Abyei conflict could derail Sudan’s north-south peace process, UN warns

Displaced people fleeing fighting in Abyei, in Agok, Sudan

14 March 2011 – The United Nations independent expert on human rights in Sudan has warned that violence in the disputed territory of Abyei could derail the implementation of the peace agreement that ended the country’s civil war, despite a successful referendum that endorsed the secession of the south.

Residents of Abyei were due to hold a separate referendum simultaneously with the rest of Southern Sudan in January to decide whether to become part of the North or South. Attempts to create a referendum commission, however, remain deadlocked, amid feuds between communities in the area over the right to vote.

“Abyei still remains a flashpoint which could potentially derail the entire peace process. I urge the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] parties to take immediate action to calm the tensions in the region and urgently reach an agreement on all outstanding issues,” said Mohamed Chande Othman, the UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan.

The referendum was seen as the culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended two decades of civil war between the northern and southern Sudan. The CPA paved the way for the right to self-determination for Southern Sudan.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, voicing deep concern at the violence, called on both North and South to restrain the local communities and resume and conclude negotiations on Abyei as a matter of priority.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson he deplored the fact that the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which has intensified its patrolling activities on the ground and is on standby to reinforce its peacekeeping presence if the need arises, has been consistently refused access to areas of conflict and considerably restricted in its movement. He appealed to both parties to allow unhindered access to these areas to assess the situation and immediate needs on the ground.

In a statement issued at the end of his visit to Sudan, conducted from 6 to 13 March, Mr. Othman urged authorities to investigate all reports of killings and attacks on civilians in Abyei and bring those responsible to justice.

“Tension in the region has been high due to the delayed referendum for Abyei and restrictions on the movement of southerners who returned to cast their ballots in the Southern Sudan referendum,” he said.

“Since the referendum, there have been five major incidents of violent clashes in Abyei between the local police and armed Misseriya tribesmen which have resulted in the death of civilians and massive displacements,” Mr. Othman added.

Separately, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Haile Menkerios, last week participated in two meetings of the Abyei Standing Committee in Khartoum, during which representatives of the north and their counterparts from the south were unable to move beyond the issue of the deployment of Joint Integrated Units in Abyei.

UNMIS, meanwhile, verified that both sides have reinforced their positions within the Abyei area, including the confirmed presence of Sudanese Armed Forces and Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) troops not affiliated with the Abyei Joint Integrated Units.

Mr. Menkerios urged both sides to restrain their respective troops to minimize clashes while the political leadership discusses a final solution to the status of Abyei.

Mr. Othman also voiced concern over increasing loss of life and displacement of people as a result of criminal activity, cattle rustling and inter-communal violence in Southern Sudan, and urged the Government there to ensure the protection of civilians even as it seeks measures to address insecurity in the region.

On northern Sudan, Mr. Othman said that law enforcement authorities there continued to violate the people’s rights to fundamental rights and other freedoms, including the rights to the freedom of expression, assembly and association.

“The Government continues to hold a number of opposition political leaders, students and civil society actors in detention without charging them with an offence or affording them the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in a court of law,” said Mr. Othman.

He regretted Khartoum’s rejection of his request to meet with the Director General of the National Security Service (NSS) to discuss concerns over the detentions without trial.

“Once again, I wish to draw attention to the guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary arrests and detention enshrined in Sudan’s national constitution and in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Sudan has ratified,” said Mr. Othman.

On Darfur, Mr. Othman said the human rights situation for civilians, including internally displaced persons (IDPs), there remains dire.

‘Fighting between Government forces and the armed movements has intensified since December last year and the warring factions have failed to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” he said.

During a visit to Zam Zam IDP camp near El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, Mr. Othman said he had seen the plight of some of the people displaced by the fighting.

“Their situation is deplorable, to say the least. I am concerned that without immediate humanitarian assistance the situation of these people, many of whom have been displaced for a second or third time, could reach catastrophic levels,” he said.

Meanwhile, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Georg Charpentier, today voiced concern over deteriorating security in Jonglei and Upper Nile states in Southern Sudan, where the southern army is engaged in operations against renegade groups.

Humanitarian agencies have been unable to reach many people who fled areas affected by the fighting due to insecurity, Mr. Charpentier said in a press release.

The SPLA has declared some parts of Jonglei, including parts of Fangak, Pigi and Ayod counties, “no-go areas” during the military operations. UN humanitarian agencies and their NGO partners are unable to go to the those areas to assess the needs of affected civilians, according to Mr. Charpentier.

Humanitarian agencies are negotiating with the SPLA for access to people in need and asking for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to enable vulnerable populations to leave the areas of conflict.


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