Letter to Ambassador Rice: Urge UN to Protect Fragile Peace in Sudan
For the past several years, Refugees International has been concerned about the lack of a coherent UN strategy for Sudan. In particular, we have been concerned about the lack of Security Council engagement vis-à-vis the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. With only seven months remaining until the referendum on southern independence, we very much welcome Monday's meeting on Sudan, which we hope will encourage the Security Council to develop a Sudan-wide strategy, as well as to actively support a stable and peaceful Sudan, no matter what the outcome of the referendum.
Refugees International currently has a team in Sudan evaluating the UN's efforts to plan for the referendum, with particular focus on the vulnerability of internally displaced people from the south in greater Khartoum. We are pleased that a contingency plan process is now underway in Sudan. Contingency planning in the south has been underway for several months now. Although contingency planning in the north has begun, RI believes that the UN-led process is not taking two key issues into sufficient consideration: the Three Areas and southern IDPs in Khartoum.
We urge you to raise the following issues during Monday's discussions and request clarification on the UN's planned responses.
First, in the Three Areas, it is still unclear whether UNMIS will continue its presence after the referendum and the end of the CPA period. Nuba communities in Southern Kordofan expressed serious concern to RI in February 2010 that they would be attacked in the event the south secedes. If there are violent outbreaks, it is unclear who would respond to protect civilians. It is essential that the UN is prepared for violent outbreaks, and the question of UNMIS's future must quickly be addressed. If UNMIS will still be present, they must have the mandate and sufficient capacity to intervene. If the force will not have the mandate or resources, it is critical that gaps be identified. Other protection actors, such as UNHCR, should be urgently supported to scale up their presence in the Three Areas.
Second, RI is concerned about the future of southerners who are displaced in the Khartoum area. RI is currently interviewing a number of southern IDP community leaders and women in the capital region. Contrary to some widely held assumptions, the overwhelming view of the people RI spoke to was that they would like to return home to the south immediately. While this may not represent the views of the entire southern population in the north, it would appear that there is enough demand that the international humanitarian community should seriously consider reinstituting an organized north-south voluntary return program in the run up to the referendum. Ensuring that returns are voluntary will be of critical importance. Having registered for return in the past, many community members expressed their frustration and anger that donor funding ran out before they were able to return to the south. RI believes that a reinvigorated voluntary return process should be an urgent priority for the UN.
Supporting southern IDPs in their desire to return to the south will mitigate against potential bloodshed after the referendum. In addition, for those southern IDPs who do not want to return, it is essential that they have the necessary legal protection to remain Sudanese citizens and stay in the north if they so choose. Southern IDPs expressed concern about their physical safety and rights in Khartoum after the referendum. There have been cases in the past where IDP homes were destroyed in attempted forced relocations. The displaced do not trust national security actors to protect them, and it is unlikely that UNMIS will be in a position to offer physical protection. If the physical security of southern IDPs in Khartoum is seriously threatened, there could be large-scale spontaneous population movements out of the area. It is unlikely that humanitarian agencies would have the capacity to respond, leading to increased vulnerability and undermining an already fragile humanitarian situation.
Finally, while we are pleased that contingency planning is moving forward, we are concerned that in the attempt for stakeholders to agree on common scenarios and assumptions as part of the contingency planning process, the UN is sacrificing precious time. Planning now needs to move from scenarios to action. International actors need to start thinking in concrete terms about the possible risks to vulnerable communities, such as the ones named above, and make specific plans about how the international community, as represented by UNMIS and the UN country team, will respond.
We are hopeful that Monday's meeting will provide the opportunity for the UN to develop concrete recommendations to address our concerns and that this meeting will result in necessary Security Council leadership as Sudan approaches this extremely volatile period. Please let me know if you need any additional information.