A peace plan for South Sudan that was intended to end three years of fighting in the world’s newest nation has failed largely because it “depends on the cooperation of the very antagonists who brought about the current civil war,” former U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Princeton Lyman told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee today. Lyman, a senior advisor at USIP, also said a proposal to add 4,000 United Nations troops to the existing contingent will succeed only if it has a separate, specific mandate to prevent attacks on civilians.
“The answer to the violence, the terrible violation of human rights, the tremendous humanitarian crisis among the population, is to recognize that the current leadership and its major opponents have already violated the principles of sovereignty and have forfeited the right to claim it as a basis for resisting more international intervention,” Lyman told the subcommittee on Africa, global health, global human rights and international organizations in written remarks submitted with his comments in a hearing on “The Growing Crisis in South Sudan.” He spoke on a panel that followed testimony by Donald Booth, the current U.S. special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.
Forces commanded by South Sudan President Salva Kiir have been fighting supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar since civil war erupted in December 2013, after Kiir ousted Machar as his vice president. The fighting, which quickly deteriorated into ethnic clashes between Kiir’s Dinka group and the Nuer aligned with Machar, broke out just two years after the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
Both sides have been accused of abuses, the AP noted, and most of those affected have been South Sudanese civilians. In one such incident in April, soldiers dressed in uniforms of the government forces invaded an area that was under U.N. protection to shelter 48,000 civilians in the city of Malakal. About 40 people were killed in that rampage, according to Al Jazeera.
On July 11, South Sudanese government soldiers rampaged through the Terrain residential compound in the capital Juba that is popular with foreigners working on humanitarian aid and development projects. The Associated Press called the assault “one of the worst targeted attacks on aid workers in South Sudan's three-year civil war.”
“They shot dead a local journalist while forcing the foreigners to watch, raped several foreign women, singled out Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions,” the AP reported, citing interviews with witnesses and survivors, including a woman who said she was raped by 15 men.
"We are deeply concerned that United Nations peacekeepers were apparently either incapable of or unwilling to respond to calls for help,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said in a statement, according to the AP.
Untold Thousands Killed
The conflict has killed untold thousands and forced 2.5 million people from their homes. And the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in January that 3.9 million people, almost one in every three, were “severely food insecure” as of September 2015. An estimated 30,000 faced “catastrophic” shortages of food that could lead to starvation, death and destitution.
“Livelihoods have been decimated by the conflict and economic decline, with livestock looted, killed and disease-prone and crops destroyed or planting delayed due to violence, displacement and unfavourable weather,” according to the report. “Nearly one in every three pregnant and lactating women is malnourished.”
The warring sides signed a peace deal a year ago under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a trading bloc of eight African nations. But most of the terms haven’t been implemented, and the cessation of hostilities has been violated repeatedly.
“It is understandable that IGAD would feel it necessary to bring about an agreement of the “guys with the guns,” the ones who were carrying out the conflict,” Lyman wrote. “But without a more intensive and authoritative international oversight of the peace process, the likelihood that these same antagonists would carry out a true political transformation was minimal.”
Lyman co-authored a commentary in the Financial Times recently that called for “an executive mandate for the U.N. and the AU to administer the country until institutions exist to manage politics nonviolently and break up the patronage networks underlying the conflict.”
“Since 2005, the U.S. alone has spent more than $11bn in humanitarian, peacekeeping and reconstruction assistance, with little to show for the investment and no end in sight,” he wrote with co-author Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in the U.S. Defense Department.
They called for steps including negotiating an exit for Kiir and Machar, winning the support of various armed groups and tribes for international administration, placing the country’s oil revenue in escrow under the new administration’s control and restructuring the U.N. peacekeeping force to strengthen its authority.
Divisions Block Solutions
But divisions within IGAD and the African Union, which has supported the U.N. peacekeeping mission, forestall agreement on stronger measures by the U.N. Security Council, Lyman testified today.
“Without a strong call from IGAD or the African Union for an arms embargo or further pressures on the leaders of South Sudan, the [U.N. Security Council] will divide,” he said. “Moreover, any arms embargo or other sanctions would have to be implemented by these same neighboring countries.”
The U.N. Security Council recently approved adding 4,000 troops to the existing peacekeeping force of more than 12,000, known as UNMISS. But Kiir’s government has resisted the offer. After a visit last weekend to Juba by a Security Council delegation co-led by Power, Kiir publicly endorsed the plan. But a joint statement said some details still needed to be worked out, and a government spokesman the next day outlined a long list of issues.
"There are very conflicting signals because there are some who, if they had a choice, would expel UNMISS tomorrow," Power told Reuters.
In any case, the 4,000-troop proposal is “only a partial answer,” Lyman said. He said the force should have separate authorization from the Security Council “with a more forceful mandate and understanding among the countries contributing troops.”
“But more of concern, any peacekeeping or peace enforcement mission should be part of a political strategy,” he said. “If the additional 4,000 troops are to be sent without any changes in the way the peace process is organized and enforced politically, there is little it will likely accomplish.”
USIP is hosting a discussion on Sept. 12 to explore ways the African Union specifically could wield its political influence more effectively to advance peace processes on the continent. Lyman will moderate the discussion, which features researchers Alex de Waal and Mulugeta Gebrehiwot of the World Peace Foundation outlining recommendations from their new report with case studies of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Somalia and South Sudan.
Viola Gienger is a senior editor and writer at USIP.