South Sudan agreed Wednesday to respect a court decision that reduces its portion of oil-rich Abyei, the disputed region between North and South Sudan. The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague awarded the large Heglig oil field to the North.
Paul Williams, Executive Director, Public International Law and Policy Group, was co-counsel to the government of South Sudan at the arbitration proceedings.
The South got what it wanted from the judgment, said Williams, despite the fact that the North was awarded the rich oil fields of Abyei. His clients are pleased with the judgment, he said, because it represents a step forward in the peace process. Clashes in the disputed region last year displaced thousands of residents.
The Abyei area has substantial resources, said Williams, “and the decision of the tribunal effectively gave 80 percent what the government of southern Sudan was advocating for.”
“Some of the areas which they did not receive had oil, but many of the areas which are under the control of Abyei now do have oil as well," said Williams. "It is a situation where, oddly enough, there is enough oil to go round.”
“This arbitration was about the Abyei area and so this arbitration has a limited mandate of defining [the borders of the area], which it did consistent with the perception of the people of Abyei the north Dinka,” he said. “There are other areas that are still in dispute and are subject to a north south boundary commission, which is currently in a negotiation phase.”
The Abyei region boundaries were drawn under a 2005 peace deal that ended Sudan's 21-year north-south civil war. Under that agreement, most of the oil resources were located in South Sudan.
Also part of that agreement is an independence referendum to be held next year in which South Sudan will vote on whether to remain part of Sudan.