The warring factions in South Sudan and the country’s neighbors must leave no stone unturned in finding a political solution to the three-and-a-half-year civil war. That was the message of the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as he wrapped up his visit to South Sudan and neighboring Uganda.
Peter Maurer has visited conflict zones around the world, including Syria and Yemen. The International Committee of the Red Cross president paints a grim picture of what he has just seen in South Sudan, one in two people is severely hungry and dependent on food aid, while one in three people is displaced.
ICRC’s Maurer said returning to dialogue is the only solution.
“I have seen the alternative of it, and the alternative of it looks bleak," Maurer said. "That is a continuation of the conflict. It is people being afraid, people not having any trust, people fleeing before even the fighters are coming because they are scared to death that any fighter coming to a village comes with violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and so this is not an acceptable solution.”
Violence has intensified in South Sudan since July of last year after a power-sharing deal between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar collapsed.
International human rights bodies say warring factions have perpetrated gross human rights abuses against civilians, including gruesome killings, abductions of adolescent boys and girls, and rapes of women and young girls.
The ICRC says the number of wounded treated in ICRC-supported hospitals is significantly higher this year than last year, and health care workers continue to come under threat. The number of family members separated by conflict and reunited by the ICRC has already more than doubled this year compared with 2016, to nearly four dozen, including many children.
"People, when they see us, they also they want food, water, sanitation and health services, but they also first and foremost ask us where are our relatives?,” Maurer said.
Uganda welcomed its one millionth South Sudanese refugee this month. Nearly all of them arrived in the past year.
Maurer visited refugee settlements in northern Uganda and planned to meet Monday with Ugandan president, and regional heavyweight, Yoweri Museveni.
“President Museveni knows himself what to do, and if we come to the conclusion that there is no military solution to the problem, you better reinforce and redouble your efforts at the political side, and we have to have national, credible, inclusive national dialogue," Maurer said.
Museveni’s role in regional mediation efforts in the past has been controversial, with the SPLA/IO rebels accusing him of backing the government of Salva Kiir.
But the few precursors to potential peace talks that have taken place recently have been held in Uganda, and some groups in the conflict think Museveni could use his influence to mediate an end to the violence.