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Minorities must be included in nation-building in newly independent South Sudan, says MRG

8 February 2011

Following the results of January’s referendum supporting independence from Khartoum, minorities must be included in the political processes of the new country and be given access to vital public services, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

Election officials confirmed on Monday that nearly 99% of voters in South Sudan were in favour of independence from the North.

‘The government in Juba must take this unique opportunity to meaningfully include minorities in any impending decisions on the sharing of South Sudan’s political and economic resources,’ says Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention.

MRG says minorities have cause for concern about possible exclusion in the newly independent country. South Sudan has enjoyed far-reaching autonomy for five years now and yet, according to our research, they still maintain that they are excluded from decision-making processes.

Paul Oleyo, of Boma Development Initiative, an organisation working on peace-building in Jonglei State, South Sudan, says, ‘Minorities must now present the new government with a list of our demands, with access to basic services, resource and political power-sharing as top priorities.’

The referendum took place against a backdrop of decades of violations of the rights of the peoples of South Sudan by the Khartoum government, including economic marginalisation, imposition of religion, systematic violence against civilian populations, and abduction of children.

MRG is concerned that violence could rise following the referendum results, particularly in the border regions between the two new states, and calls on both Khartoum and Juba to protect civilian populations.

For instance, issues such as the disputed border region of Abyei will need to be negotiated if more unrest is to be prevented.

‘It is imperative that Juba and Khartoum do their utmost to reach a peaceful agreement on Abyei, which could yet destabilise relations between the two countries. This should include access rights for Misseriya herders to grazing land in Abyei, and a fair voter registration process which is supported by both Juba, Khartoum and, most importantly, local communities,’ says Chapman.

Blue Nile and South Kordofan are two more disputed areas that were not offered the chance to secede from the North, despite many people there fighting on the side of the Southern rebels during the war. A consultation in Blue Nile recently showed high levels of dissatisfaction. The Nuba in South Kordofan have suffered severe discrimination and persecution by Khartoum during the civil war and are very anxious about the future.

Although President Bashir has said that he is committed to good relations with the future southern Sudanese state, MRG urges Khartoum to refrain from interfering in the affairs of the South, for example by channelling money and arms to disgruntled factions in the South. The international community should monitor this situation very closely, says the human rights organisation.

Sudan is home to an immense range of peoples – according to one estimate, more than 56 ethnic and almost 600 sub-ethnic groups. Sudan’s arid northern regions are home mainly to Arabic-speaking Muslims. In Southern Sudan there is no dominant culture although Dinka, followed by Nuer, are the most numerous. In the last 50 years southerners have fought two crippling civil wars with Khartoum, in which more than two million people are estimated to have died.

The formal declaration of independence will be made on 9 July 2011.

Notes to editors

For more information, contact:

Paul Oleyo Longony
South Sudan Executive Director – Boma Development Initiative
T: +8821643335652 or +249911579886
E: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]