In a room packed with more than 150 people, the Enough Project hosted a panel discussion on July 16 about the interconnected challenges facing Sudan and South Sudan since South Sudan’s first anniversary of independence. The panelists addressed the ongoing North-South negotiation process and the recent wave of anti-regime protests sweeping though Sudan, emphasizing their effect on security in the region and the potential for regime change.
The diverse panel included Dr. Francis Deng, U.N. special advisor to the secretary-general on the prevention of genocide, Omer Ismail, Enough Senior Policy Advisor and active member of the Darfuri diaspora, Sarah Cleto Rial, program director at My Sister’s Keeper, and Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast.
The panel discussion was prefaced by the debut of an Enough Project video—shot in South Sudan—that highlighted the reflections of South Sudanese and Sudanese on the occasion of South Sudan’s first anniversary of independence. While the South Sudanese were clearly excited about their independence, many expressed concerns about the escalating tensions between the two Sudans and the economic challenges that they face at home. Rial, who had recently returned from Juba, also noted these apprehensions, saying that the South Sudanese face a lack of education, limited health care services, and minimal aid for the influx of refugees from Sudan. She emphasized that these challenges can only be fixed through “sustainable peace” between the two Sudans.
However, panelists also acknowledged that peace between the two Sudans can only happen if the North begins addressing problems within its own borders, noting that Sudan’s internal conflicts have undermined the North-South peace process. Prendergast vehemently criticized the Khartoum regime’s violent response to the conflict in Darfur, its “ethnic-cleansing” of Abyei, and its adamant disregard for delivering aid into war zones.
“President Omar al-Bashir is responsible for more destruction than all the other Arab Spring dictators combined,” he said. Yet Prendergast noted that Bashir may soon face the same fate as those dictators.
Many panelists agreed that the most recent wave of anti-regime protests sweeping through Sudan may be the catalyst for the end of Bashir’s 23-year-long rule. Protests began in Khartoum on June 16 in response to austerity measures and have continued persistently throughout Sudan for the past month. Ismail emphasized that these protests are not simply a reaction to economic measures but are rather a reflection of years of frustration. “They want to end the rule of 23 years of killing, raping, burning, pillaging and corruption,” he said.
According to Deng, it is integral that the South Sudanese support the uprising in Sudan, just as many northerners fought for South Sudan’s independence. “How can one expect the South to be blind to the cause of people who stood with them and helped them achieve what they achieved?” Deng said.
Ismail also noted that South Sudan should have a vested interest in supporting regime change, because resolving issues between the North and South will forever be hindered by the two nations’ divergent visions. One country is aspiring is to become a democracy, while the other is trying to become more autocratic, Ismail said. Because their goals don’t match, numerous obstacles hamper peace negotiations between the two Sudans.
Other panelists addressed the international community’s role in supporting the demand of the Sudanese people for regime change. Prendergast emphasized that while peace negotiations are needed between the two Sudans and within Sudan, another track is needed: a human rights track.
“The United States and other countries who care about what’s going need to take a stand with Sudan’s people who are protesting and fighting for their rights, and in many cases dying or being arrested or being raped or having all kinds of indignities imposed upon them,” Prendergast said. “You do that through rapid, flexible, and sustained support to Sudan’s opposition and civil society groups…and finally creating some real consequences for the massive human rights violations.”
Enough’s parent organization, the Center for American Progress, has posted a video of the full event.
Photo: Dr. Francis Deng, U.N. special advisor to the secretary-general on the prevention of genocide, shadowed by Enough Co-founder John Prendergast (Enough / Daniel Herman)