Articles and Analysies
The Nuba Mountains of Central Sudan has the Right to Self-Determination By Yassir A. Kori, Oklahoma City, Ok – USA
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Mar 30, 2011 - 3:55:48 PM

The Nuba Mountains of Central Sudan has the Right to Self-Determination

By Yassir A. Kori, Oklahoma City, Ok – USA

This paper seeks to examine the right of self-determination under international law and its relevance to the struggle for independence of the Nuba Mountains State of Central Sudan which will be done through the application of self-determination criteria as enshrined in various international human rights instruments. The driving force behind this motive is the recent precarious situation in the Nuba Mountains that demands expedient political ramifications that will fairly end the protracted conflict in this state.

The most widely implied notion in terms of self-determination is the right to participate in the democratic process of governance and to influence one’s future – politically, socially and culturally. The political rights of the majority of people in one territory to exercise the power with their boundaries of generally accepted political unit, area or territory. 

Reputably, self-determination embodies the right for all peoples to determine their own economic, social and cultural development. Self-determination has thus been defined by the International Court of Justice as the need to scrutinize upon the freely expressed will of all human beings. It is crucial to stress that for indigenous peoples, the term self-determination does not most often imply secession from the state, but it is a free-will of people in particular territory to achieve their own complacency. The right of self-determination of peoples is a fundamental principle in international law. It has been incarnated in various international human rights instruments as follow:

 The article 1 of the International Conventions on Human Rights follows the wording of article 2 of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples has literally tackled the perception of self-determination. Similar terms can be also found again in the important Declaration of Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, which was approved by the General Assembly in 1970 by Resolution 2625 and the article 1, paragraph 1 of both International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the article 3 of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is the most authoritative statement of the principles of international law relevant to the questions of self-determination and territorial integrity. All of these covenants provide that:

"All peoples have the rights of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

Furthermore, the scope and content of the right of self- determination has been elaborated upon by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as well as international jurists and human rights experts in meaningful concepts that apply both internal and external rights of self-determination scenarios.

The internal rights of self-determination basically provides for people to be able to have a full voice within the legal system of the overall nation state, control over natural resources, the appropriate way of preserving and protecting their culture and way of live and enable them be a visible partner of participant within strong powers with the overall national polity.

The external rights of self-determination arises when a person finds that this internal concept is not being accepted and the right to full sovereignty, including the right to international recognition of that people. 

The right of self-determination has been snatching the highlight in recent years. The end of the longest civil war in Africa ushered in sweeping changes in Southern Sudan generates the tendency to deepen the conception of right of self-determination. The right of self-determination under international law has been acting as a midwife to the birth of new nation states, the great nation of South Sudan which is about to be officially announced.

In Sudan, the right of self-determination has lately received a good deal of attention these past three decades. The success narrations have been widely reported that South Sudan finally is going to declare nomenclature and its birth in the coming few months, no later than July, 2011.  As same thing has happened in 1993; Eritrea managed to secede from Ethiopia after more than thirty years of struggle. South Africa itself saw its first free and full elections in 1994 after apartheid had begun to disintegrate around 1989 and so forth.

Most of the current or remaining struggles for independence on the Africa continent, especially in Sudan, such as Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Darfur however, receive little attention, at least outside of their respective regions, while other indigenous populations are encouraged with regard of optimism to claim for the rights of self-determination. For example, Ethiopia's Oromo people, presumably encouraged by the success of Eritrea, are demanding independence. In Sudan now, the Nuba Mountains is venturing its claim to national independence based on the right of self-determination under international law which holds paramount importance. This paper will thoroughly examine the presumption applicable to this claim. 

The Nuba Mountains is a province located in South Kordofan Central Sudan, a geographically distinct region from the rest of other regions in the country. It is inhabited by indigenous Nuba people that made up historical civilizations in Africa. The government of Sudan has adamantly rejected the discriminative use of the term “indigenous” for any of the people living within its boundary. It is argued that the complex and old history of migration, exchange and mixing of cultural and physical traits makes it impossible to distinguish any group as “indigenous” in relation to other groups; therefore everyone in Sudan has to be considered indigenous, which is disingenuous contention in the government side.  The government attempted to change the original history that attests the penetration of Arabs in Sudan with erroneous allegations that all people have penetrated in Sudan—not only Arabs, but the fact remains unequivocal that those who penetrated found some others who lived there for longer period and the they are the owner of that land.  The truth is that the Nuba people are the grandchildren of the people of the Cush kingdom of the 8th century. They are a mixture of dozens of different tribes with different cultures and languages.  Grate Kordofan was the former province of central Sudan where Nuba people were mainly dwelled in over ten centuries. In 1994 it was divided into three federal states as a conservative agenda of the government to annihilate ethnic population of Nuba people and combine them with Arabs rooted population. Lately in August 2005 the three states became two - North and South Kordofan as part of the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Parts of the boundaries of South Kordofan remain unclear pending the resolution of the boundaries of Abyei and the final demarcation of the 1956 north-south border.

Historically, in 600 AD, continuing raids by Arabs from Egypt and the near east signaled the loss of independence for the Nubians and many more families migrated further up the Nile and into the Nuba Mountains seeking safety. From 600 AD to 2002 AD, raiding for slaves from the Nuba mountains by Egyptians and other Arabs including the Mahdi and the Baggara tribe was consistent. The 50 small independent Nuba tribes could not provide resistance from the invaders other than protecting themselves by they mountains. In addition each of the tribes had their own language. It is said by the Nuba that lived in the Mountains there are 99 peaks and there is a separate tribe and language for each peak. Until recently many Nuba tribes had no idea of the wider community in the Nuba Mountains.

The mountains cover an area roughly 40 miles (64 km) wide by 90 miles (140 km) long, and are 1500 to 3,000 feet (910 m) higher in elevation than the surrounding plain. The Mountains stretching for some 48,000 square kilometers (19,000 square miles), it is arid there, but lush and green compared with most nearby areas. There are almost no clear roads in the Nuba Mountains; most villages there are only accessible by ancient paths that aren’t navigable by motor vehicles. The land is rocky, yet crops grow easily and allow for plentiful food for their herds. Grassy plains are interspersed with hills and valleys. It is a very beautiful landscape pleasing to human dimensions of space and height with fertile soils, reach with natural resource. That is why idiotic the Arab tribes surrounding the Nuba Mountains seek the land for themselves.

instead of the Arabs to seek the land for peaceful coexistence, they attempted to arabize and Islamize whole nations. Based on the Arabs idiotic ambitions, the conflict was besieged in the Nuba Mountains region. The history of slavery, fight, jihad (the Holy War), forced religious conversion (mainly to Islamic religion), and genocidal exterminations are the debilitating factors that emaciated the position of the Nuba people. It is one of the world's most compelling sagas which has its roots of more than 5000 years of history and culminating in a torturous genocide in the last since 1990s. there has been a culture of survival in this region. It is difficult to evaluate, but the best estimate is that 200,000 to 300,000 lives have been lost in this small mountainous region over these past 12 years out of somewhat close to two million people living there. Earlier after Sudanese independence in 1965, Nuba people continue to live under social and political oppression, and their rights were undermined for so long.

 Due to these prolonged mockery negligence, the Nuba people have ultimately opted to join the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLA) in 1984 during the second Sudanese Civil War long side with the people Southern Sudan based on magnificent demand to create New Sudan, the nation that shall recognize equal rights and equal opportunities for all Sudanese people. They have together stand firmly in the principles and ideology of SPLA, even some southerners split themselves into various ethnic and factional groups, but Nuba people have solidly remained in their views to fight under SPLA leadership to achieve the vision of New Sudan, and they have never surrendered their position and never split from the main struggling movement, neither split themselves in ethnic groups, but they continue to struggle under one unified body.  The indigenous Nuba had been largely supportive of the SPLA as a mainstream faction that strive to achieve aspirations. The Nuba's aim of joining the SPLA was not to fight for the South Sudan, but to fight for their own rights and to maintain their identity as Nuba. After long time civil war between the central government and the SPLA, the both parties were ultimately signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 to end the longest conflict in Africa but this peace was tenuous to Nuba people and did not totally grant the Nuba Mountains the right to join the people of South Sudan in their voting for independence in 2011, and neither clarify methodically the fate of Nuba people. In this peace, the residents of the Nuba Mountains were left in limbo and they required to hold ill-defined term known as "Popular Consultation" to determine their future. Not only Nuba Mountains but whole South Kordofan state will be eligible to vote, essentially to accommodate Messiria tribe of Baggara Arabs. Additionally, Sudanese government maintains heavy military presence in the region and even prospective of "Popular Consultation" are seen to be barred and it was utterly interpreted indistinctively in the approach that facilitate oppressor (the ruling party) to take it into unusual trajectory that does not  meet the aspiration of Nuba people. The ambiguous situation and fears of future communal violence may invoke concerns that South Kordofan could be seen as the next Darfur. In order to save these people, it become an alarm that call our attention to retain to the inspiration of self-determination as key issue at the present time which is an inextricable right.  

For the Nuba Mountains to be recognized as an independent state, many others may spot this spectacle, (especially those of tyrannical Islamic fundamentalists) as discussible fabrications which might not generate credible outcomes, but as an indispensible insistence, Nuba Mountains meet all the legal requirements and criteria for statehood.  The legal criteria for statehood are obvious as documented in article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States from 1933,

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states”.

Obviously, the territory occupied by one of the constituent administrative districts of a nation and the requirement for soverign state indicated that "Sovereign states have three absolute prerogatives: independence, equality and unanimity.

"Independence refers to a state as completely free to organize any system of government, proclaim an official religion of its choice, and structure its economy as it sees fit. No outside state has any right to interfere in these strictly internal matters.

"Equality refers to every state is of equal rank with every other state.

"Unanimity means that no state is bound by the majority decisions reached by groups of states. A state is bound only if it agrees to be bound. Even then, a state shall exercise the principle of rebus sic stantibus (changed circumstances) may later renege on an agreement."

Applying the qualification of statehood as required by international law, it may be elaborated in the following principles:

In terms of (a) a permanent population; After Sudan gained its independence in 1965, the  British colonialists divided Sudan into three main geographical districts; South Sudan which was include three regions (Equatoria, Bahar El-Ghazal, and Upper Nile), North Sudan, that include far Sudan wilderness regions and “closed districts” in Central Sudan which include Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Darfur. Historically, since that time Nuba Mountains had permanent population inhabited in hilly area known as grate Kordofan. But Arab divided this state into South and North Kordofan to annihilate the ethnic identity of inhabitants.  Until now there is a permanent population live in the Nuba Mountains which are subjected to nightmare situation as they have first targeted population in Sudan before south. Despites of the immense conflicts perpetrated by Sudanese government upon the Nuba people with blunt intention to pummel the Nuba people using chemical weapons, and aerial bombardments as all these were used for genocide and ethnic cleansing, Nuba people continue to survive and exist in the Nuba Mountains region and in the summit of hills that protected them. 

In terms of (b) a defined territory; since the Nuba Mountains was classified geographically to be part of the closed districts, the territorial border was clear and must be restored. Contrary, Nuba Mountains itself has been subject to territorial incursions and activities that undermine its sovereignty, but the time is approaching to refurbish this sovereignty. In order to determine the legitimacy of Nuba claim for the right of self-determination, it is crucial to retain to the principle usually applied by international law to the delineation of borders. As it is widely know that when a colony gains independence, the colonial boundaries are accepted as the boundaries of the newly independent state.

In terms of (c) government; Despites of how people can define the SPLM/SPLA, as those who are in power (the ruling tyrannical Islamic party) may give it a term so call “rebel” , we don’t perceive SPLM/SPLA as a rebel but we identify it as our stable government. It has all the necessary governmental capacities with all its branches as a functioning government that includes executive, legislative, and judicial branch, and other specialized institutions. 

In terms of (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states; it is irrefutable to reveal this fact as we have seen in the Nuba Mountains for the first time in the history. The Nuba Mountains Ceasefire Agreement signed in 2001, which became a raw-model of Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement, was conspicuous example of the capacity of Nuba Mountains to enter into international relations with other state. It brought more than seven countries in steady diplomatic relations to be called “Nuba Friends” who have generously contributed to sustain this peace morally, financially and militarily. They brought their own armies and created a Joint Military Commission to protect the people and to carry out proper implementation of this agreement. Nuba people are still sustaining this international relation and they look forward to extend further diplomatic ties with other countries that will be added to the list of Nuba friends.  

In compliance to these scenarios, and notwithstanding of the vital role that Nuba people has played by joining southern Sudan allies and by offering their precious blood to maintai their own rights, Nuba were ultimately left in limbo as they were granted tenuous status so called “Popular Consultation” which is viewed differently by both CPA signatories. The ruling party views the “Popular Consultation” as a just way to examine the future situation in the Nuba Mountain and to see if it can solve their problem, while the SPLM/SPLA views the “Popular Consultation” as a right to determine the destiny of Nuba people. This term was not even elaborated appropriately in the CPA agreement. This led both parties are unable to reach into common understanding for this term and they began implement the protocol differently with involvement of several clashes that undermine human dignity. Despites of how other may see the position of Nuba after the secession of South Sudan as other may presumed it to be weak, I am optimistic that Nuba position is more that stronger, and SPLA shall remain to be in the Nuba Mountains and will continue to fight for the right of Nuba people. I see the secession of South Sudan as a strategic tactic for Africans to assist each others collaboratively in achieving and advancing stable peace in our beloved homeland of Cush. Certainly our brothers in South Sudan will not just leave us like that but there will be a continuous brotherhoods that will be carried in different cooperative forms. For this reason, the right of self-determination is allegently became a stronghold of the Nuba's claim which is presently legitmate to end this cause. The claim for self-determination is based on their occurrence of struggle as part of the SPLM/SPLA; long history of political and economic negligence; ethnic cleaning, religious discrimination, cultural liquidations; dispossession of land, tradition and customs and finally poor education, political and economic opportunities since independence 1956. These are the majore conducive factors that contributed towards the escalation of conflict in the Nuba Mountains that must be eradicated instateneously.

It is commendable of note that even the writers who take the restrictive view of self-determination, admit that under certain circumstances, usually involving grave breaches of human rights, coupled with the fulfillment of some conditions, there is a universal right of self-determination outside the process of decolonization. Such as, John Dugard who states that self-determination does not normally include a right to secede provides the following rigorous exception to the rule. According to him, where there is no agreement on the part of the component parts of a state to secession, the international community will not recognize the secession unless the following circumstances are present:

1.      The people of the seceding territory constitute a distinct people, having regard to their language, culture and historical experience;

2.      The people have a clear historical claim to the territory in question;

3.      The territory occupied by the secessionist group came under the control of the existing state by some unjustifiable historical event (as in the case of the Soviet Union’s annexation of the Baltic States);

4.      The will of the people of the territory has been expressed by means of a referendum or election and shows very clear support for secession;

5.      The human rights of the people have been seriously violated and they have been denied proper participation in the government of the State from which they wish to secede.”

Evidently, all these circumstances were undenaibly noticed in the Nuba Mountains, which will definitely quality the region to maintain its soveriengty as necessary. So the Nuba have the right to claim nationhood based on their cohesiveness, distinctiveness, discrimination and marginalization and the fact that they have been disinfranchided, denied equal rights as members of the Sudanese nation. The right to self-determination for Nuba people is an essential demands on their privileges. Secession is a weapon of last resort, in case the government is tenaciously persists in its intransigent refusal to grant the Nuba rights and respect their identity. 

In conclusion, it would appear that the Nuba Mountains state, has disregarded the territorial integrity of other nations. At the same time, Nuba Mountains has not been able to maintain full sovereign control over its own territory. A full assessment of the legal aspects of the right of self-determination for Nuba Mountains should first take into account all specific instruments regarding the cooperative illumination. This would include the treaty of Nuba Mountains Ceasefire Agreement signed  in 2001, upon which Nuba Mountains was fully protected by Joint Military Commission and upon this agreement the notion become a row-model of comprehensive Peace Agreement which become an instrument of South Sudan to achieve their own destiny.  

In addition, international instruments speaking on the right of self-determination should be applied to the situation in Nuba Mountains, such as the 1960 and 1970 UN General Assembly declarations. In light of these, the population of Nuba Mountains should be able to assert a successful claim to self-determination. Nuba Mountains forms a distinct geographic unit with a shared history that is unlike that of the rest of Sudan. Moreover, the population of Nuba Mountains does not receive or benefited from its rich natural resources. The production and profits of oil are controlled solely by outside corporations and the central oppressive regime.

Meanwhile the population of Nuba Mountains suffers from poverty, lack of infrastructure and educational deprivations, as well as environmental degradation due to enormous drilling operations both offshore and onshore. Nuba journalists reported the situation in Nuba Mountains have been harassed, intimidated, and exterminated. On the other hand, outside journalists are rare visitors, thus weakening another line of communication. With respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Sudan state, Nuba Mountains could argue several reasons for why the right of self-determination is highly demanded and should prevail over any countervailing considerations.

First, given the long civil war in Sudan with its near parity of power between the Sudanese tyrannical government and the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberations Army, Nuba Mountains could argue that successive Sudan government has never clearly established justice system that recognize equal rights and opportunity for all its citizens despites of their ethnic origins, religious beliefs, social and political status.

Second, even assuming Nuba Mountains status as a nation state, it has neither been able to maintain its own territorial integrity, nor has it much respected that by others, it deserves to the right of self-determination. Pulling out the historical status of Nuba Mountains known “closed district” and dividing it into sub-district by means of diminishing and liquidation of its inhabitants is main cause of losing the original boundries. Accordingly, it should not be able to assert territorial integrity as a defense to Sudanese Northern Alliance, but it should claim to self-determination by way of secession that will legitimately allow the state to be recognized.

As a possible solution to end the conflict in the Nuba Mountains, the international community might want to step in and conduct a plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations. Such referendum provided it can be accomplished in a relatively safe and reasonable manner, with minimum bloodshed, that would allow the people of Nuba Mountains to freely express their political fate. However, it may be questionable to raise some concerns by saying, even if Nuba Mountains obtains national independence from Sudan, how would it be able to regain control of its economic resources? Unquestionably, the international law allows a people to become independent from another nation state. But on what basis could Nuba Mountains free itself from economic oppression at the hands of powerful oil companies? At present, the global trend is towards privatization, not nationalization.

The multinational companies and all actors involved in Sudan’s destructive exploitation such as China, Malaysia etc.., including local militias (Arabs jihadists), will hopefully be forced some day to account for the gross injustices they perpetrated through atrocious acts that caused calamity and disaster in the region. In the meantime, the people of the Nuba Mountains are quietly exploited in the backwaters of our globe. In part, the situation goes unchecked because Nuba Mountains’ communication links with the rest of the world is weak and unstable. Nuba Mountains must become able to broadcast their story and their legend to the rest of the world, whether through local and foreign journalists or via the internet and even study abroad programs, by the Nuba people who expatriated in Diaspora. Only then will Nuba Mountains stand a chance at realizing its right of self-determination?

Therefore; I appeal to the United Nations and the internatinal community to acutely scrutinize upon the claim of Nuba people with considerable views and to assist the building-up of Nuba state and to receive the State of Nuba Mountains into the comity of nations.

I appeal in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for years and years perpetrated by the Arab inhabitants of the State of Nuba Mountains to preserve peace and participate in the up-building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

We will extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Nuba people settled in its own land. The state of Nuba Mountains we expected to be established shall prepare to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Sudan and in African continent. 


The Implementation of the Right to Self-Determination as a Contribution to Conflict Prevention. (Report)

The Question of Self-Determination: The Cases Of East Timor, Tibet And Western Sahara.  (Report)

Barry E. Carter & Phillip R. Trimble, International Law (2d ed. 1995)(law school textbook).

David B. Knight & Maureen Davies, Self-Determination (1987

Antonio Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples (1995).

Harold S. Johnson, Self-Determination within the Community of Nations (1967).

Self-Determination In Relation To Individual Human Rights, Democracy and the Protection of the Environment (report)

Self-Determination Conference Examines Implementation of Self-Determination by United Nations Mechanisms (article)

By, Yassir Al-Ghannama Kori 
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - USA
Doctoral Candidate , Nova Southeastern University
PhD in Conflict Analysis & Resolution
March 30, 2011 – 
[email protected]

Yassir A. Kori originally from Sudan (specifically) from Nuba Mountains region of Central Sudan who migrated to the United States as a refugee in 1995 because of the sever persecution due his political activities. Mr. Kori is community development and human rights activist with full dedication to serve humanity. Since he arrived to the States, he has engaged in various social and political activities. He is currently a member of SPLM chapter and members of the Board of Directors of several nonprofit grassroots and community based organizations (mainly for Sudanese and for Nuba Mountains in particular). For his educational background, he earned B.S in information Technology in 2003, from American Intercontinental University in Atlanta Georgia, and Master’s of Arts in International Law and Settlement of Disputes in 2005, from University of Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica, and Master’s of Arts in Public Administration in 2010, from Mid-America Christian University in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Currently he enrolled as Doctoral Candidate at Nova Southeastern University, Florida to pursue PhD in Conflict Analysis & Resolution.

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