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‘Darfur needs disarmament and stability, not a referendum’

October 22 - 2015 KHARTOUM
Photo by Andrew Carter (Meet the Janjaweed, 2008)
Photo by Andrew Carter (Meet the Janjaweed, 2008)

A referendum on the permanent administrative status of Darfur is no longer of concern to the people living in the war-torn region, according to human rights lawyer Saleh Mahmoud. The Darfuris want peace, recovery and compensation, he says. The outcome of the referendum may affect the Sudanese federal system.

The lawyer strongly criticised the referendum scheduled of next April in which the people of Darfur will decide whether the current five states of Darfur should remain, or be unified into one Darfur state.

The referendum is stipulated in the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), signed by the Sudanese government and the Liberation and Justice Movement, a coalition of 19 breakaway rebel factions, in Qatar in July 2011. It was supposed to be held within one year after the signing of the peace accord.

Earlier this year, President Omar Al Bashir declared an extension of the DDPD and the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) for one year. On Tuesday, he officially announced that the referendum will take place next April.

Recovery and disarmament

Human rights lawyer Saleh Mahmoud commented to Radio Dabanga on Wednesday that the administrative status of the Darfur referendum is no longer a priority concern among the people of Darfur.

“The Doha Document prioritises the security arrangements and disarmament of the non-military in the region. Yet, disarmament has never taken place!”

“Their priority is to be able to live in peace. They want compensation and the recovery of what they have lost during the war, according to the terms of the Doha Document and in accordance with the agreed-on time schedules.

“The Doha Document also prioritises the restoration of the security situation, through the implementation of the security arrangements and the disarmament of the non-military in the region. Yet, the disarmament has never taken place!”

“What the people in Darfur want most is not a referendum but their being able to lead a decent and secure life in their villages of origin,” he stated.

About the referendum process, the lawyer said that since 1990, when the State of Emergency was imposed on the Darfur region, people are not allowed to cast a vote. “The 2010 general election made this clear, when about four million Darfur voters were deprived of the possibility to express their political opinion.”

Federal states

He added that the future administrative status in Darfur cannot but affect the status of the other Sudanese states. “Government officials are talking about re-dividing Sudan into nine districts, possibly seven,” he said.

On 13 August, Mustafa Osman Ismail, head of the ruling National Congress Party’s Political Bureau, announced in a news conference in Khartoum that the Darfur referendum would take place in April next year. He however stressed that it should be preceded by an in-depth study of “the nature and implementation” of the Sudanese federal system.

'Climate not suitable'

The Sudan Liberation Movement for Justice, led by Taher Hajar, also objects to holding the Darfur referendum in April.

“The pros and cons of a federal system for Sudan should be discussed  in a broad national dialogue.”

“The climate for a referendum is not appropriate at all, while there are more than millions of Darfuris living in camps for the displaced, and people are still daily subjected to assaults, murders and rapes,” Hajar told Radio Dabanga on Wednesday.

He wondered why a referendum is to be held “when before it was the presidency that decided to divide Darfur into three, and later five states”.

According to the rebel leader, the pros and cons of a federal system for Sudan and its implementation should be discussed and decided upon in a broad national dialogue.

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