact, most Southern Sudanese still believe he’s been assassinated even though the evidence is not there to support that they believe it. When the rioting was taking place, Arabs were burned alive, businesses were burned down, Darfuri refugees displaced people from the -- because all of the displaced are not just in Darfur. Some of them are in Khartoum from the Darfur atrocities. They were raping Arab women saying this is in retaliation of your rape of our wives and our daughters.

There is seething resentment so they keep the lid on with the secret police and by paying people off, but it’s seething. And the fear is that if the war starts again those displaced people will become an internal army in the North supporting the South, maybe attacking Khartoum. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s real or not. That’s the fear of the North. And so when you have a population in a closed in area and you have a war going on and the people on one side are terrified and the other side are terrified too of the North attacking the South, you can have very bad things happen.

There is a plan by the United Nations and the government of Southern Sudan to move at least a half-a-million people who surveys show want to go back to the South as soon as possible. Personally, I think that’s the most important thing that US government can do right now is to reduce the risk of the Southerners in the North, so that if war starts -- because if war starts those people will be at risk.

The second comment is that it’s very unlikely that the government of the North or the South, Bashir or Salva Kiir, are going to start a war, despite what everyone is saying. They are not the ones. Why? Because, one, Bashir is genuinely-- he said it to me and he said it to other Arab leaders, he said it enough publicly, I heard him say it at Garang’s funeral, I led the US delegation to his funeral. He’s very proud of the CPA. Now, he hoped it would come out differently, but he’s not going to undermine and his vice president, Ali Osman Taha, negotiated it, and he’s actually well regarded in the South, believe it or not because he negotiated it. And he got close to Garang.

There’s a hard line, very dark, security service force that are extremists within the regime that never supported the CPA. In fact, Taha went into exile because he was attacked by the hardliners for having negotiated the CPA, and he took his family with him. He went to Istanbul for six months because he was under so much attack by the hard line Northerners. Two of them made these outrageous public statements when we were there, and people were very upset. Bashir publicly separated himself and said, “No, that is not our position. We are going to protect the Southerners who are here and these things”-- he completely contradicted what his own minister was saying which typically that is not what happens in the North. They have one propaganda line. They all say the same thing. They’re very disciplined. To see this fight in public shows this big division between the extremists who don’t want peace and don’t want the CPA implemented and those moderates within the regime on the North/South agreement who want it to be implemented. You can question why. I think frankly, they’re making so much money from oil.

The South has gotten $7 billion in oil revenues in the last five years. I cannot believe what I saw in Juba. Juba is transformed. Seven thousand businesses have legally registered. There were two hotels when I left three years ago, there are 175 now. Okay. There’s eight water bottle plants. There’s even a brewery now. They’re talking about large scale agriculture to grow sorghum for the beer instead of bringing all of the goods in from other countries to brew the beer. The economy is beginning to boom. Three hundred thousand Southerners now have cell phones. And if you knew the South during the war it’s unbelievable, the change.

The problem is it’s all concentrated in Juba. The rural areas are not seeing the benefit yet. And they, the SPLM, and the government, the Southern government are very worried about that and I think once the referendum takes place, I think, I hope they’re going to focus more money in the provincial cities and the rural areas because the imbalance is so obvious that it’s dangerous to the stability of the South. And they all know it. The government knows it in the South. They’re going to try to deal with it.

There are elements in the North and the South that frankly don’t have a lot invested in the peace process. And so they are the real risk. And this Khartoum government is perceived in the West as this powerful autocratic regime. They are losing control of the North. That is the general perception in the South. I’ve talked with scholars. I’ve seen it myself. There are a number of people who are experts in Sudan who can see the NCP is not in control of the North any more. They’re losing control, and we had Southerners say they’re now fighting for their own survival. And the assumption in the West is good riddance, it would be better if they left. The question is, if they do leave, who will take over?

The darkest most organized force in the North is Hassan al-Turabi, who was purged from the party in 1998. He is still around. He has the best organization in the North. He is much worse than the current regime. And he is the one that brought bin Laden to his-- he’s related to bin Laden. His niece married bin Laden; is one of bin Laden’s wives. And he is very close to bin Laden. He’s a very dangerous character. So it’s more complicated than it appears.

I think personally there’s going to be a referendum. It may not be exactly on the 9th of January. It may be a week later or two weeks later, but it’s going to be in January some time. And it will take place. And while the North is going to try to weaken the legitimacy of the South by trying to manipulate it I think the thing is going to pass by over 90 percent of the vote. That’s my opinion. I think that’s not the risk because what happens in the West? Once the vote takes place, we’ll say everything is fine.

For the next 10 years the North is going to try to undermine the South. Why? It’s very clear. They are afraid, in the North, that the South actually -- of all of the regions of the country -- have the best chance of success over the long-term. And the Southern leadership wants to succeed in the right way. They want to build a functioning middle class democracy in the South. They want to develop the rural areas and I believe them when they say that. I’ve known them for 20 years, and I think they’re serious about it. And they have oil revenues to do it with. The resource purse that exists in many poor countries has a different dynamic in the Sudan because the North -- the South realizes that the North is looming as a threat and so they have to succeed. There’s pressure for the South to succeed because of the North. It unifies the South, actually to have the threat. So I think -- the North is worried about having a highly functional state, Christian state in the South bordering them that are their sworn enemies. And so they are going to try to undermine the South. They will do it subtly but they’re going to do it.

So the great risk is not the day of the referendum or leading up to it. It’s after the referendum. It’s the six months after the referendum because the CPA ends the 9 of July next year, not in January. There’s a six month period. And then for the next 10 years as the South is developing they’re going to try to destabilize it because they’re afraid of having a functional state to the South of them. I don’t think the South is going to be a failed state.

The North is a failed state. It already is a failed state. They have control over greater Khartoum. It’s called the Arab Triangle. It’s the Arab view has been since 1956 resourced, put all of the resources in the center in Khartoum, Port Sudan, Omdurman and North Khartoum, this Arab Center. And that’s why there’s massive disparities of wealth in the country and development.

I think actually the South has a very good chance of succeeding over 10 years if we can avoid-- if they go back to war, there’s going to be huge problems because 98 percent of the revenues in the Southern government come from oil. If that all shuts down which could if war starts they’re going to be in trouble. I think one of the most important things, it’s not the advocacy groups. Don’t like to talk about the military situation. The most important thing is a military balance of power between the North and the South. Why is that? The North is not going to attack the South if they think they’re going to lose in the war. They’ve been massively-- both sides have been massively arming but the North has a preponderance of equipment and weapons. The South has high morale. The North has had successive purges because they’re afraid of a coup so their officers are inexperienced and their best officers have all been removed because they’re afraid that they’ll overthrow them.

So, I think, this is a very difficult situation right now. I think the international community is going to be focused on this referendum which it’s very important, it’s critically important. But, I think, everybody’s going to lose interest after the referendum is over. When, in fact, the larger issues will be settling the terms of the divorce. Because right now, the negotiations that are going on as we speak in Addis are these: the North wants to settle the terms of the divorce -- citizenship issues, the border area, how to deal with Abyei, which is sort of the Kashmir of Sudan. It’s in between the North and the South. It’s a highly volatile area. Some Arab tribes claim the area. The Ngok Dinka, this is where their kings were from, and they want the land back. And there’s supposed to be a referendum there. When the referendum between the North and the South is voted on in January, they’re also supposed to vote in Abyei whether they will join the South or stay with the North. That is a very provocative area.

And the other issue is the East. We picked up from a lot of people that the Eastern provinces about nine million people -- the Beja, Qadarif, Sennar, Jazirah and Blue Nile area – are, they’re not in revolt but they’re near revolt. And the governor of Blue Nile provinces, the most charismatic figure among the Southerners even though that Blue Nile is in the North they have an army there, and it’s separate from the Southern Army even though they were allied with them, they are part of the South-- of the SPLA during the war. Malik Aggar was elected there as a SPLM candidate. He was elected as governor with 56 percent of the vote. He’s a very powerful figure. And he is not fans of the Khartoum regime.

So there’s fear of a new rebellion in the east. So the North has lost control of Darfur. They’ve lost control of the South. There’s looming unrest in the East. There’s a referendum in Abyei and the Nuba Mountains is also very, very tense right now in the North. And so you have a highly unstable situation in the North with centrifugal forces pulling apart the country. I think that we need to watch that because we’re assuming if the South is fine everything is fine, well that’s not the case. We don’t want the North to turn into Somalia. It would be a disaster. A human rights disaster, an economic disaster, a disaster for the people of Sudan. And it’s a very difficult situation right and very complicated.

The North caused this. The Arabs caused this problem. But I might add this has been going on since 1956. The perception is that if this government goes, everything will be fine. The worst atrocities against the Southerners were committed by a democratically elected government led by Sadiq al-Mahdi, who’s the great-grandson of the Mahdi, who is this charismatic religious figure in the 1870s who beheaded General Gordon. He is the leader of the Democratic Party, the Umma Party, and he committed the worst atrocities. So the assumption that this all going to be taken care of if the one bad guy or two bad guys in the current regime depart is just not the case. There is a permanent structural problem in Sudanese politics that is going to be with us for a long time, be with the Sudanese people for a long time. And our job, it seems to me, is to try to act in a way, a responsible way to stabilize things and move them towards gradual incremental change for the better.

Michael Abramowitz: Thank you. So, I think, Jean will help us. My colleague Jean Freedberg from the Committee On Conscience will help just take questions and the floor is open.

Jean Freedberg: Yeah, we have two mics. We have a roving mic on that side. And we have a standing mic on this side. So if people on this side wouldn't mind going to the microphone there and people here. I thought what we could do is just take two questions at a time. If you wouldn’t mind keeping your comments brief and your questions relatively brief too, that would be great. We have about 20, 25 minutes for questions. So, let’s take one here but you’re going to have to go if you wouldn’t mind to the mike. We’ll take this one over here.

Q1: I’m curious about the role of neighboring countries in this mix of things?

Jean Freedberg: Let’s just take two at a time and then people can sit down.

Benson Wilder: I’m curious as to any conversations you had with Northerners in the South and also attitudes towards them out of the referendum.

Jean Freedberg: Actually, if you wouldn't mind identifying yourselves when you ask the questions that would be great.

Benson Wilder: Benson Wilder from the Humanitarian Information Unit, Department of State.

Jean Freedberg: Thank you…

Andrew Natsios: … The fact is that the neighboring countries have more to lose than any western country or the U.N. if this goes south. And I’ve had heads of state in the area whom I’ve known for years tell me they’re all making preparations for the disillusion of Sudan. And I said to them, you mean the separation of the North and the South? And they said no, no, Andrew. We all know the South is separating. We actually think the South is going to be relatively stable over the longer term. It’s the North that’s going to dissolve and it could be a complete disaster if that happens. One diplomat, senior African diplomat said, “Andrew if it dissolves it will open the gates of hell.” That’s what he said, I quote. And he’s a very experienced guy. He’s been around a long time and he knows the dynamics.

The neighboring countries are all afraid of what’s going to happen. They are interfering, some of them helpfully and some not so helpfully. I’m not going to identify which countries are in which category. If you read this history of Sudan you’ll see which ones have played a more destabilizing role. I think Uganda-- right now Uganda and Kenya are trying to get-- are helping with Thabo Mbeki at the Addis negotiations between the North and the South and they’re playing a constructive role to try to get the two sides resolve some of these divorce issues.

One of the issues is the North has been slowing down the preparation for the referendum for two reasons. The hardliners don’t want the referendum. The moderates say we want to use this as a tool. They keep renegotiating everything with the Southerners. It’s intolerable to do this but I know why they’re doing it. They’re doing it because they have a very weak hand. They’re playing a very weak hand. So they renegotiate everything which drives everyone crazy in the South and Darfur everywhere else. And if you’re in the international community you’re a diplomat. Nothing is every final. Why did they do that? To get more concessions. And what are the concessions? On the percentage of oil revenue that will be going to the North after the Southern independence. Where will the border line be? What will the arrangements be in Abyei? These sorts of issues.

They’re legitimate issues that have to be negotiated. And there are legitimate Arab interests that have to be considered in the North. I think taking the view that the Southern interests are always legitimate and they’re always evil interests in the North is a very bad sort of analysis of this. There are legitimate interests of the North and the South that need-- there need to be trade-offs so that we don’t destabilize either region, either area. And that we try to get them to work together because the North is dependent on the South and the South and the North economically for the oil field. The rows in the South the pipeline is in the North. The refineries are in the North. And the port to ship the oil is in the North. If they don’t work together and the oil revenues dry up both the North and the South will de-stabilize. The second question you asked was…<inaudible>.

Andrew Natsios: The Northerners-- there’s not as many Northerners. Now they’re mostly Arab business people, they’re traders. And there’s-- the markets in Juba are dominated by Northern Arabs. When Garang died in the helicopter crash some of their businesses were burned down. Several Arabs were killed and they took their families and left on the next plane. There’s not such a large number that the government is actually worried about them in terms of destabilizing. There are just not that many of them. There might a few thousand but not hundreds of thousands or even tens of thousands. So would they be at risk? The might be at risk because of popular unrest, but they’re not big enough to threaten anyone enough to be targeted as a group. That’s my view.

Jean Freedberg: Did you want to add anything?

Michael Abramowitz: We obviously were prohibited from going to the North. So I would not say that we had a great sense but we did talk to a number of people who travel back and forth between North and South and civil society. And I think I would say the key point that a number of them made to us was just the theme that Andrew was talking about, kind of the potential balkanization of the country. That they perceived the North as weak and not strong and that they felt that the North was under a lot of pressure from different factions within the government.

And they thought that the future of Sudan was very-- I’m not sure the right word is bleak but that having essential government was in doubt. That was a number of people told us that and that was quite interesting. I mean I think another thing that was-- the second thing that was kind of interesting and I’m not sure how they would definitely know this but we talked to a number of people in the government of Southern Sudan who were quite dismissive about the effect of the western sanctions on the North. These are people who had a lot of business interests up there and they were telling us that the sanctions were being skirted relatively effectively. Now, that may just be kind of what the Southerners say or think. We had other NGOs who said to us well, they think, that the North really would like to get out of sanctions and that’s a major thing. But it was an interesting point that was made to us by a couple of the senior people in Ghazal.

Andrew Natsios: I think there are two ways to look at the sanctions. One is it really changing the Sudanese behavior? I don’t think it is. I have seen no evidence that it’s actually constrained the North at all. The North knows including the hard line Islamists that having the Asian oil companies developing the oil fields is not a good idea. They’re getting very bad rates from the Asian oil companies on their oil. They want the western oil companies that are much better at environmental protection, that are much better at community relations and have much better technology. Some of the oil being pumped is very bad quality and American technology is the best technology in the world for refining bad oil. So they would make a lot more money if they had contracts with western oil companies. And so there’s a view by a lot of people including Southerners that it would be much better to have-- in fact, I had a British scholar say there’s great nostalgia for Chevron. Everybody wants Chevron to come back. They don’t think it’s ever possible to do that given all of the sanctions.

So it’s a matter of how much better things would be if there were more western businesses there. But in terms of the sanctions actually having the effect we all think they don’t have the effect. They found ways of getting around them. They were telling us in a very humorous way. They actually called their sanctions a joke including capital market sanctions. They said you guys don’t understand how this really works. They have 1,000 ways to get around these rules. It takes them a while to figure it out but they figure it out. The only thing the North is afraid of is military power, US military power. That’s the only thing they’re really afraid of.

Michelle Farley: Hi. My name is Michelle Farley. I’m with Wellspring Advisors. I spent a good bit of time in North and South Sudan in May and June so shortly after the elections. And one thing that came up in conversation over and over again in the South was the surprising level of violence and sort of authoritarian tendencies of the SPLM around the elections and worries about what that’s going to mean for the country internally, Southern politics after the referendum. So I’m just interested in any conversations you had related to that and sort of fears for internal South violence, I guess, after the referendum.

Michael Abramowitz: I would say two things, Michelle. One is there’s definitely been, I think, what by world standards would be a very high level of violence, South on South violence that’s related to cattle rustling, struggle over resources, ethnic tensions. I think it’s been documented by the International Crisis Group that there are several thousand deaths last year in Jonglei state over these kinds of clashes. So that’s definitely a problem. I will say that we were told by the U.N. and by others that actually violence has come down in the last six months. And it was kind of funny, one of the government ministers said even the cattle rustlers are excited about the referendum suggesting that they were going to take a break from fighting with each other to focus on the common enemy.

Number two, your point about SPLM, there’s definitely concern that the SPLM could be headed towards a kind of one-party rule with cracking down on human rights and descent. And we had a very interesting meeting with the SPLM-DC in Upper Nile. They’re the kind of breakaway party that’s controlled by Lam Akol. And they were full of criticisms about being-- about the corruption in the SPLM, about how all of the ministers in the SPLM send their kids and families to other countries and they’re not in Juba. It was interesting. Lucian and I had a video camera and we asked everyone-- anyone who wanted it wasn’t a requirement to do interviews with us because we wanted to record their stories. And we explained very clearly who we were, the museum, what we did, and people were not shy about speaking with us and they wanted really to speak to us. And so I think in a total-- I think that would be very unlikely in the North. So I think there was concern about the issues that you mentioned, but Andrew, you might have a historical sense on this too.

Andrew Natsios: Well, one, it was a one-party state but there’s actually concern in the SPLM, the senior leadership they want opposition. They actually talked about the need for having an opposition party. The opposition party that won, it won four seats I think out of, I can’t remember the number of seats in this.

Michael Abramowitz: Like 140.

Andrew Natsios: One hundred forty seats in the new parliament. Now, it’s very interesting what happened. I don’t want to go through all of the details but there was an incident and the four opposition people were tied to a murder of a major chief in the Shilluk Tribe in Upper Nile, at least the rumors were. And they expelled them and then they arrested them. Now, two things are very interesting that happened.

Michael Abramowitz: We met one of the people who was arrested.

Andrew Natsios: That’s right, he was in jail for, I think, a couple of months. The Minister of Justice who’s is a very respected lawyer for the South, the minister of legal affairs, he went down and investigated the evidence. He said, “There’s no evidence these people were involved in this.” He said, “Release them. We’re not going to even have a trial. There’s no evidence to even have a trial here.” They all were released. The parliament then said, “Wait a minute, you can’t release them. We expelled them from the parliament we’re going to vote on this.” They had an acrimonious vote in the parliament about whether to release these people and then whether or not to allow them back in the parliament. That’s a very healthy sign. And there were divisions within the SPLM, within the parliament as to whether or not you should. And there was a small group of hardliners, 12 of them, who did not want them released and would not allow them back in the parliament. The great majority of the parliament voted to bring them back in.

So you have this sort of autocratic tendency and then you have it counterbalanced by the minister of justice saying you can’t do this. Release them. And then you have a vote that divides the SPLM. So are there little tendencies? Yes. You have to understand they just came out of war, a 20 year war, but I saw some healthy things. Those people weren’t terrified. In the North no one would be on tape. They would be terrified of being arrested in five minutes. Those people were not terrified. And they told us very candidly all of this criticism. And the news media in the South, the newspapers attack the Southern government all of the time.

Are there risks? Yes. Salva Kiir was worried about the SPLA getting involved in the elections at the voting places and they’re going to make a special effort to keep the SPLA out of the polling places this time. I don’t think the abuses that took place were orders from the senior level. I think the SPLA simply intervened because of their own enthusiasm and bias and they don’t understand these principles of democracy and free elections and all of that. Yet and there’s an effort now to educate them so this won’t happen, again. So am I concerned about it? Yes. Am I really worried? No. Because there’s an understanding in the Southern leadership about what a democracy is. Many of them were educated in the United States and Western Europe and they support democracy but only time will tell. Only time will tell.

Anne Richard: Anne Richard, International Rescue Committee. Thank you both for such a clear and illuminating and informative presentation. I wish we could just bottle it and send it up to Capitol Hill and require that every member hear it.

Andrew Natsios: But then we could be expelled from the United States.

Anne Richard: So in looking at this run up to the referendum, this fall, most-- right now most members of Congress are focused on electoral politics. It may not be clear in January about exactly who’s got what power centers on the Hill. January also is on the one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake so in terms of humanitarian issues that will be an important one to look at on January 12. So I think that this important news that you bring back will have a lot of competition for attention in the coming days. So how can we all help you get attention to this? And Michael says he can’t do advocacy or lobbying. So I think this is going to require a lot more people. I do think having Lucian Perkins along was a brilliant move just from the pictures and slides you’ve shown today really does help tell the story. And so I hope we can get those out to a real big audience too.

Andrew Natsios: I would just say one thing to everybody, and I know I’ve been involved with the South for years. I’m pro-South. I mean the North knows that. They almost didn’t let me come in when I was named envoy they were so upset. But I’ve since told them we need to make sure everything we say is fact-based, not ideologically based. Too much of what’s happened in the United States, in the news media, on the Hill, among the NGOs is based on our view of the North which is they caused this. They killed four million. It’s absolutely horrific. But we can’t collect facts for the future. In order to analyze the future based just on the past, we need to also look on what is actually happening from the data and the evidence on the ground because sometimes there’s a gap between our perception in the United States and Europe and the U.N. from what’s actually happening. We need our analysis to be based on what’s happening in Sudan and that’s it before we make policy pronouncements. And that’s the one thing, the one caveat, that I think is very important.

Jean Freedberg: Mike, do you want to talk a little bit about what some of our plans are to get…

Michael Abramowitz: Right, well, one of the things that is interesting to me especially as being a former journalist is there’s really-- we at the museum and the Committee on Conscience are in a bit of a bubble because we just live and think about these issues all of the time. But in the big scheme of things there’s really no attention to Southern Sudan. There is not a permanent reporter there for any major news organization. I’m not even sure that the major newspapers-- I think the Times has a reporter in Nairobi. I’m not sure the Post has one. The BBC has one. So there’s really a dearth of coverage. And, obviously, in Africa, right now, there are many other competing issues from Somalia to DRC, et cetera.

So I do believe that just raising awareness is a vital thing that the Museum can do about these issues. I mean I will say I made a little joke about George Clooney but he’s there for five days. He’s coming back. He took a camera crew with him from NBC and hopefully that will have some-- educate certain people. When Lucian comes back we’re going to sit down, look at our material. He was really focused on trying to humanize the issue. So he really-- he’s a very skilled journalist and he really spent a lot of time looking for the one or two people whose story would really resonate with outsiders and really capture what it is both what the South as been through and what is that stake in this whole struggle.

And so Lucian and I and the staff of the museum are going to really look at that material and we’re going to be updating our exhibition space upstairs. We have a Darfur room now which was a little bit out of date frankly, so we’re going to update the with some of the material from Lucian. One of our key messages at the COC is that we want people to look at this. I mean, obviously, we haven’t really talked about Darfur much. It’s a horrific humanitarian problem and the crimes that were committed there are outrageous. But we really want people to see there as an overall Sudan issue. That it’s an issue with a center versus the periphery and that the dynamics that happen in Darfur are also happening in North/South and also as Andrew was saying in the east even to the North. So we’re going to be updating our exhibition space.

We’re going to be creating some new Web material-- I think that we would love to share our material with other people here from other organizations for whom it could be useful and so just be in touch with us. But we very-- we really plan a very aggressive effort to raise awareness because it’s kind of hard to explain sometimes to people why we’re interested in Southern Sudan because there’s not genocide happening now but we really want to move to getting ahead of the curve. We’re not saying that genocide is not inevitable. And we feel that if people can really pay attention to these situations ahead of time, then hopefully we can stimulate governments and the international community to do something to prevent this from happening. Because by the time genocide happens, it’s too late.

Esther Sprigg: Hi. My name is Esther Sprigg and I just wanted to ask you about the negotiations that are going on with regard to Abyei. I’ve heard that not much is being accomplished. And that some of the concerns of the Missyeria are being addressed by the US proposal as well as the SPLM but those are not being accepted. And so the feeling is that the Missyeria are being used as sort of an excuse or a way to create violence. And I’ve also heard that there’s a great concern that as the Missyeria move their cattle into the South which will typically happen, I think, later this month, early next month that that could be sort of the opportunity to spark violence. And I’m just wondering if you have any comments about that.

Jean Freedberg: Sorry, after this one we have time for one more question. So I’m wondering if you want to get your heads around that last question.

Andrew Natsios: Just to explain what the Missyeria, they’re an Arab tribe, a very large Arab tribe in the center of the country. And they are nomadic and they move their cattle down into the Abyei area which is the center of culture and history for the Ngok Dinka, one of the most powerful Southern tribes. And without being able to move their cattle around, the cattle will die and they are nomads. So if the cattle die, they die. So I think one of the things we can’t do is to suggest that the Missyeria have no interests. They have a legitimate interest. I am not sure the North is using the Missyeria. I think what’s happening is the opposite. I think the Missyeria realize how weak the central government is and they’re pushing the central government to protect their rights at the expense of a settlement. Now, I could be wrong. I haven’t been there. I don’t know but I have to tell you the thing that the North cares about in Abyei is the oil. And the decision that was made about two years took the-- there are two oil fields, one big one, one small one, the big oil field in Abyei was actually moved out of the Abyei but a decision of the international arbitration tribunal in, is it the Hague or Brussels?

Michael Abramowitz: The Hague.

Andrew Natsios: The Hague. And so that is no longer the major incentive for the North to insist on Abyei remaining part of the North. It had been before. Those oil fields, by the way, all of the oil fields in that area will be out of oil by 2019. It would be terrible if a war was fought over oil that’s going to be out of existence in terms of the wells in eight years. I don’t know what’s actually happening, Esther, inside. But given how weak the government is at this point, I think, it may be the opposite of what you’re saying but I don’t know that. The Southerners are very suspicious. I understand why they’re suspicious but what do the facts show?

Joe Maddens: Hi. Joe Maddens, Save Darfur Coalition, thanks for hosting. We’ve heard about delays, potential delays in the referendum. Was there any indication of how Southerners would react either to a short or a long delay?

Michael Abramowitz: That’s a great question. That was a question we talked to really everyone about and we included and we talked to the Southern chairman of the referendum commission that’s responsible. I mean I would say a couple of points about the referendum. That the Southern government is very intent on January 9. That is the date that they want to have it. There is no negotiation. That’s what the law says. They want to have the referendum on that date. I think, number two when we talked to many people who are following this closely -- election monitoring, civil organizations -- there was, no one really believed that could happen on time. That the-- that they had not even printed-- they had not completed the voter registration by the time we were there which was supposed to be completed a long time ago. They had just appointed a secretary general for the elections commission. There was still someone said debate about what yes means on the vote. Does yes mean unity? Which is what the North wants? Or does yes mean separation which is what the South wants?

So there was just a lot of logistical confusion and just widespread doubt that this could happen on time. I think, the conclusion Joe that we came away with is that a long delay would just be unacceptable in the South. Some open ended thing, Southerners have waited for this day really for 50 years, if not longer. This is-- I mean Rebecca Garang was very moving. She said, “The CPA was not brought by people. It was brought to us by God.” There was a religious faith that’s attached to this state that is going to be unshaken. And if there’s any manipulation, any rigging, any perception that the North is tampering with this then it could be very severe trouble, very violent and we’re very worried about that.

Andrew Natsios: And that could be the spark that ignites something. Not because Salva Kiir wants it or the North wants it but because the public is demanding this vote. I don’t think people realize the level of-- I don’t want to use the word hatred. I’ll use a more moderate term of dislike for the North and the Arabs. The Southerners want to be rid of them forever. They can’t be forever because they’re right next door and they have to work together, but the slave trade in the 19th century depopulated whole parts of the South. I mean if you talk to the average citizen about this this is-- the North-- the leaders are restrained in the South compared to the average citizen. They want this vote. And it’s delayed or manipulated Mike is absolutely-- there’s going to be unrest on the streets of the South and maybe in the North too.

So I would just say to the North stop-- they have been delaying this because they think they can get more oil revenues and a better deal on Abyei if they use the chip of the referendum when, in fact, that is off the table for negotiations. It’s all ready negotiated in the CPA. There’s a piece of legislation that the North wrote that was rammed through the national parliament setting the date as January 9. So the Southerners, properly, are enraged at the thought they have to keep renegotiating this again.

Jean Freedberg: Right, well, we’re out of time for questions. Is there anything final that either of you feel you want to say, has not been addressed?

Andrew Natsios: Not me, if you want to say something.

Michael Abramowitz: No, I just really wanted to-- it’s very moving to us-- it was very moving to me to have been there. I think I neglected to say that the trip was made possible by a very generous grant from the Lerman Family which is a long-time patron of the museum and Miles Lerman as some of you may know as a survivor and was very, very passionate about the work of the COC. And so we wanted to thank the Lerman Family for helping fund this trip. We really want to get the word out so you all know how to reach us. And if you have ideas about what we can do and how we can help we’ll be all ears. And I just want to thank you very much for coming today.

Andrew Natsios: And I would like to thank the Holocaust Museum for allowing me to go because I couldn’t have got there. University Professors don’t have huge budgets.

Jean Freedberg: So thank you very much all for coming. Keep an eye on our website, We’ll be posting more and more content as the months unfold and keeping you updated about what we have. Thank you very much.

On October 8, 2010, Mike Abramowitz and Andrew Natsios held a briefing at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to share insight and photographs from their trip to South Sudan and highlight the challenges—and risks—facing the region.