South Sudan is moving towards genocide

Background current

Since Sunday (January 9th, 2011) the people of South Sudan have been voting in a referendum on whether the South of Sudan will become independent or remain part of the united Sudan. It marks the end of the peace agreement between the central government in Khartoum and the South Sudanese people's liberation movement - in 2005, North and South Sudan ended the longstanding civil war.

The registration for the referendum in the largest African country was completed in December. According to the South Sudanese referendum authority, over 3.7 million of the more than five million eligible voters have registered for the vote. The referendum is expected to end on January 15th, and the first results are expected in early February at the latest.

In order to be able to form a new independent state, a simple majority must vote in favor of independence if the voter turnout is at least 60 percent. Should a majority come about in favor of a split of the South, the vote should become valid after six months.

The referendum had already been agreed in a peace treaty in 2005: After a civil war that had been going on since 1983, the treaty between the central government and the South Sudanese rebel movement "Sudan People's Liberation Movement / Army" brought the Sudanese the long-awaited peace.

The longest civil war on the African continent also involved the country's oil reserves. The government of President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum tried to secure access to the oil fields with the help of Arab nomad militias and declared the conflict a "holy war against Christians and infidels". In total, the war cost around two million lives and four million were displaced.

After the war, the peace agreement signed in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in 2005 regulated the distribution of South Sudan's oil resources for both parties to the civil war: the proceeds have since gone equally to South and North Sudan.

However, the political situation in the region remained extremely fragile. Violence and poverty continue to dominate the everyday life of the roughly six million inhabitants of the semi-autonomous south. Despite the presence of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission UNMIS (United Nations Mission in Sudan), militias from the north and neighboring Uganda continue to threaten the security of the South Sudanese. International observers fear another war in the region if one of the two sides does not accept the result of the referendum.

Since the end of the colonial era in 1956, the Sudanese have not seen any lasting peace. Since then - with one interruption between 1972 and 1983 - war has been waged in Sudan with varying degrees of intensity. Above all, the strong power and resource gap between the metropolis of Khartoum in the interior of the country and the periphery offers potential for conflict.

The arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President al-Bashir in March 2009 further complicated the political situation in Sudan. He is said to be held accountable for war crimes and atrocities against the civilian population in Darfur, western Sudan. In July 2010, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against al-Bashir for genocide. It is the first time that an incumbent head of state is to answer before the court.

On Tuesday (January 4), al-Bashir surprisingly announced that he would unreservedly accept the result of the referendum. In return, however, the president expects some concession from the south. Both parts of the country depend on each other if they want to derive economic benefits from the large oil reserves: the south has the oil, the north has the necessary infrastructure - including the pipeline. The outcome of the current referendum will also determine whether the north of the country will be cut off from the oil reserves in the south.

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