Southern Sudan: Drawing Citizenship Boundaries

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.

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Ibrahim Adam
Ibrahim Adam

“In any case, Bashir’s statement is unhelpful in the lead-up to the referendum.” Why, Mr. Spiro?? Simply because President Al-Bashir dares to speak the truth??? Take note: southerners have no automatic entitlement to citizenship of ‘north’ Sudan or public services there if the south splits away; why should they have it both ways, a win-win if you like??? Mr. Spiro: the discourse of ‘chippiness’ has its limitations. Americans have fallen lock-stock-and-barrel into viewing the referendum as the culmination of another simple ‘Black African’ liberation tale(and with all the attendant tales of “marginalisation”, “2nd class citizens”, and “discrimination” supposedly suffered by southern Sudanese living in the north); so why, then, should you, Mr. Spiro, or any other American – or indeed a southern Sudanese – be  spooked so suddenly about the citizenship fate of southerners living in non-south parts of Sudan??? I mean, you either believe that above narrative (southerners for so long suffering under the yoke of northern Sudanese domination that they would be happy to get away – fast – from north Sudan), or you don’t, Mr. Spiro??? (In for a cent, in for a dollar and all of that). Which is it to be??? The truth is that… Read more »


[…] are expected to support succession. If the vote goes as predicted, the new southern government will have to negotiate with Khartoum on where to draw borders and how to handle citizens of the new southern government […]