Sudan's moment of hope and fear

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In the wake of Rwanda's tragedy, the world stood as one and pledged: 'Never again'. Never again would we allow such an horrific abuse of human life and dignity to occur. Now, less than 20 years later, less than 1000 kilometres from Rwanda's borders – we find our promise being tested.

Five years ago, Sudan signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and put an end to half a century of devastating civil war, violence and bloodshed. Today, key provisions of that agreement – including border demarcation, wealth sharing, citizenship, and determining the status of the transitional areas – remain unfulfilled, and present a persistent threat to the cease-fire.

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But the keystone of the CPA offers hope to a broken nation: a referendum giving the people of Southern Sudan the opportunity to become an independent state is scheduled for 9 January, 2011.

While the referendum has the potential to bring much-needed change to a region plagued by instability, the hope it brings is dimmed by rising tensions and threats of intimidation and violence that remain an ever-present reality.

Should early January see the country plunged once more into violent turmoil – a realistic fear no matter the outcome of the referendum – it is likely to reach far beyond Sudanese borders and implicate myriad African nations in a bloody conflict; a conflict the likes of which the world has not witnessed since Rwanda.

Sudan is not yet in crisis, the eyes of the world are not yet focused on the Sudanese people, but we have been here before. The signs are familiar, the potential for disaster unmistakable. The world must prepare.

Over the coming weeks, it is critical that Sudan receive support from governments and organisations around the world to ensure the change it requires for a peaceful future. A return to war will represent a moral failure on the part of all those charged with implementing the CPA, including the CPA guarantors and the international community.

For more than a decade, Caritas Australia has worked in Sudan to improve water and sanitation, education, and livelihood opportunities as well as offering emergency relief in times of crisis. With hope now that the Sudanese people may enter a new era of peace, tempered by the persistent threat to their human rights, the international Caritas network has begun planning its response to the chaos that may result from displacement, mass migration or the outbreak of civil war. Together with our international partners, Caritas Australia is committed to being a presence on the ground in Sudan to provide aid in an emergency situation, but also working in the long-term to achieve lasting peace and stability.

In this season of reflection and prayer, it is critical that Australia considers its role in promoting peace around the world. The Government must seek involvement in international or regional initiatives that promote stability for Sudan, and all Australians must stay alert and informed of the situation. With the tragedy of Rwanda such a recent memory, we cannot now neglect our responsibilities to the global community.

We do not know what the outcome of the referendum will be, nor whether the ensuing weeks will bring a descent back into the devastating conflict of the past 50 years. What is now vital is that the people of Sudan be allowed their right to self-determination; that they are provided the opportunity to participate in the decisions that will shape their future, and create a more peaceful world in which human life and dignity are held sacred and the common good prevails.

Jack De GrootJack de Groot is Chief Executive Officer of Caritas Australia, Secretary to the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission for Justice and Development, and Adjunct Professor, Australian Catholic University.

Topic tags: Jack De Groot, Caritas Australia, Africa, Sudan, referendum, peace, aid, Rwanda



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Existing comments

keep drawing attention to this siuation. Next two weeks critical. many south sudanese regard Jan 9th as day of hope. It is also a time of peril. Last time they voted for a unitary Sudan and regretted it almost immediately. They will not repeat that mistake but what happens next?

peter roebuck | 21 December 2010  

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