The Transitional Justice Review accepted my paper on the role of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the conflict over Sudan’s border region of Abyei. It will be a few months before it appears, but I am really pleased to have it passed!
The prosecution of individuals involved in ongoing conflicts by the International Criminal Court (ICC) has created controversy around the feasibility of employing judicial means to resolve politico-military conflicts. The indictment of Joseph Kony during an already fragile peace process in Uganda is thought by some to have further polarized the conflict, rather than help resolve it (Branch 2007, Apuuli 2006). Similarly, the arrest warrant against President Omar al Bashir of Sudan did not stop the violation of humanitarian law, but alienated the regime from the international community in a time when their cooperation in the peace process was crucial (Nouwen and Werner 2011). The question whether criminal prosecution of parties to an ongoing conflict has a conflict-mitigating or a conflict-exacerbating effect, has become known as the “peace vs. justice debate” (Akhavan 2009, Bassiouni 2007, Glasius 2009).
Scholars concerned with this academic debate have focused exclusively on the pursuit of criminal justice during conflict, which entails the prosecution of individuals for violations of international humanitarian law. The current paper aims to broaden the debate by exploring the conflict-implications of a different type of justice delivered by an international court: the involvement of the Permanent Court for Arbitration (PCA) in the resolution of the Abyei conflict in Sudan. This oil-rich region on the border between Sudan and South Sudan has been claimed by both countries. Despite both parties having reached agreement in 2005 on a political process to determine the future of the area, violent conflict erupted in May 2008. International involvement to contain the conflict led to the involvement of the PCA later that year. Despite the PCA’s ruling of June 2009, violence re-erupted in Abyei in 2011.
This paper analyzes the PCA ruling’s effect on the conflict dynamics in Abyei, discerning two conflict-layers: the macro-conflict between Sudan and South Sudan and the micro-conflict between different ethnic groups in AbyeiThe paper finds that certain problems typically associated with the ICC’s involvement in ongoing conflicts, may not be inherent to the ICC but more widely applicable to international institutions that are disconnected from local conflict contexts.