A human rights expert told the UN Friday that Sudan is not prepared [press release] for its January 9 self-determination referendum that could divide the country in two. Mohamed Chande Othman, a Tanzanian judge and independent expert on the Sudan human rights situation, presented a report [text, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website] in Geneva warning that Sudan does not have the necessary infrastructure in place for the January referendum. The report cites major setbacks, including the suppression of free speech and of the press, restrictions on other civil and political rights, and inadequate protection of society due to a lack of well-trained police officers, prosecutors and judges. The report also states that there are unresolved issues, including border demarcation, residency and voter eligibility, as well as the lack of a referendum commission in the contentious region of Abyei in southern Sudan. There are fears that the referendum could spark civil war [LAT report] and further violence between the largely Christian south and Muslim north. The south is expected to vote for secession. This could cause the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) [party website] of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to try to stop the election because, depending on where the border is drawn, it could result in as much as 80 percent of the nation's oil reserves landing in the new southern state.
The referendum is meant to be the culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) [UN press release] that ended two decades of civil war. Last week, the UN Security Council [official website] issued a statement [text] calling on the CPA parties to take "urgent action to facilitate peaceful and on-time referenda that reflect the will of the Sudanese people, to respect their results, and to resolve key remaining post-referenda issues." Last April, Sudan attempted to have its first democratic multi-party election in almost a quarter of a century, but it was fraught with controversy. Two political parties in eastern Sudan accused the ruling NCP [JURIST report] of using voter fraud and intimidation in gaining electoral victories in their region of the country during the national elections.