Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)

20 August 2014

South Sudan: Report on AU Peace and Security Council - Continued Frustration Over 'Senseless Killing' in South Sudan

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On 21 August 2014, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) will consider the situation in South Sudan. With no progress achieved since its last session on South Sudan on 12 June 2014, at this session the PSC will be updated on the current situation in the country and the challenges facing the peace process in the run-up to its planned mission to South Sudan at the end of August - the first such mission by the PSC this year.

During its 12 June session, the PSC expressed its deep concern over the failure of 'both the government and the SPLM/A in Opposition [SPLM/A-IO] to meaningfully move forward the peace process and bring an end to the senseless killing of innocent civilians'. The PSC also strongly condemned 'the continued and flagrant violations of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement [CHA]' and 'the widespread atrocities and abuses committed by all sides against innocent civilians'. Demanding that the parties end the fighting and show the required political will to advance the political process, the PSC expressed its readiness to 'take targeted sanctions and other measures against any party that continues to undermine the search for a solution to the conflict and fails to honour its commitments'.

Condemning the SPLM/A-IO's attack on Nasir town on 20 July as a violation of the CHA in a 21 July press release, African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma called on the South Sudanese parties, in particular the SPLM/A-IO, to comply fully with all the agreements they had signed. The statement also stressed the urgency of finding a lasting solution to the conflict and reconvening the political talks to facilitate the early establishment of the transitional government, as envisaged in the 9 May and 10 June agreements.

Escalation of violence

The 20 July fighting in Nasir was the first major confrontation since June and resulted in further internal displacement and the flight of refugees to neighbouring Ethiopia. On 15 August fighting broke out again around the town of Bentiu, the capital of the northern oil state of Unity, as well as in the Ayod region of Jonglei state. As with previous instances, the two sides accused each other of initiating hostilities and violating the CHA.

Rebel spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang claimed that the attack was the start of the long-awaited government offensive, while army spokesperson Joseph Marier Samuel said government troops acted in self-defence after the rebels had launched a dawn attack in Ayod. Fighting was reported to have continued for several hours in Bentiu around the key airport zone outside the town, close to a United Nations (UN) base that shelters more than 40 000 people fleeing the conflict. The city, now under government control, has changed hands several times since the civil war broke out in December 2013.

The parties to the conflict continue to hold to their divergent positions and seem unwilling to end the conflict through negotiation.

The ceasefire breach and the subsequent accusations and counter-accusations have become a common cycle. Both parties also continue to make media statements rejecting accommodation, which fuel further hostilities. The humanitarian situation has reached an alarming stage with the UN warning of a serious famine affecting millions in the country. With little progress having been made in the mediation process, the volatile conditions are set to continue, leading to further deterioration of the dire humanitarian situation.

A peace process facing collapse?

The conflicting parties had signed a deal on 9 May 2014 committing themselves to the establishment of a transitional unity government, among others, and reaffirmed the deal at a meeting on 10 June, yet they remain far away from ending the violence and achieving a negotiated settlement. As they failed to honour previous commitments, they also failed to meet the 60-day deadline for the formation of the transitional government.

In an apparent demonstration of both sides' preference for a military solution, reports say that they continue to mobilise weapons and fighters. According to a Human Rights Watch report released on 7 August, South Sudan has bought large quantities of weapons since the conflict began, including from China. The fighting that erupted in Nassir and Bentiu offers further evidence of their unrealistic hopes of winning the war through military means. The recent flare-up of fighting also shows the parties' continued disregard for international humanitarian law and human rights.

The mediation efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which had been postponed indefinitely after 23 June following objections from the SPLM/A-IO on the participation and representivity of civil society in the talks, resumed on 4 August. However, the following day representatives of the SPLM/A-IO failed to attend the talks, bringing them to the brink of total collapse. Although the peace talks continued with the participation of the SPLM/A-IO in the following days, they still face a number of challenges including objections from government on procedures.

Neither the South Sudanese government nor the SPLM/A-IO is committed to the peace process. While the government delegation declined to travel to Addis Ababa for the talks at the end of July - on the pretext of bank closures during the Eid celebrations - thereby forcing the postponement of the resumption of the talks, the SPLM/A-IO continued to express its reservations over the participation of civil society representatives, political parties and former detainees. In an interview with Voice of America on 17 August, rebel leader Riek Machar argued that 'direct talks between us and the government will yield quicker results and will ensure the peace agreement arrives faster than having others on the roundtable'. On 19 August, the mediation process once again stumbled when government delegation failed to attend the talks demanding that the matrix of the cessation of hostilities agreement be signed first and that the rules of procedure for the talks be amended only by the two warring parties to allow direct negotiations.

The apparent determination of both the government and the rebels to see the other short-changed in terms of representation in the transitional unity government, along with their objection to participation of other stakeholders in the process, present major challenges to the latest round of negotiations. In mid-July, President Salva Kiir accused the SPLM/A-IO leader of high-level corruption and of fanning ethnic tensions in the country. In an interview he gave on 17 August, Machar responded by saying that 'President Kiir has lost all credibility to lead a transitional government of national unity', accusing him of 'being liable for the killing of civilians at the genesis of the country's crisis'.

There is a real possibility that this round of talks would also collapse.

The two parties' lack of confidence in the mediation team is another challenge facing the peace process. In the Voice of America interview, Machar blamed the talks' lack of progress and the failure to meet the 10 August deadline on the mediators.

The regional dimension of the conflict constitutes a further challenge to the mediation process, as it is an excuse for the parties to frustrate the peace talks. The continued presence of Ugandan troops deployed in support of the government remains a major stumbling block.

While a solution to the political instability and security crisis still seems far away, the UN is warning of an imminent famine in South Sudan.

Millions of people in the country have been displaced and agricultural production is now almost at a standstill. The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the famine could arrive as early as December. It says 1.5 million people have been displaced and around 4 million face alarming food insecurity as a result of the eight months of fighting.

The attack on humanitarian workers and impediments by both the government and rebels to humanitarian access are further compounding the dire humanitarian situation.

Geo-political dynamics

Regional actors frustrated

Although IGAD remains committed to the peace process, there has been growing frustration on the part of an increasing number of member states at the lack of progress and political leadership among the South Sudanese parties. In an attempt to put pressure on the parties, the mediation team has been issuing statements blaming the government for the delay in the resumption of the latest round of talks and the SPLM/A-IO for failing to show up for the talks on 5 August. Following the eruption of fighting in Bentiu, IGAD mediators, in a statement issued on 15 August, expressed their strong condemnation of the continued flagrant violations of the CHA. There is also serious discussion on the imposition of sanctions and other measures. Although it was postponed at the request of mediators, there was a plan to hold an IGAD Heads of State Summit in Addis Ababa on 17 August 2014 to decide on the specific measures to be taken against South Sudan's rival factions.

Within the AU framework, the AU Commission of Inquiry completed its third fact-finding mission to South Sudan on 14 August 2014. During this phase, the Commission undertook visits to all 10 states of South Sudan.

In a related development, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) undertook an advocacy mission on the situation of children in South Sudan from 3-9 August 2014.

UN considers sanctions

In a presidential statement issued on 8 August 2014 expressing grave alarm at and concern over the political, security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan, the UN Security Council (UNSC) condemned the repeated violations of the ceasefire, and the violations of humanitarian law and human rights, emphasising the need for accountability. The statement also expressed the preparedness of the UNSC to consider all appropriate measures, including sanctions, against spoilers of the peace process.

On 12 August, members of the UNSC visited South Sudan. In their assessment of the conflict, the possibility of a meaningful deal in the near future looked bleak. They expressed concern over the prevailing situation in South Sudan and the slow pace of the peace process, and stressed that the UNSC would impose sanctions against anyone who undermined the ongoing peace talks.

US expresses outrage

Members of the Troika on South Sudan, including Norway, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), issued statements urging IGAD to take action against the warring parties in South Sudan. The European Union (EU) announced that it would impose targeted sanctions against individuals obstructing the South Sudanese peace process. The EU said that it was determined to do 'everything possible to avert [the] further suffering of the people of South Sudan'.

In a strongly worded statement dated 13 August 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that it was an outrage and an insult to the people of South Sudan that the leaders of the parties to the conflict were letting their citizens down again and again. He also condemned the failure to meet the deadline for a peaceful settlement. Kerry said that it was unacceptable that innocent people were dying while deadlines kept passing and accused the parties of not engaging seriously in the peace talks. The US announced $180 million of emergency food aid to South Sudan.

Major issues for the PSC

A priority for the PSC is to ensure that the parties honour their commitments under the CHA, that they stop further fighting, and that a mechanism for enforcing these commitments is put in place.

Another serious concern is to find ways of bolstering the IGAD mediation process and ensuring that the parties in the on-going round of talks reach an agreement establishing the proposed transitional government.

A further issue is deploying an effective response to the humanitarian emergency in South Sudan. This includes mobilising member states of the AU and facilitating the implementation of the parties' commitments on humanitarian access.

Options for the PSC

The options available to the PSC include:

  • Condemning the continued violation of the CHA, including the recent fighting in Bentiu, and warning the parties that further violations will have serious consequences
  • Calling on member states and the international community to mobilise the required humanitarian support to avert the threat of famine facing South Sudanese and demanding the government and the rebels to provide unhindered humanitarian access in accordance with the agreement they signed on 9 May 2014
  • Requesting the AUC to prepare the measures necessary to make the parties honour the CHA and engage in the peace process with firm commitment and resolve
  • Urging the AUC chairperson to pursue, in coordination with IGAD, the launching of high-level shuttle diplomacy to intensify diplomatic pressure on the parties and add momentum to the IGAD mediation process

The PSC Report is made possible through the support of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Humanity United Foundation and the Hanns Seidel Stiftung. The ISS is also grateful for the support of the following members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA.

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