The State Department issued a welcome announcement this afternoon regarding an important legal decision expected next week on the boundary of Abyei—an oil-rich and contested region in Sudan that sits along the disputed border between North and South:
The United States calls on both parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – the National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – immediately to prepare for the implementation of the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration panel in The Hague, expected on or about July 22. Measures include a readiness to implement fully the Court’s decision, to disseminate widely accurate information about the decision, and to take the necessary steps to eliminate opportunities for violence in the region, as were seen in May 2008.
The Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army must avoid confrontation and allow the United Nations Mission in the Sudan freedom of movement throughout the area. While the members of the international community will be on hand in Abyei to witness the announcement of the panel’s decision and to assist as appropriate with its implementation, it will ultimately be the responsibility of the two parties to ensure lasting peace, stability and security in Abyei, as well as continued implementation of the CPA.
This announcement gets it right: Both parties should be prepared to immediately begin implementing the decision of the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal. This must begin with ensuring security in the area and continue with educating local populations about the ruling and preventing the spread of misinformation that has caused problems in Abyei in the past. Furthermore, the parties (along with the international community) should seize the opportunity to use the Abyei ruling as a chance to break an enduring political impasse and move forward with resolve to consolidate peace and promote development in Abyei. If they do, CPA implementation could progress with a much greater chance of success.
Although it is true that the ultimate responsibility for implementing the Abyei ruling and the outstanding provisions of the CPA lies with the NCP and the SPLM, the United States – which played a critical role in negotiating the CPA’s Abyei Protocol – also has a responsibility to ensure that the ruling is respected and that the residents of Abyei and the affected surrounding areas are protected from violence. As State’s release notes, members of the international community, including U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Maj. General Scott Gration and Ashraf Qazi, the head of UNMIS, will travel to Abyei for the announcement of the Abyei Tribunal’s ruling. The high-level presence on the ground should remain on the ground until real commitments and activities toward implementation of the Abyei Protocol are under way.
Stay tuned for more on Abyei in the coming weeks, including a new strategy paper next week in advance of the ruling.