One of the most urgent responsibilities the international community faces is in Sudan, which is facing a renewal of nationwide violence.
Many accomplishments hang in the balance. The Bush administration helped to orchestrate a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) there in 2005. One of its key provisions is that a referendum will be held in January 2011 in the southern region, so that citizens can decide whether to secede or remain part of a unified nation.
Since 2005, combat has largely been restrained, northern troops have pulled out of the south, a national unity government in Khartoum and a regional southern government in Juba have been formed, and oil wealth has been shared. There has been progress on some disputed border areas, and legislation was passed to prepare for April elections - a critical feature of CPA implementation and part of the longer-term democratic transformation process. If this electoral effort is successful, many of the ethnic groups and political factions will be involved for the first time in a transparent process, which will be important practice for the southern referendum scheduled for next January.
The Carter Center has been deeply involved in this huge nation for more than 20 years, attempting to negotiate peace between the Islamic government in Khartoum and non-Muslim revolutionaries in the south. During the past year, we have observed a peaceful and surprisingly successful nationwide voter registration that reached 16 million Sudanese, or nearly 80 percent of estimated eligible voters, and the active campaign period is scheduled to begin Feb. 13. We are also training 3,000 local election observers.
But all this progress is in danger of being abandoned. The National Election Commission makes tardy decisions and has inadequate funding and government support, and there is insufficient public education about its actions. There are serious unresolved disputes about exact lines of the border, permanent division of oil wealth and infrastructure, and whether the 2008 census process adequately counted potential voters in the south, Darfur and other areas. The Khartoum government has passed an unacceptably repressive National Security Forces Act, and there has been a recent increase in violent clashes in the south.
We still have great concern about Darfur, where the problem is now general lawlessness instead of the former organised insurgency and brutal responses by government forces and irregular Arab militias. Problems there have been exacerbated by the government's expulsion of aid organisations that are needed to minister to the needs of some 2.7 million displaced people. An atmosphere of impunity also has led to increased attacks on international aid workers and peacekeepers in the past year.
The international community must do more to help ensure successful elections. Our centre will be able to deploy 60 observers for the April election. But additional monitors from Africa and the European Union are urgently needed. Indications are that they would be welcomed by the political factions, hopefully without restrictions.
The involvement of the international community will also be vital to help implement the referendum results - either independence for the south or healing of the internal national divisions that have racked Sudan for a quarter century. (Win or lose, the international legal status of President Omar al-Bashir as an indicted war criminal will not be changed.)
It is almost impossible to imagine the tragedy for Sudan from the resumption of war, which would undoubtedly impact the nine contiguous nations. Perhaps more serious would be the risk of religious antagonisms in a much broader region, with Muslims supporting the northern region against allies of the south. It is crucial that the United Nations and individual countries intercede to ensure the full implementation of the 2005 CPA with aggressive and sustained support for the faltering progress towards peace and democracy.
Former president Jimmy Carter is founder of the nonprofit Carter Center.