On Wednesday 22 July, the Arbitral Tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rendered its final Award [PDF] in the case between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) concerning the delimitation of the boundaries 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.
Under the Arbitration Agreement [PDF], the five member Tribunal had to determine the following issues (Article 2):
“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 Tribunal partly rejected the ABC Experts' delimitation. The Tribunal found that with regard to the decisions on the northern "shared rights" area and the eastern and western boundary lines of the Abyei Area, the ABC Experts exceeded their mandate for failure to provide sufficient reasoning. As a result these boundaries should be redrawn. In accordance with Article 2(c) of the Arbitration Agreement the Tribunal subsequently re-defined the relevant boundaries "on map" [PDF] thereby reducing the size of the Abyei Area. The Tribunal's decision implies that the oil fields are not part of the Abyei Area and control over it is left with northern Sudan. One member of the Tribunal, Judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh of the International Court of Justice, appended a dissenting opinion [PDF].
Abyei's residents are to decide along with the South whether to secede from the North or not in a referendum in 2011. 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.
The precise borders of the Abyei Area were initially to be determined by the Abyei Borders Commission (ABC). The ABC Experts presented their report in July 2005 but it was rejected by the Sudanese government, claiming that the experts exceeded their mandate.
After violent clashes between northern soldiers and SPLM fighters in May 2008 in the disputed area, resulting in extensive destruction and the displacement of an estimated 50,000 civilians, both parties agreed to refer the report of the ABC Experts to an arbitral tribunal in The Hague. Recently UN peacekeepers increased their presence in the region amid fears that a controversial decision by the Tribunal could again lead to violence.
Both parties have announced that they would abide by the award of the Tribunal.