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Articles and Analysies Last Updated: Dec 20, 2009 - 3:34:53 PM

Is South Sudan weak for accepting Abyei’s arbitration? By Zechariah Manyok Biar

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Is South Sudan weak for accepting Abyei’s arbitration?

By Zechariah Manyok Biar

The ruling on Abyei’s borders by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) has caught many South Sudanese by surprise. Many Southerners are even calling for the resignation of the government in South Sudan . The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) appears to have sensed the pressure. So the officials are now reminding people that Heglig and Bamboo oilfields do not belong to Abyei but to Unity State and will still come to South Sudan during the upcoming demarcation of the borders between the North and the South. This is the view of both the GoSS Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development Michael Makuei Lueth, and the former SPLM administrator of Abyei Edward Lino. Sudanese foreign minister Deng Alor, on the other hand, has shown his dissatisfaction with the ruling, saying that it contains “grey areas” (Sudan Tribune, July 23, 2009). Mr. Alor argues that these “grey” areas are part of Abyei with Dinka names clearly shown on the map.

I am not in a position to defend the GoSS here for accepting the court’s decision. What I would like us to do as South Sudanese is to pause a little bit and see where we belong as a potential nation that would take the rule of law seriously. Is the rule of law good only if it favors our side or is it important regardless of whether it favors our side or not?

Many Southerners, including me, support the International Criminal Court’s indictment of President Bashir not because President Bashir is our former enemy, but because we agree that the rule of law must be respected. When we support ICC against President Bashir, we are not saying that President Bashir is proven guilty. We know that President Bashir will remain innocent until proven guilty in The Hague . This is how the law works. We disagree with those who support President Bashir against the innocent people in Darfur by trying to shield President Bashir against the ICC arrest warrant. We want President Bashir to respect the law and hand himself in to the ICC to prove himself innocent under the law. That is how we regard the law in South Sudan , or I might be wrong.

People are judged by the unfavorable situation they face. Maybe the PCA’s decision on Abyei is a good judge for who we are and what we believe in as South Sudanese. If we believe in the rule of law, then calling our leaders failures because the court never favored us would not apply. We would be happy that the government in the North now believes that the rule of law is good. That means they must agree with any rule of law, whether it is in their favor or against their favor. Northern Sudanese excitement about PCA’s decision on Abyei would put a stamp on the issues that the North and the South will disagree on in the next 18 months before referendum. North Sudan ’s agreement with the rule of law will also mean that they will have to agree with the result of referendum in 2011. So you have seen why the rule of law is good in good governance.

In South Sudan , fighting against corruption, tribalism, among other things would only be effective if South Sudanese respect the rule of law. Our courts would only be effective if we know that the winning of court cases depends on how one argues his or her case before a judge in court. If we do not understand that a court can rule for or against us, then we will keep on defending bad leaders in South Sudan simply because they are our relatives. What looks small sometimes leads to complicated issues.

Heglig oil fields may or may not fall into Unity State in the upcoming demarcation of the borders between the North and the South, but both the North and the South will respect the decision made by the committee that will demarcate the borders. The committee’s decision will also be guarded by law.

When we say that GoSS is weak by accepting the court’s decision on the borders of Abyei, we are implying that our leaders should have declared war on both PCA and the North in order to reverse the ruling so that we can call them powerful leaders. Could we win the case in such a way? Think about it!

Let us also remember that we fought against the government in Khartoum to liberate the marginalized people in Sudan . Our goal for fighting was not to control all oil areas in Sudan . Or maybe I misunderstood our goal for fighting against Khartoum government. The respect for the rule of law was and is still one of our major principles in South Sudan .

If we are aiming at the independent of South Sudan, then what we want is what the law will define as South Sudan , including the borders of Abyei that the court has now defined. If the oil falls in our borders according to the law, we can defend it. If the oil falls in Northern borders according to the law, then we cannot invade the North to occupy oil area simply because it is oil area, even if we were superpower in Africa .

Another thing that we need to remember is that we never fought to starve innocent people in the North to death. We in fact fought to enlighten them about their rights that will result in their happiness. If I am right about this goal, then we will not cry if part of oil falls in the borders of North Sudan . We even pray that North Sudan discovers oil within their territories to take care of their people when South Sudan secedes from the North in 2011. The reason why we want to secede from the North is because of their bad governance. We have nothing against innocent people in the north. We want them to live.

All in all, we must respect the rule of law in everything or we respect it in nothing. Calling for the resignation of GoSS because our leaders have accepted the rule of law is easy, but getting other leaders who will act differently from the current leaders when it comes to the rule of law is not an easy task.


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