In Sudan, President Bashir Begins Next Five-Year Term

BY Larisa Epatko  May 27, 2010 at 3:00 PM EST

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was sworn in Thursday to another five-year term, pledging the country would not return to war and that a referendum vote on the south splitting from the north would proceed next year as planned.

Bashir won re-election with 68 percent of the vote in April in Sudan’s first multi-party elections in 24 years, though several opposition candidates ended up dropping out of the race over allegations of electoral fraud committed by the ruling National Congress Party, which the NCP refuted.

Bashir is the only head of state to be re-elected while facing an international arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges stem from the seven-year conflict in Darfur, where the army and Arab militias have been fighting ethnic minority rebels.

On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court referred Sudan to the U.N. Security Council for not turning over two others with Darfur-related arrest warrants: Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Harun and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb.

Because of the outstanding warrants, human rights advocacy groups criticized the United Nations this week for sending representatives to Bashir’s inauguration. U.N. Mission in Sudan special representative Haile Menkerios and United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur chief Ibrahim Gambari attended the event.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, wrote in an open letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that their presence “would send a terrible message to victims of such crimes in Darfur and around the world that their suffering is not reason enough to dispense with ceremonial support for their alleged abuser.”

Ban defended the diplomats’ attendance on Tuesday, saying it was part of the U.N. mission in the country. “This is not more than that. What they are doing is not more than that, they are doing exactly within the framework of their mandate,” he said, reported the Sudan Tribune.

In his inauguration speech, Bashir said “there will be no war” in Sudan, and he again committed to holding a referendum on southern secession next year, adding that there should be “no dictation, no coercion and no forgery of the will of the people.”

The elections last April and the referendum on southern secession, now scheduled for Jan. 9, were both mandated under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between factions in the north and south.

Salva Kiir, head of the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, who was sworn in as the first elected president of south Sudan last week, said he would be campaigning for independence.

Party officials can say what they like, but mechanics at the lower level have to be in place for a referendum to take place, such as registering voters and establish polling centers, said Jonathan Temin, senior program officer (Sudan) in the Center for Mediation and Conflict Resolution at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

And so far, the commission in charge of running the referendum isn’t formed, while the two main parties, the NCP and SPLM, decide who chairs it, he said.

Even after the referendum mechanics are in place, many issues related to the south becoming its own country — distributing oil revenues, citizenship rights, water and land usage, and security — are still undecided.

“So far those negotiations haven’t really started, and given the complexity of some of these issues, they need months if not more to sort through them,” said Temin. “So you’re really beginning to see a time crunch between whenever those negotiations are going to start and when the referendum happens.”