South Sudan, a Year Later

(This week, South Sudan celebrates its first Independence Day. It’s been a tough year for the new country, and even more difficult times may be ahead. So I asked the resident expert Michael to shed some light on the situation for us.)

There are four major issues happening right now to keep in mind regarding South Sudan:

1. The Refugee Crisis

Many of the refugee camps along South Sudan’s borders are dealing with overcrowding from people fleeing the fighting within Sudan. It’s also rainy season in that region right now, which means there’s massive flooding. Latrines are overflowing at the camps and spreading diseases. At the Jamam camp the death rate of children is up to 9 per day.

2. Fighting in Sudan

Within the borders of Sudan, there’s fighting between the government forces and rebel groups who want independence for different South Sudanese states. The main rebel group – the SPLM – has been fighting for many years now. Those conflicts are one of the problems fueling the refugee crisis.

3. Peace Negotiations

The governments of South Sudan and Sudan are in the middle of peace negotiations to resolve their disputes without using force. After the border conflicts of the last few months, the UN Security Council forced both sides to settle their disputes peacefully by drafting an agreement that handles everything in an acceptable way for both sides.

If they don’t make an agreement by August 2, the UN Security Council is threatening them both with sanctions. Those sanctions give the governments a strong incentive to finish the negotiations.

They just broke from their meetings because of the Independence Day celebration in South Sudan; but everyone seems very hopeful about it: Sudan, South Sudan, and the UN negotiator overseeing the discussion. Both sides have already verbally agreed not to settle any further disputes using armed force but haven’t put anything down on paper yet. Still, they’ve made the same verbal pledges before – and of course those haven’t been successful.

4. Oil Transport

Oil is a major source of contention between Sudan and South Sudan. First, both sides claim land in the oil-producing Abyei region on the border. The other area of dispute, which has been around from the beginning of South Sudan’s independence, regards how much South Sudan should charge Sudan for piping oil through the North’s pipelines.

Right now South Sudan doesn’t have any other way of getting oil to a port except through Sudan. Though there are plans to build one through Kenya, it would take several years and cost more money than South Sudan has access to at this point. So they need the North for those pipelines.

But Sudan is claiming the South doesn’t pay them enough. The South has reacted by saying, “Fine, then we won’t produce any oil to send through your pipes.” They think that might force Sudan’s hand a bit because the North depends on the supply from the South: 70% or more of the oil in both countries is located in South Sudan.

However, Sudan just signed contracts with several major foreign oil companies to explore new sources of oil within their borders, including 5 of the 6 areas they had designated for oil exploration (the companies all refused to explore for oil in the Darfur region because of the ongoing conflict happening there).

It’s an interesting situation, because if these companies are able to find large sources of oil within Sudan, the North might not be so reliant on the South’s oil. In that case, South Sudan would be hurt a lot more by their refusal to produce oil than Sudan would be.

The current oil policy in South Sudan is devastating their economy and driving up inflation; but they’re hoping the North will eventually give in and agree to their terms for transporting the oil.

Future Potential

The future of South Sudan will depend in part on how well the government can restrain corruption, how much freedom of information they’ll allow, and how well they can promote development within their borders – which relates a lot to government accountability.

We’re all hoping they’ll come out of some of these difficulties they’ve experienced in the first year with more freedom and prosperity, and less suffering, as a result.

Michael Miller is a law student at American University’s Washington College of Law, a research associate at the Public International Law and Policy Group, and the Director of Development for the Environmental Integrity Project. He just returned from The Hague, where he studied international criminal law and terrorism. A Gillett-Mussey scholar and Dean’s Fellow, he’s finally catching up with the rest of us on Twitter, where you can follow him for updates on international & space law, human rights, and more.

(Photo credit)

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