From Saturday 18 until Thursday 23 April oral pleadings are being held at the Peace Palace in The Hague in the arbitration case between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) concerning the delimitation of the Abyei Area. The arbitration is based on an Arbitration Agreement between the Parties that was deposited with the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on 11 July 2008.

The Abyei region, on the border between north and south Sudan has been a major conflict area in over 20 years of civil war. The status of the region which contains one of Sudan's two largest oil fields proved one of the most contentious issues in the negotiation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Sudanese government and the SPLM. Under the agreement the South was granted provisional autonomy and Abyei's residents are to decide along with the South whether to secede from the North or not in a referendum in 2011.

To resolve the border and oil revenue sharing issues both parties adopted the Abyei Protocol in June 2004. The precise borders of Abyei were to be determined by the Abyei Borders Commission (ABC). The ABC presented its report in July 2005 but it was rejected by the Sudanese government, claiming that the experts exceeded their terms of reference by basing their conclusions on the 1956 border, rather than the 1905 border.

Violence erupted again in the Abyei region in December 2007 and tensions escalated further in March 2008 when northern soldiers entered Abyei town. These troops clashed with SPLM fighters resulting in considerable casualties, and the displacement of an estimated 50,000 civilians.

Under the Arbitration Agreement, the five member Tribunal has to determine the following issues:
“a. Whether or not the ABC [Abyei Boundary Commission] experts had, on the basis of the agreement of the Parties as per the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement], exceeded their mandate which is “ to define (i.e. delimit) and demarcate the area of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905” as stated in the Abyei Protocol, and reiterated in the Abyei Appendix and the ABC Terms of Reference and Rules of Procedure.
b. If the Tribunal determines, pursuant to Sub-article (a) herein, that the ABC experts did not exceed their mandate, it shall make a declaration to that effect and issue an award for the full and immediate implementation of the ABC Report.
c. If the Tribunal determines, pursuant to Sub-article (a) herein, that the ABC experts exceeded their mandate, it shall make a declaration to that effect, and shall proceed to define (i.e. delimit) on map the boundaries of the area of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905, based on the submissions of the Parties.”

The Parties have filed three rounds of written submissions. The oral pleadings are being broadcasted live by webstream. Both and other related documents are available on the PCA website <http://www.pca-cpa.org/showpage.asp?pag_id=1306>.

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