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Carter Center Notes Progress But Urges Critical Steps to Ensure Credible Voter Registration and Referenda Processes In Sudan


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Khartoum… In its latest statement on Sudan's referenda processes, The Carter Center noted important progress by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) and Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau (SSRB) in establishing and swearing in nearly all of the county subcommittees of Southern Sudan and publishing a referendum calendar. The Carter Center also welcomed the arrival of registration materials to the country and the start of training on voter registration procedures. These accomplishments are key steps forward in implementing the Southern Sudan referendum process. At the same time, the Center urged officials to accelerate preparations for the conduct of voter registration and the referendum, including the training of staff, distribution of materials,  clarification of eligibility requirements, and the expansion of voter education. The Government of Sudan (GoS) and Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) should reconfirm their commitment to a genuine referendum process and urgently release funds to support this goal. Increased efforts should be made to conclude negotiations on critical post-referendum issues, and to inform Sudanese citizens about the potential impact of the vote.

The date is fast approaching for the referendum in Southern Sudan as set forth in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the Southern Sudan Referendum Act (SSRA), and preparations should be redoubled. With less than three weeks remaining until the voter registration is scheduled to start for the Southern Sudan referendum[1], the GoS, GoSS and the SSRC and SSRB should take all possible steps to achieve this ambitious timeline.  Urgent action is needed to ensure that registration staff is recruited, trained, and deployed in a timely fashion and plans are in place to distribute registration materials to referendum centers. Funds, equipment, and vehicles must be transferred to the states and counties as soon as possible. Additionally, many aspects of the referendum process  need clarification in order to ensure that citizens of Southern Sudan are empowered to participate meaningfully in the processes with a full understanding of the implications of their votes. In particular, the SSRC should urgently issue the rules and regulations for voter registration, observer accreditation procedures, and campaign regulations.

The GoS, the GoSS, the SSRC, and SSRB should expand voter education efforts in both Northern and Southern Sudan and make greater efforts to communicate clearly with the population regarding the many tasks to be completed before voting day. The public, Northern and Southern Sudanese alike, lack a clear sense of how voting will be structured and what the implications of the two possible outcomes – unity or secession – will be for their future.  Greater information should be provided  to the population about the status of post-referendum negotiations, with a focus on citizenship and the right of minorities.

Delays in budget approval and funds disbursement to the SSRC and SSRB have disrupted steps for both bodies to become fully operational, and the GoS, the GoSS, and the international community should urgently ensure that sufficient funds are made available to the referendum administration to support the holding of a genuine, credible referendum that adheres to the current referendum calendar.

The increasing threats of a possible return to war and other inflammatory statements made by members of both the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and National Congress Party (NCP) are counterproductive and create a negative climate as the referendum draws near. It is the responsibility of the leadership of both parties to respect their obligations to uphold the final phase of CPA implementation and the Interim National Constitution and to instruct party members to refrain from making threats that could derail the processes.[2]  Similarly, the parties should make clear their unequivocal commitment to respecting the rights of minorities, including pastoralists. To this end, party and government leaders should provide clear guarantees that regardless of the outcome of the referenda, minority populations in both Northern and Southern Sudan will not face forced expulsions or be stripped of property and assets.[3]

Balanced, accurate coverage by domestic and international media can and should facilitate the dissemination of such assurances.  Media should be cognizant of their role and refrain from exacerbating the already charged political environment. Likewise, efforts to ensure a robust campaign period free from intimidation and interference will contribute to a credible referendum process and security in Sudan.

Although progress has been made in the Southern Sudan referendum process, the Abyei referendum process has stalled, with the failure to form the Abyei Referendum Commission or reach a resolution of the critical issue of determining voter eligibility in Abyei. The NCP and the SPLM should conclude an agreement on the composition of the Abyei Referendum Commission as quickly as possible so that preparations for the referendum can move forward.

The referenda processes are designed to realize self-determination, a democratic right granted to the Southerners and residents of Abyei by the CPA and the Interim National Constitution. The NCP and SPLM will be judged by their commitment to protecting the welfare of the Sudanese and their right to self-determination, while ensuring that they never again have to endure war to settle differences.

Background on the Carter Center's mission

The Carter Center's referendum observation activities commenced in Sudan in August 2010 in response to an invitation from the SSRC. In September 2010, the Center deployed 16 long-term observers from 12 nations to assess the referendum process in Southern Sudan and in the areas in the North where voting will occur. Four two-person observer teams are currently deployed in Southern Sudan--three teams in Northern Sudan, and one team in Abyei.

In November 2010, The Carter Center will deploy an additional 30 medium-term observers to observe the voter registration period throughout Sudan as well as at least two observers in each of the eight countries outside Sudan where voting will occur. As during its April 2010 elections observation mission, the Center will assess the referenda processes in Sudan based on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Interim National Constitution, Southern Sudan Referendum Act, and obligations for democratic elections contained in regional and international agreements, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[4]

The objectives of the Carter Center's observation mission in Sudan are to provide an impartial assessment of the overall quality of the referenda processes, promote an inclusive process for all Southern Sudanese, and demonstrate international interest in Sudan's referenda processes. The Carter Center conducts observation activities in accordance with the Declaration of Principles of International Election Observation and Code of Conduct that was adopted at the United Nations in 2005 and endorsed by 35 election observation groups.[5]


The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide. A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, the Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production. For more than 20 years, The Carter Center has worked to improve health and prevent and resolve conflict in Sudan.  Please to learn more about The Carter Center.


1. The Southern Sudan Referendum Act, Art. 2, 27 (2009) (registration and polling will take place in Southern Sudan, Northern Sudan, Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

2. The Interim National Constitution of The Republic of the Sudan, Art. 23(2)b (2005) (imposing a duty on citizens to "abhor violence, promote harmony, fraternity and tolerance among all people of the Sudan in order to transcend religious, regional, linguistic, and sectarian divisions").

3.  The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), Art. 5 (d) (1969) states that compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights:… (ii) The right to leave any country, including one's own, and to return to one's country…(v) The right to own property alone as well as in association with others".  See also, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts 2, and 2; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, art. 2.

4. Sudan ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) Feb. 18, 1986. The ACHPR came into force on Oct. 21, 1986. Sudan acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on March 18, 1986, which entered into force on March 23, 1976.

5.  The Declaration of Principles in Arabic and English can be read at

Full Report From The Carter Center on the Current State of Sudan Referenda Preparations (PDF)

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