U.S. Support of the Southern Sudan Referendum

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
USAID Sudan Mission Director William Hammink
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
November 23, 2010

OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are in listen-only mode. After the presentation, we’ll conduct a question-and-answer session. Today’s conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.

And now I’d like to introduce your host for today’s conference, Mr. Mark Toner. Sir, you may begin.

MR. TONER: Good morning, and thank you all for joining us. We’re very fortunate to have with us three individuals who are able to share their insights and perspectives from the field on the status of preparations for the January 9th referendum on Southern Sudan. They’re also going to talk about the support and the technical assistance that the United States has provided to support the parties as they work towards a full and timely implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. On the line today, we have USAID Sudan Mission Director Bill Hammink.

We’ve also got our – we also have our chargé d'affaires in Khartoum, Bob Whitehead, as well as the Juba Consul General Barrie Walkley. Just a reminder, Bill Hammink, the USAID Sudan Mission Director, will make some brief opening remarks. His remarks will be on the record, but just a reminder, that the Q&A session will be on background attributable to U.S. senior officials.

So without further ado, I will hand it over to Bill Hammink.

MR. HAMMINK: Great, thank you. Thank you for joining this call today. We want to inform the press about how the referendum registration process is proceeding so far, and explain to you how aid from the American people, delivered through USAID and the U.S. Government generally, is providing assistance to this important and historic process.

As you may know, the referendum is a key provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the CPA, which ended the long and deadly North-South civil war. Since the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement signed that agreement, the U.S. Government has provided assistance to the two parties to help implement the various provisions of the CPA as part of our broad goal to maintain peace between the North and the South. This has included assistance in conducting a national census, multiparty national elections – which took place last April – popular consultation processes in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states, which are in the preparation phase, and now this referendum, which will allow the people of Southern Sudan to choose to remain part of the unified Sudan or to secede and form an independent nation.

One thing that is very important to stress is that the referendum is a Sudanese-led process. The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, the SSRC, is the official Sudanese body in charge of implementing the referendum. SSRC Chairman Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil is ably leading the SSRC under challenging conditions of a very short timeline for the steps that have taken place so far and the steps that remain to hold the referendum on time beginning January 9. The timeline is short because we are nearing the end of the CPA interim period. The CPA is set to expire July 9, 2011, and the CPA calls for the referendum to take place six months prior to that end date.

USAID is supporting the SSRC in Khartoum and its bureau in Juba, the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau – or SSRB – in three ways: One, providing technical and material assistance to the SSRC and SSRB to enable them to prepare for, administer, and oversee the referendum process, including providing office space and equipment, voter registration, books and cards, training manuals, and polling kits.

Two, support for civic participation, including voter education, assistance to local media, reporting on the referendum, and assistance to domestic organizations that are observing the process.

And three, funding international independent observers. Crucial to USAID’s success in moving referendum preparations forward has been its ability to develop close working partnerships, both directly and through its implementation partners with the Sudanese referendum authorities, civil society organizations, and the broader constituency of stakeholders in this historic process, including, of course, the United Nations and other donors.

It is indeed a significant achievement that the voter registration process began in most locations in Sudan and in several other countries on time, on November 15, in what has been an extremely compressed timeline. Much work had to be completed in a very short period to get us to the stage we are now in the process. USAID and the United Nations procured, delivered, and handed over to the SSRC and SSRB voter registration materials late last month in time to have them distributed across Sudan, which in itself is a significant logistical challenge as Sudan is the largest country in Africa.

Registration began on time – November 15 – and has proceeded peacefully in the 10 states of Southern Sudan, the 15 states of Northern Sudan, and in most of the eight countries where out-of-country registration and voting will take place. There was a one-day delay in the United States and Australia at the request of the SSRC because of concerns expressed by Southern Sudanese communities in the two countries of too few centers for countries with such vast distances. But registration began in both the United States and Australia on November 16 and is proceeding.

The SSRC and the International Organization for Migration, the IOM, which are working together to organize out-of-country voting in accordance with the Southern Sudan Referendum Act of 2009, have been in discussions about ensuring that Southern Sudanese in the United States have access to registration sites. Out-of-country voting was delayed in Egypt, but we understand that registration in Egypt may begin soon. Registration is scheduled to end December 1, after which the SSRC will publish a preliminary register of voters and then hear objections to the register. The final register of voters will be published on January 4. Then voting is scheduled to take place January 9 to 15.

We will continue to provide assistance throughout this process, supporting the SSRC and SSRB, to implement a peaceful, on-time referendum that reflects the will of the Southern Sudanese people. We are continuing to educate communities and voters about the process, to assist local media reporting on the process, to support Sudanese organizations observing the process, and to support independent, international observation.

Thank you for your interest in this historic referendum.

PRN: 2010/1700