Permanent Court of Arbitration Makes Ruling on Abyei Border

[Montréal, Québec, Canada  20°C] At 8:00 am GMT, the five-member Abyei Arbitration Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague began ceremonies to render its final decision regarding the delimitation of the Abyei boundaries, which have been a source of tension and conflict between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party and the Government of Southern Sudan.

The arbitration agreement between the Government of Sudan and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) was received by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on July 11, 2008 with both parties agreeing to a “final and binding” decision by the tribunal.

On July 14, 2004, the Abyei Boundaries Commission published its report that outlined Abyei’s boundaries to an area that was much larger than Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party previously claimed. They subsequently rejected the commission’s report, stating that the Commission exceeded its mandate. The case was then referred to the Tribunal.


Arbitration Award Map (source: Permanent Court of Arbitration, July 22, 2009)

The Tribunal’s mandate was to determine whether the Abyei Boundaries Commission exceeded its mandate “to define and demarcate the area of the nine Ngok Dinka cheifdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905.” The Tribunal determined the excess of mandate by reviewing the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC)’s interpretation and implementation of their mandate. The Tribunal’s press release reads, “The Tribunal therefore finds that the ABC Experts DID NOT EXCEED their mandate in interpreting their mandate…”

The Tribunal concludes however “that the ABC Experts EXCEEDED their mandate in certain areas of its implementation.” The ABC’s mandate was exceeded for the drawing of the northernmost border of the “Ngok Dinka and Misseriya’s ‘shared rights’ area at latitude 10°35’N […] because they did not provide sufficient reasoning.” The Tribunal found that “there was NOT an excess of mandate” regarding the ABC’s drawing of the northern limit of Ngok Dinka’s area of permanent habitation transferred in 1905. However, the eastern and western boundaries chosen by the ABC was determined to be “in excess of mandate for failure to state sufficient reasoning.”

Former Abyei market (April 2009)

Abyei’s former market area (April 2009)

Abyei Arbitration Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration thus delimited a new boundary (see above map) that is somewhat smaller than the one represented in mauve by the Abyei Boundaries Commission.

According to a report by Miraya FM, the head of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, Al Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed, stated that “the [Tribunal’s] decision supports NCP’s vision regarding the [border’s] demarcation.” Minister of Foreign Affairs and member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Deng Alor, “welcomed the Court’s decision and assured the movement’s commitment of the ruling.” Mohamed Ali Alansari, a leader from the Misseriya tribe stated that they are “studying the judgement to determine a final position.”

Central Abyei street (April 2009)

Central Abyei street scene (April 2009)

Abyei is an important oil-producing region of Sudan, which in 2003 provided approximately 25% of Sudan’s total oil production. Defined within the Abyei Protocol (Chapter IV of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement), Abyei is “the area of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905.” Residents of Abyei are define as “Members of the Ngok Dinka community and other Sudanese residing in the area.” The Arab Misseriya pastoralists are not specifically mentioned as residents of the area and their grazing rights in this pasture-rich region—as prescribed in the Abyei Protocol—are a source of conflict.

Central Abyei street scene (April 2009)

Central Abyei street scene (April 2009)

The Protocol outlines the sharing of oil revenues between the northern Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan. The CPA provides for a self-determination referendum for Southern Sudan in 2011, as well as a separate ballot referendum within Abyei “to retain its special administrative status in the north” or “to be part of Bahr el Ghazal” located in the south. Abyei’s decision will be irrespective of the South’s decision in the 2011 self-determination referendum.

Central Abyei street scene (April 2009)

Central Abyei street scene (April 2009)

On May 14, 2008, a battle erupted between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee south to the Agok area where most of the displaced people remain in precarious conditions. Much of the town Abyei was destroyed by the conflict. One year later, as these recent photos portray, the town  has yet to recover. As a result of the bloody fighting that left up to, the two parties decided to resolve the issue with the Permanent Court of Arbitration.


Further reading:

Abyei: Emir of the mujahidin in the Misseriya tribe rejects PCA’s ruling (25 July, 2009)

Declaration on Abyei ruling by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit (23 July, 2009)

INSTANT VIEW: Court ruling on Sudan’s Abyei region (22 July, 2009)

Sudan: Backslaps and caveats over Abyei (22 July 2009)

Sudan: Abyei Briefing (21 July 2009)

Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock (12 October 2007)

Sudan: Abyei Boundary Commission report (16 August 2005)

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