South Sudan: Human Rights Advocacy Requires Broader Scope


Earlier this month the world turned its gaze to its newest state: the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. For a day, the pride, determination, and hopefulness of the South Sudanese people overshadowed the memory of six decades of civil war against the central government in Khartoum.

Over the past few weeks, Commentators have assessed the role of the South Sudanese people, the international community, and the human rights advocacy community in crafting the path to South Sudanese independence. One cannot overstate the South Sudanese people’s contributions to the new Republic’s independence — six decades of social, economic, and political devastation are surely a testament enough.

Still, as PolicyMic commentator Alice Bosley noted, the marginal influence of the international community and the human rights advocacy community cannot be dismissed. The advocacy community’s grassroots pressure on the U.S. government contributed to the mobilization of a diplomatic surge surrounding the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement — which formed a framework for conflict resolution between North and South Sudan. The influence of the advocacy community does not stop there: More recently, international pressure helped facilitate a peaceful South Sudanese independence referendum in January.

The human rights advocacy community will face a variety of challenges over the coming years as the government in Khartoum weathers the loss of a sizable portion of South Sudan’s oil revenue, and the two states work to resolve border-region and oil revenue-distribution conflicts on the road to becoming a safe and prosperous state. 

As the advocacy community sustains its involvement in Sudan in the aftermath of South Sudanese independence, three strategic adjustments are necessary for the continued effectiveness of Sudan advocacy:

1) Use an all-of-Sudan approach: As Bec Hamilton noted in her recent critical history of the Darfur advocacy movement, one of the key failings of the human rights advocacy community’s work in Sudan has been its unwillingness to consider conflict resolution in Sudan from a comprehensive perspective. In focusing its energy on the conflict in Darfur, the advocacy community sidelined critical risk factors underlying the outbreak of conflict in South Sudan. Without an all-of-Sudan approach to conflict resolution and human rights advocacy — addressing the underlying factors of conflict in Darfur, the Republic of Sudan, and South Sudan — the advocacy community’s post-independence policy impact will be limited.

2) Apply pressure to all actors: Khartoum’s National Congress Party surely bears its fair share of responsibility for South Sudan’s present instability, and the human rights advocacy community has ensured that civilian protection, accountability, and diplomatic pressure remain at the forefront of the international community’s approach to Sudan. However, insecurity in South Sudan will continue to fester if the bloated, divided South Sudanese security sector, the marginalization of communities in South Sudan’s periphery states, and widespread corruption remain unaddressed. Calling out both sides for abuses and diplomatic violations isn’t moral hedging — it’s just responsible advocacy.

3) Think critically about policy leverage: Since 2004, when the Darfur advocacy community began to gain a foothold throughout the United States, the map of international political influence has shifted significantly. The crisis of confidence in U.S. “soft power” following the war in Iraq, the Great Recession, and the increased global clout of emerging powers have reduced the U.S. government’s ability to pressure the governments in Khartoum and Juba toward political restraint. The human rights advocacy community must increasingly rely on the policy leverage of emerging powers to ensure civilian protection and conflict prevention in Sudan and South Sudan. For the grassroots community, this means the development of strategic constituencies in India, Brazil, and South Africa. A comprehensive advocacy approach necessitates a global perspective. 

What do you think? How can the human rights advocacy community strengthen its ability to ensure peace and security in the post-independence Sudans? 

Photo Credit: United Nations Photo