The factions fighting South Sudan’s civil war agreed to halt their attacks last month, the eighth such accord in four years. But as before, violence has continued in a war that has reduced 7 million people, 60 per cent of the population, to dependence on emergency aid. A vital need to advance the peace process is a truce that works. Fortunately, a few basic steps could strengthen its monitoring and enforcement.
South Sudan’s conflict is monitored by an international organization called the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM). This group, including military officers from 14 countries, deploys 16 “monitoring and verification teams” across South Sudan. It receives nearly half of its funding from the United States.
Since December 21, when South Sudan’s combatants agreed to their latest “cessation of hostilities agreement,” the monitors have documented two major violations, and are investigating at least five other incidents.
Of course, the primary responsibility for honoring the truce lies with the combatants, and ambiguities in the latest agreement make it more difficult to end the violence. But the ceasefire monitors need to up their game. With support from their international partners, here is how they can better deter violence:
- Better engage civil society and the public as a constituency for peace. South Sudan’s public is mostly unaware of the monitors’ work. The population is largely offline, so publicizing violation reports on the web is insufficient. The monitoring group could work more closely with South Sudan’s civil society to uncover violations, help determine who is responsible, and make recommendations. Such public outreach is relatively easy and inexpensive and could mobilize support for peace from below.
- Name the individuals responsible for truce violations. CTSAMM’s violation reports currently identify the faction responsible for violations—an essential first step. But identifying the officers with command responsibility for an incident is vital to accountability. A recent report, about an attack in the northern county of Koch, attributes responsibility to a “county commissioner,” yet neither names this official nor considers whether he acted on orders from above. Impunity results when field commanders know their superiors will escape responsibility for their orders.
- Recommendations in investigation reports should be practical and specific to the areas where violations have occurred. The report from Koch recommends that combatants “freeze in place,” but omits any physical description or mapping of who controls which parts of the county. It is left unclear where the ‘freeze’ should occur. The report urges “confidence building measures” to avoid further conflict, but suggests no suitable actions. Generic recommendations are ineffective; they must be specific and actionable.
- Impose more effective disciplinary measures on violators. U.S. and international sanctions against individuals responsible for earlier ceasefire violations have been at best symbolic. Foreign governments and institutions should advocate for more meaningful disciplinary measures to be applied within South Sudan. Where the international community focuses adequate attention—as in its response to the 2016 attack on aid workers at the Terrain Hotel in Juba—such measures are possible. A dozen soldiers implicated in that attack are now on trial. In addition to courts-martial, measures could include the rotation, suspension or dismissal from command of culpable officers; the rotation, re-deployment or disbanding of units implicated in offenses; the reduction in rank of offenders; or the restriction of offending units to non-combat duties.