Juba, Southern Sudan – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) has been in Sudan this week in advance of today’s start of the referendum in which Southern Sudan is expected to vote to secede from the North. This is Chairman Kerry’s fourth trip to Sudan. Following a press conference with human rights activists George Clooney and John Prendergast, Chairman Kerry released the following statement:
“Today marked an historic occasion for the people of Southern Sudan. I am extraordinarily honored and privileged to be here to share this moment. And what we have seen thus far has been magnificent. I saw long lines of people waiting for hours but reveling in the privilege of voting for their freedom. When I mentioned to some voters the need to be patient, they said we have waited 55 years, we can wait a few more hours.
“I started today at the mausoleum for Dr. John Garang to witness President Salva Kiir's vote in the referendum for independence. It was a moving moment and reminded us all of Dr. John’s tireless efforts on behalf of his country and his people. I know how much he is missed today.
“Let me be clear, what we are working for here is peace in this land and today we took an important step forward. This is an example of what people can accomplish when they come together and it sends an important message: war and violence are not the only way to solve problems.
“There are so many people who deserve credit for this. The leaders of North and South Sudan have worked together to resolve problems. The United Nations has played a critical role in making this referendum a reality. A huge amount of credit goes to the Obama Administration which brought a whole of government approach led by General Gration, Ambassador Lyman, and so many others.
“Even as today marks the end of one journey, much work remains ahead in resolving the remaining issues of the CPA, including oil, borders, and citizenship, and let me emphasize that Abyei remains a primary focus of our efforts. It is not forgotten – discussions are ongoing even now. We look forward to helping the parties reach an agreement on Abyei that respects its borders and its peoples’ rights.
“Let me also emphasize that ending the crisis and bringing lasting peace to Darfur is a top priority of Congress and the Obama administration.
“Much work also remains to be done in the tough but vital task of building a nation that lives up to the promise and ideals of this moment, including building schools, roads, hospitals, and a justice system that works for the people.
“Just as this marks a new era for the people of Southern Sudan, we also hope that it can signal a new era for the people of the Republic of Sudan. President Obama has made clear that if they make the right choices there is a path forward to a better relationship with the United States.
“And in closing let me emphasize that the message I bring today is that the United States stands side by side with the people of Sudan as they embark on this journey.”
During his visit, Kerry met with Sudanese officials in Juba and Khartoum to encourage a peaceful referendum process and a broader agreement between the North and South that would guide Sudan through the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). He also traveled to Darfur to meet with the African Union/United Nations hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and Darfuris recently displaced by violence.
In October and November 2010, Kerry traveled twice to Juba and Khartoum to help move the peace process forward at the Obama Administration’s request. During his visit in October, Sudanese government leaders gave Kerry a resolution pledging to abide by the outcome of the referendum and cooperate with the south on a wide range of economic, political, and security issues. On a return trip in early November, Kerry conveyed a proposal from the Obama Administration to the governments in Khartoum and Juba, which outlined a roadmap for addressing key bilateral issues contingent on the implementation of the CPA.
Chairman Kerry first traveled to Sudan in April 2009 to emphasize the importance of restoring humanitarian access, following the expulsion of humanitarian groups from Darfur and other areas in Sudan.