Abyei, the contested border region whose final status is not resolved, is once again the scene of violence that has the potential to derail the final negotiations between Sudan’s north and south before South Sudan declares its independence on July 9, 2011. At risk should this violence reignite the larger war are the lives of millions of civilians who have already survived decades of conflict and are eagerly awaiting their chance to build a new future.
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South Sudan has suspended negotiations with the North and accused Omar al-Bashir’s government in Khartoum of arming rebel groups in an effort to weaken it before the country splits in July. This move follows recent incidents of violence in Abyei, Malakal and Jonglei state that have shaken the stability of the South.
Vice President Joe Biden was the featured speaker at a special event yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in honor of the life and legacy of the late U.S. Representative Tom Lantos.
On February 7, 2011, Sudanese authorities released the final results of the near-unanimous vote for southern independence from the North, and President Bashir reiterated his commitment to respect the South’s decision. The process was largely peaceful and well-organized, an important achievement given Sudan’s recent history of war, but its conduct also raised questions about the political challenges that now await Southern Sudan. Jort Hemmer, of the Conflict Research Unit in the Netherlands, observes:
This past weekend, referendum voting on the future of Southern Sudan came to a peaceful and orderly close. Although final results are not expected until mid-February, early returns suggest overwhelming support for independence.
With great euphoria at this long-awaited moment, South Sudanese began voting on Sunday in a referendum on independence from the North. Over the next week, more than three million people are expected to go to the polls, and, so far, voting in the South has been peaceful and smooth. One man cycled for two days to cast his vote in Rumbek, the capital of Lakes state, where herders sometimes move long distances with their animals. “Some of those traveling from the cattle camps had arranged for relatives to look after their cattle before rushing back and swapping so that others could travel to vote,” reports the BBC.
On January 5th, the Museum issued a press release urging leaders in Sudan's North and South to call for calm in advance of South Sudan's referendum.
In The Washington Post, Mike Abramowitz, Director of the Museum's genocide prevention program, writes about international efforts to prevent violence in Sudan around the January 9th referendum -- and our ability to respond if those efforts fail. The Washington Post also profiles a video by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Lucian Perkins, who recently traveled to South Sudan with Abramowitz on a Museum-sponsored bearing witness trip.
On the eve of the anniversary of the genocide convention, the Museum hosted a discussion with Judge Thomas Buergenthal, a Holocaust survivor who has devoted his life to finding justice and protecting human rights for people throughout the world. A pioneer of international law, Judge Buergenthal served for the last decade as the American judge for the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principle judicial organ of the United Nations.