South Sudan Still Struggling Towards Peace

18 November 2021

Cape Town — In January 2011 the people of South Sudan voted in a referendum to secede from Sudan, putting behind them two civil wars which had consumed 39 of the 55 years of Sudanese independence. Six months later, they joyfully celebrated their independence.

Ten years on, the South Sudanese are still struggling to establish peace, deal with human rights abuses committed since independence, write an inclusive constitution, and focus on developing their country.

From the beginning they faced huge challenges. In a recent report, the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), noted that at independence in July 2011 the nation was grappling with at least 30 humanitarian emergencies. In addition, "Parts of the country were engulfed in increasingly fierce intercommunal clashes, and there was renewed conflict in border areas with Sudan."

Nevertheless, the citizens of the new nation had high hopes. In the words of the MSF report: "Despite the challenges, the first years in the post-independence period were a time of anticipation and optimism and, for most of the country, it was a period of relative peace."

That changed in December 2013, when after growing tensions within the government – including the dismissal by President Salva Kiir of Vice-President Riek Machar in July – fighting broke out, first in the capital, Juba, then spread to other states, setting off a new civil war, this time within South Sudan.

World leaders, including President Barack Obama, urged a ceasefire and negotiations to restore the peace. The United Nations Security Council stepped in, boosting the size of its peacekeeping mission, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Regional leaders, represented by the trade bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), launched a mediation, but it was not until August 2015 that they managed to broker a peace deal, the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS).

Riek Machar was again sworn in as vice-president in April 2016, but fighting broke out again in July. Months more of negotiation produced new power-sharing and ceasefire agreements in August 2018, amid concerns about its viability. But the following month, the parties formally signed the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in Addis Ababa. It remains the agreement which the international community and those South Sudanese actors who are committed to peace are trying to implement.

However, it took until December 2019 for Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to agree once again to form a transitional unity government, and until February 2020 for the parties to form the "Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity" and for Machar to be sworn in. In April 2021, analysts for the Institute of Security Studies reported little progress in bringing peace and stability. They said despite renewed political commitment to R-ARCSS, the UN Commission on Human Rights reported "staggering" levels of violence across the country.

The Médecins Sans Frontières report, published as the nation marked 10 years of independence in July 2021, said South Sudan's civil war "is estimated to have led to nearly 400,000 deaths, many the result of ethnically motivated targeting of civilians, including children and the elderly."

The report continued: "Sexual and gender-based violence has been used as a weapon of conflict, with systematic ethnically and politically motivated attacks. Some of the most extreme violence was conducted in places of refuge and sanctuary, including... state hospitals... where patients and people seeking shelter were killed in a series of brutal attacks.

" Millions of people have been displaced, often multiple times, inside and outside South Sudan. This includes hundreds of thousands of people who sought shelter in Protection of Civilians sites, inside the bases of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan."

In recent months, a surge in community violence has been reported and there has been turmoil around the position of First Vice-President Machar. But a new parliament – the Transitional National Legislative Assembly – has been inaugurated and a "national dialogue" has opened debate on the future to a wider range of voices.

The latest report of the peace monitors established under the 2018 agreement – the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission – warns that the country is running out of time to make the reforms needed to bring a permanent end to the conflict. But it reports "some progress has been made in the areas of governance, economics, transitional justice, and the constitution-making process."

References made in the interview with Margaret Lowilla, Programme Officer for South Sudan of the Women's International Peace Centre .

Women's representation in the peace process

Chapter 1 of the 2018 peace agreement provides for 35 percent women's representation in the executive. (Clause 1.4.4.)

Transitional justice institutions

Chapter 4 of the agreement calls for the establishment, of a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing and a Hybrid Court for South Sudan, with 35 percent of the membership comprised of women. (Clause 5.1.1.)

Constitution-making process

Chapter Six of the agreement provides for the establishment of "a Federal and democratic system of government that reflects the character of South Sudan in its various institutions taken together, guarantees good governance, constitutionalism, rule of law, human rights, gender equity and affirmative action." (6.2.2.)

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in South Sudan

The Women's International Peace Centre published a research report on 20 years of implementing in South Sudan the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. This was the first landmark Security Council resolution on women, peace and security. The resolution "addresses the impact of war on women and the importance of women's full and equal participation in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction. The resolution also calls for special measures to protect women and girls from conflict-related sexual violence and outlines gender-related responsibilities of the United Nations in different political and programmatic areas."

AllAfrica is grateful to the Carnegie Foundation for supporting our reporting on peacebuilding

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