Human Rights First Welcomes President Obama’s Statement at U.N. on “Urgent Situation” in Sudan

Human Rights First welcomes the strong signal sent last week by President Obama and other world leaders to the parties to Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) about the importance of two key referenda on self-determination scheduled for January 9, 2011.

This afternoon’s high-level meeting convened by the U.N. Secretary-General was designed to focus international attention and mobilize broad support ahead of the two votes that may lead to the breakup of Africa’s largest country. While recognizing the considerable political and technical challenges to be overcome in advance of the referenda, President Obama sent a clear message to both the Khartoum government and the Government of Southern Sudan that the schedule must be kept, that the outcome of the vote must be respected by all sides, and that peace processes for Darfur and Eastern Sudan must also be implemented.

Even as the January referenda formed the primary focus of this afternoon’s meeting, Human Rights First welcomed President Obama’s clear statement that the U.S. “will not abandon the people of Darfur.” A recent spike in violence there emphasizes the importance of continued U.S. and international attention to that region of Sudan. A draft of the Communique to be released following this afternoon’s meeting made specific mention of the need to halt arms flows into Darfur, where an arms embargo, in place since 2005, has never effectively been enforced.

Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino, said today, “It is vital that the U.S. remain engaged in Darfur, including by promoting enforcement of the arms embargo. A new Panel of Experts report due out next month will again reveal serious and sustained violations of the embargo by a range of third-party enablers, including both states and commercial actors.  By asserting a new commitment to enforce the embargo and hold violators accountable in Darfur, the U.S. can help change the dynamics of the crisis in Darfur and at the same time send a strong message to those who would commit atrocities anywhere in Sudan that such violence will not be tolerated.”

While the draft Communique expresses appreciation for recent steps made by the Government of Sudan, President Obama made clear that Khartoum will be held to its commitments to halt violence, allow humanitarian access to the people of Darfur, and negotiate a lasting peace. At the same time, Human Rights First echoes the concerns raised by 23 Members of Congress in a letter sent to President Obama last week (http://allafrica.com/download/resource/main/main/idatcs/00020278:b58aa02bd49ab52629cb90bdffe1d766.pdf) about the track record of the Sudanese government in back-tracking on its agreements, as well as about the absence of specifics from the White House on the kinds of consequences that Khartoum will face if it engages in any obstruction of the January referenda or their outcomes.

Massimino noted, “High-level diplomatic efforts by the U.S. must be sustained past this week and must focus not only on the parties in Sudan, but also on third parties in the region and beyond who have the potential to encourage or derail progress toward peace in Sudan.”

In a statement  last  week (http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/media/ij/2010/alert/656/), Human Rights First urged a clear U.S. commitment not only to multilateral approaches but also to bilateral diplomacy to engage key countries, such as China, with particular leverage in Sudan.

The organization also notes Sudan’s history of government-sponsored atrocities, and urges the U.S. to remain alert to indications that violence against civilians may be being planned in the run-up to the referenda, or may increase in Darfur or other parts of Sudan in that period, and to be prepared for that contingency.

Massimino concluded, “We applaud President Obama’s clear statement today that genocide and other human rights abuses will not be tolerated, and we urge the U.S. to continue to engage at the highest levels to bring an end to atrocities in Darfur and to prevent violence against civilians in the south or elsewhere in Sudan.”

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