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Ken Turchi
IU Maurer School of Law

Last modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011

South Sudan vote underscores value of self-determination: IU legal expert

Jan. 26, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This month's referendum on South Sudan's independence brings renewed attention to the importance of self-determination in ensuring global peace, according to an expert at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

"Not long ago, Sudan's president, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, sent armies to crush the South's bid for freedom," said Associate Professor of Law Timothy William Waters. "Al-Bashir's acknowledgement just before voting began that 'We cannot deny the desire and the choice of the people of the South' shows the real source of instability is not secession but violent resistance by existing governments."

Timothy Waters

Al-Bashir's change of heart came on the heels of decades of terrible struggles pitting the Arab, Muslim-dominated government against Christian and animist southerners. The deaths of millions and enslavement of thousands have been well documented. "The will of South Sudan's people for independence has long been clear. What has made the difference between war and peace is Khartoum acquiescence," said Waters.

Waters added that the idea of self-determination isn't new. "During the First World War," he wrote in EJIL: Talk!, the European Journal of International Law's blog, "Woodrow Wilson advanced the radical notion that people define their political community, not the other way around." This approach, Waters wrote, deserves renewed attention now that a global norm of democracy is in place. It is not without its risks, but is a step in the right direction.

"We have stumbled onto that truth in Sudan, after 40 years and Niles of blood. We should not have to learn it all over again, in every war, in every generation," he concluded.

A national expert on the inter-state system, ethnic conflict, and transnational justice, Waters is available to comment on South Sudan's quest for self-determination. He can be reached at 812-856-2478, or at