We write to you to express our profound concern about the risk of mass atrocities occurring in Sudan. The country stands today at a precipice with escalating atrocities and a potential return to all out war a real possibility. Tensions are increasing throughout the country and the South Sudan referendum is only seven months away, creating a potentially explosive situation. As signatories to the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, you have a responsibility to protect the people of Sudan from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
Atrocities are already occurring: murder, rape and displacement are rising in South Sudan. 2,500 South Sudanese have been killed and 350,000 people displaced in the past year alone. In the south, divisions among political factions, inter-ethnic violence over access to resources including cattle, and the proliferation of weapons, has increased insecurity. The failure to implement key provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), including north/south border demarcation, suggests that a peaceful January 2011 referendum is unlikely, if not impossible. Similarly the question of residency requirements for participation in the referendum in oil-rich Abyei, remains a potentially dangerous issue, especially as armies from the north and south are already on the region’s borders.
Nor may the Council ignore the threats to civilians elsewhere in the country. Civilians in Darfur continue to bear the brunt of ongoing fighting, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced during the past year. Attacks on humanitarian workers and convoys, and on the joint AU-UN mission, UNAMID, continue. The tenuous peace between the Government of National Unity and the Justice and Equality Movement is unraveling, and UNAMID’s ability to fulfill its mandate to protect civilians is hampered by its inability to reach those populations most at risk of atrocities. Meanwhile, the Lord’s Resistance Army continues to perpetrate atrocities, murdering hundreds and displacing thousands in Central and Western Equatoria states.
It is imperative that the Council develops a clear, country-wide strategy for averting and halting mass atrocities in the run up to the January 2011 referendum. If past mistakes are to be avoided, the international response must not be piecemeal and selective, privileging one region over another, or assuming that small indications of improvement in one area justify a shift in attention and efforts towards another. The Council must instead adopt a coordinated strategy to dissuade and deter potential perpetrators throughout Sudan from committing atrocities and ensure that measures are in place to respond swiftly should preventive efforts fail and atrocities occur.
On June 14th you will be meeting with Joint UN-AU Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassole, the head of the AU Panel on Darfur, Thabo Mbeki, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of Mission for UNMIS Haile Menkerios, and Joint AU-UN Special Representative for Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari. These envoys are one of the many prevention and protection tools that you have at your disposal to use as part of your strategy for saving lives and upholding your responsibility to protect.
Council members should use the opportunity of the meeting to raise concerns about the risk of atrocities in the next seven months in South Sudan, Darfur and the transitional areas of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei, to seek clarity on what the envoys are doing to deter crimes, and declare their readiness to support them in taking further action to prevent and protect. Specifically, Council members should:
Member states have a responsibility to protect the people of Sudan from what are preventable crimes. At this time, there is no clear common position amongst Council members or a coordinated strategy for using available measures and levers to prevent atrocities throughout the country. We urge Council members to use the opportunity of the June 14th meeting to send a clear message that collectively the Council will not be bystanders to a return of widespread atrocities and that all members will work with the envoys and the UN to uphold the responsibility to protect. Both the Council’s credibility and millions of lives are at stake.