AJC Hails South Sudan Referendum

New York – January 10, 2010 – As the people of south Sudan vote this week in a referendum on independence, AJC welcomed the long-awaited opportunity for the region to decide its future.

“We rejoice with our south Sudanese friends as they reach this milestone,” said Eliseo Neuman, director of AJC’s Africa Institute.  “As the referendum proceeds, we remember  those in that land who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom as well as those who continue the search for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflicts which have wracked Sudan.”

The referendum, a central element of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement  (CPA) that put an end to more than two decades of civil war, provides southern voters with the choice of remaining united with Khartoum or seceding.  The vote is expected to favor secession by a large margin.  Despite intermittent violence in border areas, the five day referendum that ends on Saturday is unfolding more peaceably than expected, under the oversight of international observers.

“We also congratulate the concerted efforts of the international community, chiefly the US government’s leadership in brokering the CPA and ensuring adherence to it during the previous and current Administrations,” said Neuman.  “However, just as this is the end of a hazardous road, it is the beginning of an equally challenging one.  Together with our many advocacy partners, we pledge our efforts to ensure that the peace is maintained, the outcome of the referendum is observed, all outstanding issues under the CPA are addressed and, if a new state emerges, that it is properly supported.”

Ever since achieving independence in 1956, Sudan has been torn by tribal and religious-inspired strife as well as disputes over resources between a centralizing Islamist regime in the Arab north and various other populations marginalized by it, including the mostly Christian and animist black South that is voting this week.  Darfur, a black and Muslim region in western Sudan, is still engaged in a similar conflict with the central government. 

Critical aspects of the CPA had to remain unresolved in the interest of holding the referendum on schedule.  These include the exact demarcation of the eventual north-south border around such key areas as oil-rich Abyei, the profit sharing of oil resources (most of which are in the south but are transported through the north), and issues of citizenship in border areas. These, as well as a satisfactory resolution of the volatile conflict in Darfur and the stark developmental needs in the south, could complicate a peaceful transition towards secession should the referendum favor independence. 

AJC’s Africa Institute is dedicated to conducting Africa-related advocacy in the US, establishing partnerships between American Jews and African diasporas in the U.S., and facilitating technical cooperation and development assistance from the US and Israel in Africa.  Its programs have addressed development issues in south Sudan and the welfare of the south Sudanese community in Israel.