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International law and the self-determination of South Sudan
23 February 2012

One of the cornerstones of African regional law and politics has been the principle of uti possidetis, by virtue of which African states decided in the 1964 Cairo Declaration that colonially drawn African borders were sacrosanct and non-negotiable.

To negotiate the tension between this principle and the internationally recognised right of all peoples to self-determination, the preferred approach of African states and the now defunct Organisation for African Unity has been to give precedence to the former over the latter.

The purpose of this paper is to address the fundamental questions that South Sudan’s quest for independence has raised about discourse on and the practice of self-determination vis-à-vis the principle of uti possidetis under general international law and, significantly, African regional law.

Drawing on emerging legal developments redefining the relationship between uti possidetis and self-determination, the paper shows how the case of South Sudan illustrates the emergence of a new human security-based approach for negotiating the tension between these principles and the opportunity this presents for a principled response to other claims for self-determination on the continent.  

About the author:

Dr Solomon A. Dersso is a Senior Researcher at the Addis Ababa Office of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) working on the production of the Peace and Security Council Report. An adjunct Professor of human rights law with the Institute for Human Rights and the Faculty of Law, Addis Ababa University, Solomon holds a PhD degree in international human rights and constitutional law from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

This publication was made possible by generous funding from Humanity United and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany. In addition, the Institute receives core funding from the governments of the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.