Monday marked the one-year anniversary of South Sudanese independence. To commemorate the day, Voices for Sudan held a press conference and invited three Sudan-watchers, including Enough Project Sudan Policy Analyst Jenn Christian, to comment on the current state of South Sudan and Sudan. The other speakers included Faith McDonnell, the director of religious liberty programs at the Institute on Religion and Democracy and Shaza Bala Elmahdi, a student activist with Girifna. Jimmy Mulla, president and co-founder of Voices for Sudan, moderated the press conference.
The overall tone of the press conference matched the tone of much of the Independence Day celebrations.The three speakers expressed their congratulations to the people of South Sudan on their first year of independence, while at the same time emphasizing that the joy of the anniversary must not overshadow the many problems these two countries have yet to resolve.
Jenn Christian focused her remarks on the impact of the ongoing conflicts on the populations who live along the border and the effect of those conflicts on the diplomatic relations between the two Sudans. With regard to the impact on civilian populations, Christian shared some of what she saw on her most recent trip to South Sudan, calling the situation “dire.” Christian cited the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in Blue Nile and South Kordofan and the denial of access for humanitarian groups to SPLM-N controlled areas as two factors that contribute to what has become a refugee crisis.
Christian also noted the strain this conflict has placed on the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel, or AUHIP, negotiation process, arguing that Sudan has used the conflict with the SPLM-N as an excuse to limit the scope of security negotiations with South Sudan. In closing, Christian highlighted the need for a parallel negotiation process between Khartoum and the SPLM-N—without which there is little hope for the South Sudan-Sudan negotiations—and the need for continued diplomatic pressure from the international community.
The other speakers also stressed the need for international support for the negotiation process, and the need for continued international support for South Sudan. Faith McDonnell in particular emphasized that Sudan needs much more support and encouragement than it is currently receiving.
The third speaker, Shaza Bala Elmahdi focused her statements on the protests in Sudan which are entering their fourth week, the longest-running protests in President Bashir’s 23-year regime. Elmahdi touched on crackdown measures taken by the Bashir regime, urging those who work in human rights advocacy to continue to report on any violations on the part of Khartoum and to make sure that the people of Sudan have the freedom and safety to send their message to their government.
Overall, July 9 marks an important milestone for the country of South Sudan. It is clear, however, that much work remains to be done to resolve the conflict between the two Sudans. The international community and the people of South Sudan and Sudan must keep these issues in mind throughout this momentous occasion and the coming year.
Photo: Enough's Jenn Christian speaks at the Voices for Sudan press conference (Enough / Quinn Libson)