Southern Sudan: Drawing Citizenship Boundaries
If as expected Southern Sudan votes to secede in this weekend’s referendum, territorial boundaries should be drawn neatly enough. Boundaries of human community may be more difficult.
At issue is the status of southerners resident in the north and vice versa. The risk is that these individuals won’t end up with citizenship in their place of residence, making them vulnerable to discrimination. One Sudanese official, for instance, remarked that southerners present in the north would be barred from medical treatment (“not even a needle”) in the event of secession. Human Rights Watch is on to this; see also this WaPo story.
Once upon a time, successor states had complete discretion to grant or deny nationality at will. Today, they pretty clearly have to facilitate the acquisition of citizenship for habitual residents. The 1999 Draft Articles on Nationality in Relation to the Succession of States works from the baseline that “persons concerned having their habitual residence in the territory affected by the succession of States are presumed to acquire the nationality of the successor State on the date of such succession.” The Baltic states were taken to task (especially by the Council of Europe and OSCE) for obstructing the naturalization of ethnic Russian residents after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The question is often framed in terms of preventing statelessness, but really it’s really more about rights (including political rights) where it counts — namely, where you live.
Expect more controversy if the question is not resolved quickly to this effect.
UPDATE: Sudan President Bahir’s views are reported here. He rules out dual citizenship for Southerners living in the North. That’s probably consistent with international norms, although I think one can make out a case for a right to maintain or acquire dual citizenship on autonomy/identity and political rights grounds. Not clear from the report if he’s also saying that southerners in the north can’t opt for citizenship in the northern state (that is, their state of residence). That would be a less sustainable position, unless the new southern government agreed to such a regime. In any case, Bashir’s statement is unhelpful in the lead-up to the referendum.