The year 2012 has seen a flurry of international discussion and activity on Sudan and South Sudan at the highest levels, but with little tangible progress. While the diversion of the threat of a return to all out war between the two countries should not be underplayed, the level of rhetorical agreements and threatened consequences leave the impression that a lot more should have been accomplished.

Cross-border attacks in April and leadership by the African Union led to long missing international consensus in an increasingly divided UN Security Council. UNSC Resolution 2046 not only brought a unified call for Sudan and South Sudan to address remaining issues (including status of the Abyei region, citizenship, border demarcation and security arrangements, and fighting and the humanitarian crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile), but set a deadlines and threatened consequences for a failure to make progress. The first major deadline passed in August.

Another resolution by the African Union Peace and Security Council focused on Abyei passed in early December. A September 27th agreement offered hope, but the latest talks between Sudan and South Sudan, according to the chief mediator for South Sudan, are “deadlocked”. Despite a reported agreement on a demilitarized border zone, most issues appear to have been punted until January. Still there have been neither consequences nor any significant follow on statement by the UN Security Council.

Nowhere has the failure of agreement been felt more intensely than in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile where nearly a million people have been displaced or severely affected by fighting between Sudanese forces and rebels, including aerial bombardment of civilians by the Sudanese Armed Forces. An October report vetted by The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated 80% of households in South Kordofan living on one meal a day. A Human Rights Watch report published this month documents several abuses and concludes that, “Sudan’s abusive tactics, reminiscent of those used in Darfur and during the long civil war, including the de facto blockading of humanitarian access, have worsened already poor conditions.” The attacks have only intensified with the greater mobility brought on by the start of the dry season.

A so-called Tripartite Agreement involving the UN, AU, and League of Arab States which would provide humanitarian access was first put forth in February and finally signed by both the Sudanese government and rebels in August. However, largely due to delays on the side of Sudan, the agreement still remains to be implemented.

So where do things stand in Sudan as 2012 comes to an end? The levels of discussions and ongoing engagement have been encouraging, but the actual results improving the situation few and far between. As the New Year begins, international efforts will have to not only be continued but reinvigorated with true pressure from the African Union and UN Security Council and the kind of consequences originally threatened back in August.

On the side of the United States, the departure of Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman after two years of tireless shuttle diplomacy could leave a major gap just as a reinvigorated international effort is most needed. President Obama should act quickly to find a replacement that conveys a renewed commitment to tackling the challenges of the Sudans. Even as this year of little progress comes to an end, the United States must lead international action if Sudan 2013 is to be a better year.

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