This op-ed originally appeared on Global Post.
Ahead of last week’s negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan on a commercial oil agreement, allegations came to light that the government of Sudan is again up to its old thieving tricks.
Last Tuesday, the government of South Sudan released documents, among them correspondence between an oil company and the government of South Sudan, confirming Sudan’s theft by force of southern oil at Port Sudan.
The allegations, if true, would mean that Khartoum has, in recent days, stolen in upwards of $350 million in oil from one of the world’s least developed nations. Khartoum contends that the oil was taken to compensate it for fees it claims the South owes for use of the pipelines and port that takes South Sudan’s oil through Sudan to international markets.
In response, South Sudan warned that it will shut off oil production entirely, unless Khartoum compensates Juba for damages incurred. Reports now indicate that Juba is going forward with the shutdown. The impasse threatens to not only undermine this latest round of negotiations, but also the fragile peace that has existed between Sudan and South Sudan since the latter’s independence in July of last year.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir's Khartoum government is a regime desperate for leverage with which to negotiate with South Sudan and the international community, but lacking little if any bargaining chips. It has become adept at stealing—at times, quite literally—to gain an upper hand.
Dismayingly, the international community has, for the past several months, if not years, allowed this to occur and, what’s more, has taken seriously the stolen incentives that Sudan brings to the negotiating table in the aftermath of a crisis created by Khartoum.
Time and again, the international community pleads with South Sudan to act with restraint in the face of Khartoum’s persistent hostility, while neglecting to condemn publicly Khartoum for its illegal and antagonistic actions.
Take, for instance, Sudan’s May 2011 occupation of Abyei and subsequent ethnic cleansing of the Ngok Dinka people living throughout the area. While the international community, in press statements, mildly condemned Khartoum’s actions, its response on a diplomatic level was marked by complacency with Sudan’s violations of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, and international law. Instead of demanding Khartoum’s compliance with the peace agreement and focusing attention on exploring options for a permanent resolution to Abyei’s final status, the international community, including the U.S. government, acquiesced to the negotiation of an entirely new agreement for the Abyei area.
South Sudan, lacking leverage of its own and under pressure from the international community to peacefully accept Khartoum’s hostile act, had little recourse but to reach a new temporary agreement for the Abyei area. Under the new agreement, Sudan arguably holds more power and authority over the governance and security apparatuses operating within the Abyei area than it did under the CPA.
Given this track record, it is easy to see why Khartoum would steal the South’s oil. It’s a ploy to steal even greater leverage with the international community, one which has proven successful in the past.
For the people of Sudan and South Sudan, alike, to achieve peace and stability, the cycle of theft and complacency that has characterized Khartoum’s relations with the international community must come to an end.
The international community must no longer allow Khartoum to violate agreements, the rights of its own people, and domestic and international laws in a bid for leverage. Complacency with these actions and engagement with Khartoum in their aftermath simply emboldens the Sudanese regime to flout further agreements and laws and to perpetrate further violence against the Sudanese people.
Today, the Sudanese regime is stealing oil; tomorrow, it could be invading South Sudan under the pretext of occupying southern oil fields and ensuring the “economic stability” of the region.
The stakes are higher now than ever before.
With a shutdown of southern oil production looming, the international community has a choice to make. It can perpetuate this sad cycle by failing to use public and private statements and diplomatic pressure to demand Khartoum’s compliance with domestic and international laws, and instead, admonish South Sudan to comply with Khartoum’s demands in a misguided bid to avoid further escalation.
Or it could break the cycle by condemning Khartoum for its latest patently abhorrent actions and reveal those actions for what they truly are: illegal attempts on the part of a desperate regime to manufacture leverage against South Sudan and the international community in a bid to stay relevant both at home and abroad.
Photo: Oil platforms in South Sudan (AP)