On July 22, 2009, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague delivered the final ruling on the boundary dispute over Abyei, an oil rich region claimed by both north and south Sudan.
Under the 2005 CPA, both the precise borders and final status of Abyei were left unresolved. The first step to resolving Abyei’s status was to establish borders for the contested region, a task delegated to an International Boundary Commission. The Government of Sudan rejected the decision, and tensions built on both sides, until May 2008, when full scale fighting in Abyei resulted in the displacement of 50,000 people and destroyed the town.
The border issue was then presented before judges at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, who ruled today that the Boundary Commission had exceeded its mandate in the determination of the Northern, Eastern, and Western borders of Abyei.
Today’s decision reduced the size of the contested area, ruling that several areas — including the Heglig oilfield — were not part of Abyei. Inhabitants of areas that are within the newly established borders have the right to vote on a referendum in 2011 on whether they want to be permanently a part of north or south Sudan.
Both Sudanese parties have agreed to abide by the Court’s decision, although peacekeepers heightened their presence in Abyei this week. In responding to the ruling, Dirdeiry Mohamed Ahmed, the head of the northern government delegation in The Hague, said, “We welcome the fact that oilfields are now excluded from the Abyei area, particularly the Heglig oil field.” Riak Machar, the south’s delegate and the head of the SPLM, said, “I think this is going to consolidate peace in Sudan. It is a victory for the Sudanese people and a victory for peace.”