Playing deadly games with the Abyei Referendum Commission
Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (Section 8.1) requires that the Abyei Referendum Commission conduct the Abyei referendum “simultaneously” with the South Sudan referendum. The Abyei Referendum Act was signed into law December 31, 2009 and established that:
Immediately following the coming into force of this Act, the Presidency of the Republic shall establish a Commission that shall be known as the Abyei Area Referendum Commission.
Eight months later, this commission still does not exist, and the parties are deadlocked primarily over the appointment of the commission’s chair.
This, understandably, is a major issue for the people of Abyei who watch the calendar countdown with anxiety, now only four months to D-Day in Abyei. On July 5, thousands of Abyei residents demonstrated, protesting the non-appointment of the Abyei Referendum Commission and the failure by the parties to demarcate Abyei’s borders on the ground, even though a tribunal in The Hague set the boundaries on paper a year earlier.
Criticism of the deadlock between the NCP and the SPLM has legitimately focused on Khartoum. For instance, Salah Gosh’s recent – and sudden – dismissal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision on the region’s boundaries may well be a tactical stall by the NCP to squeeze concessions out of the SPLM. (He later recanted, saying the Abyei question had been settled and the NCP was committed to the ruling.) If it is a tactic, it is a potentially deadly one.
The biggest issue the commission will have to confront is whether or not the Misseriya who have recently or are now moving into Abyei will be given a vote in the referendum. The pro-Khartoum view of the U.S. special envoy to Sudan on this issue could very well become a show-stopper, positioning the U.S. administration to be the ones who lost Sudan’s opportunity for peace. Beyond that threat, however, given the diminutive size of Abyei as compared to the whole South, and the organized nature of Abyei society (arising from their perpetually embattled situation), there is still time for this referendum to happen on time—if the commission is put in place soon.
Roger Winter has authored multiplereports on Sudan’s volatile region of Abyei for the Enough Project. Now, with only four months before the referendum on Abyei is scheduled to be held, he will provide an update on the latest developments on the ground in Abyei in a series of posts for Enough Said. His first posts are here and here.