Falling Between the (Nationality) Cracks in the Sudan

by Peter Spiro

Here’s an interesting report just out from the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa on the citizenship deficit in the wake of South Sudan’s secession. The problem: several hundred thousand persons of South Sudanese descent resident in the north following the breakaway who now apparently have no status at all – ie, they’re stateless. This is the definitive paper on how nationality continues to dog resolution of the Sudan split. (The report’s author, OSI’s Bronwen Manby, has almost single-handedly engaged African states on citizenship issues, with some success – a striking example of norm entrepreneurship.)

The report frames a right to nationality in this context.  It’s a credible one, notwithstanding the trope that nationality remains a matter of sovereign discretion. Especially in the context of state succession, there’s a pretty good argument that individuals should be entitled to citizenship in their (new) state of habitual residence.  See this, for instance, from the International Law Commission – this was an issue that got a lot of play in the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Pushing the envelope a little further, the report suggests a limited right to maintain dual nationality. That’s not really plausibly asserted as a general right (though a normative case can be made). What makes it tenable here: Sudan allows its citizens to hold dual nationality with any state other than South Sudan.  That opens the door to an argument that the regime is discriminatory on the basis of national origin. Never mind that nationality regimes have long discriminated on the basis of national origin – anti-discrimination norms have got some traction in this context, and it will be interesting to see if the argument sticks here.



One Response

  1. Refugees International also has a good report with a similar set of recommendations on the topic. http://southsudanstories.tumblr.com/post/24864328589/refugees-international-promote-unbiased-right-to 

    It’s worth noting that nationality and citizenship questions remain on the agenda of the AU mediated Sudan-South Sudan talks that just re-started in Addis. While the laws that the OSI report highlight are certainly problematic, a real solution to the issue is probably best crafted within the context of bilateral negotiations.   

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