Southern Sudan: Drawing Citizenship Boundaries

by Peter Spiro

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.

2 Responses

  1. “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 neither southern Sudanese, nor Americans, like yourself Mr. Spiro I suspect, who have loudly cheer-led and promoted the ‘southern cause’, have much of a leg to stand on in raising the issue of southerners being entitled to citizenship in a possible future north Sudan.

    Can, for example, an American citizen actively condone the attacks by Al Qaeda on US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan and, concurrently, claim social security benefits??


    Wouldn’t ordinary Americans scream “outrage” at any such individuals???


    So why should it be any different for southern Sudanese?? (especially as hardly any of them have commented, e.g. during interviews with international media, about the truly remarkable hospitality that they have received, and continue to receive, from ‘northern Sudanese’ after they fled to Khartoum and other parts of Sudan (some even steeling as far as Wadi Halfa near the Egyptian border) during the civil war(s) (Could you imagine, for example, German Jews fleeing to the heart of Berlin during WW II; Kosovans being welcomed in Beograd??? Exactly.)

    Mr. Spiro, you have also conveniently cited the examples of the Baltic States on the issue of citizenship for new states; but just look at the other examples of countries or proto-states being born around the world: e.g. East Timor and Indonesia (the Indonesian army pulled up all the roads, power cables and the like when East T voted for independence); and Israel’s pull out from the Gaza Strip (handed to the PA as a pile of twisted rubble).

    Were they given dual citizenship???

    Were citizens of Bangladesh and Eritrea given the choice of dual nationality in Pakistan and Ethiopia and entitlement to access public services???

    Hardly, in both cases.
    So, please don’t try to hoodwink us here in the north (let alone the NCP) that southern Sudanese are entitled to citizenship and access to public services in the north, post-referendum based on some spurious  ‘international norm’.
    Southern Sudanese residing in Khartoum and other  non-southern parts of Sudan have also hardly helped their case for getting citizenship in a future ‘North Sudan by NOT stepping up to the plate : they chose virtually en masse NOT to register for, and vote at, the referendum – only 116,000 out of an estimated southern population of more than 1.5 million  bothered to – thereby missing an IDEAL opportunity to demonstrate to their northern brethren where they have nailed their colours to the mast (by voting for unity); in other words, they willing forfeited their political rights in a future north Sudan.
    That’s the reality – and it’s worth reflecting on as the USA basks in the glow from afar of the ongoing referendum.

    Ibrahim Adam (a Darfuri, by the way)

    El Fasher

    North Darfur


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