Two weeks ago today, the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal in The Hague handed down its ruling on the contested boundaries of Abyei, the oil-rich region at the crossroads of Sudan’s North and South. The much-anticipated decision was the subject of a flurry of diplomatic activity in the run-up to the ruling; President Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration and the head of the United Nations Mission in Sudan Ashraf Qazi traveled to the town of Abyei, and numerous governments—from China to France— issued statements supporting the ruling and calling for its immediate implemention.
Two weeks later, Abyei is out of the news. Of course, the challenges that will affect the future of peace and development in the region—and between Sudan’s North and South—are far from over. That is why sustained attention from the international community—namely leadership from the U.S.—is essential to support the northern and southern governments in making their commitments to Abyei real in the lives of this region’s peoples. This “attention” should come in the form of assistance to the Abyei Administration and the Joint Survey Team, the bodies charged with disseminating information about the ruling to the region’s people and with officially demarcating the new boundaries of the region as decided by the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal. At a diplomatic level, “attention” should come in terms of engagement with the Government of Southern Sudan and the United Nations Mission in Sudan to improve security in Abyei over the next year and a half before the South’s self-determination referendum and the Abyei region’s separate referendum on whether to join the North or the South.
Abyei is ground zero for CPA implementation, because it is a place where specific development and diplomatic efforts can make an impact in improving the lives of ordinary Sudanese people and mitigating the risk that this contentious region will unravel the North-South peace altogether. The bottom line is that no one can afford to forget about Abyei.