Sudan's Unhappy Anniversary

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Enough's Laura Heaton co-authored this post.

This Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of a monumental peace agreement in Sudan, one that brought a close to a 22-year civil war in which 2 million people died and 4 million were displaced. Five years ago, we were celebrating the achievements of longtime rivals who committed to working together to make a unified Sudan attractive to all of the country's people. We also celebrated the dedicated efforts of international negotiators, who utilized the pressures and incentives necessary to finally get Sudan's rivals to sign up for peace.

But unlike most anniversaries that prompt us to stop and reflect about the progress we've made, this occasion has the effect of reminding us of all the commitments that - even after five years - still only exist on paper.

This year, perhaps what is most significant about the anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, is that it marks the beginning of a countdown. Just one year from now, the people of southern Sudan will vote on whether to remain united with the North or secede and form a new country. The next year marks one of the most critical periods in Sudan's recent history.

To even get to that monumental decision, the leaders of the National Congress Party, NCP, in the North and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, SPLM, in the South have a dauntingly long list of issues they need to address. But rather than get caught up in the intricacies of the negotiations, consider the role that those of us outside of Sudan can play at this critical juncture:

The past five years have shown what happens when the international community doesn't hold the CPA parties to account for the commitments they made and stick to a strong set of consequences for those who work to undermine peace.

For the first four years after the CPA was signed, the international partners who pledged to serve as guarantors seemed to think their job was done. Without ongoing engagement and attention, four years of the six-year interim period passed with little to show for it except strong whiffs of the same destabilizing antics that the NCP used throughout the civil war and deep distrust between the North and South. Now, President Obama's special envoy is deeply engaged in Sudan, and yet efforts to undermine the peace, particularly by the NCP, occur without consequences, and are often even unacknowledged.

It's time to lay out serious, multilateral consequences for actions by either the NCP or the SPLM that could lead Sudan back to full-scale war. President Obama must make the difficult choices to begin ratcheting up pressure, particularly on the NCP, and to build a coalition of countries willing to join the United States in pressuring the parties for peace - the same type of determined international engagement that ushered in the CPA.

President Obama and other leaders must consider whether the world can afford to have another country at full-scale war in the already volatile Horn of Africa. For the people of Sudan, there's no question; the collapse of the CPA would be devastating.

It's late, but not too late. With full-time, on the ground, high-level international engagement supporting the implementation of the CPA and a peace deal in Darfur, a return to war in Sudan is avoidable.

Read Part II of this post here.

John Prendergast is Co-Founder of Enough, the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.