By J Nastranis
NEW YORK (IDN) – South Sudan, caught in brutal civil conflict for years, has engaged the United Nations three times since the South Sudan government and opposition groups signed a Revitalized Peace Agreement on September 13.
The country gained its independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011, after two civil wars – in 1955, four months before Sudan achieved independence and in the wake of President of Sudan Gaafar Nimeiry in 1983 declaring all Sudan an Islamic state under Shari’a law, including the non-Islamic majority southern region.
Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, hosted the signing ceremony of the Revitalized Peace Agreement after the 33rd Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) where South Sudan was on top of the agenda.
The leader of the opposition armed forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), Riek Machar, who has been in exile since civil war erupted in 2013 came face-to-face with his chief military and political opponent, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir to make a fresh joint commitment to peace for the sake of their people.
Together on the stage of a conference hall in Addis Ababa, they penned their signatures on a freshly-inked, revitalized peace agreement to end five years of devastating conflict.
“The emotional moment was witnessed by those who have suffered most, like Mary Akech Bior, who shed tears as she watched the political enemies finally commit to end the war,” says an observer.
“I can hardly even express myself,” said Bior choking up with emotion as tears slid down her face, writes Francesca Mold, Officer in Charge Communications and Public Information Section of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Bior added: “If you go to the grassroots level, you will see how much people are suffering. The people in the refugee camps who are scattered all over the world are women with children running away for their own lives. And I can say, today should be the last day of the suffering of the people of South Sudan that at last they can gain peace.”
The agreement comes after 15 months of patient negotiations in the wake of a series of failed peace deals, including a similar one between the two political rivals in 2015. Under the new agreement, SPLM-IO’s Machar will return to South Sudan and be reinstated as Vice-President under a power-sharing arrangement.
According to the Revitalized Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (RARCSS), a Pre-Transitional period of eight months shall come in to force within two weeks of signing the Revitalized agreement. During the Pre-Transitional period, the parties are expected to commit to their people and the international community that they will not return to war.
The Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) is expected to last for three years at the end of which an election shall be held.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who is also the chairperson of an eight-country bloc IGAD – comprising governments from the Horn of Africa, Nile Valley and the African Great Lakes – told South Sudan parties before the signing: “This agreement is not self-executing. You must show commitment and not allow a single drop of blood to flow during its implementation.”
Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir; Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, are the co-guarantors of the agreement.
The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General to South Sudan, David Shearer said signing of the revitalized Peace Agreement is but one step on the road to peace, “it is one that lays the foundations for all that follows.”
Shearer described the agreement as the latest hope to end a bitter conflict plaguing South Sudan – the world’s youngest nation – for much of its short existence. Over 50,000 people have been killed and millions displaced from their homes in almost five years of bloody fighting.
Rebuilding trust and overcoming suspicion will be key to ensure the success of the landmark deal. According to Shearer, the greatest challenges are yet to come during the implementation phase.
“The key ingredient still lacking is trust. The personalities signing the agreement have in the past been former friends and foes. From my discussions with all parties, suspicion is widespread… These people have got animosities that go back two decades, three decades even.”
Resolving those differences is vital for a better future of the country, he said, underscoring that it is “beholden on all of us here today to help encourage trust between parties.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres also highlighted the challenges ahead and called on the international community to “remain seized” of the situation in South Sudan throughout the implementation of the peace agreement.
In a statement from his spokesperson, Guterres said that the UN stands ready, in close coordination with the IGAD and the African Union (AU), to assist the parties in implementing the agreement.
The regional leadership was crucial in bringing the parties together, highlighted Shearer, noting the role the UN and the international community will be expected to play in assisting with genuine reconciliation and peacebuilding activities. “However, we need to be persuaded by the demonstration of collective political will of the parties to implement an agreed and realistic implementation plan,” he stressed.
UN peacekeeper is shot and injured
Just two days after signing the new peace agreement, when a UN peacekeeper was shot and wounded by a government soldier on September 15, Shearer from New Zealand said “this situation is evidence of a lack of command and control of armed forces which has resulted in unruly elements who continue to commit human rights abuses in the area. It is beholden on the Government to bring their forces under control.”
Shearer, who heads UNMISS, said in a statement that the UN peacekeeper from Nepal who was part of a convoy was travelling near the town of Yei, in Central Equatoria.
A government SPLA solider had begun shooting in the air near the UNMISS convoy of four vehicles, including two water tankers.
“The soldier then shot directly at one of the vehicles, hitting the Nepalese peacekeeper in the leg, and ran off into a crowd. The troops were unable to return fire as they did not want to risk injuring civilians,” said UNMISS. “The peacekeeper was evacuated to the UN base before being airlifted to Juba [the capital city of South Sudan], for further medical treatment.”
Shearer said that “this direct attack on UN peacekeepers here to help the people of South Sudan, is unacceptable. The perpetrator must be found and held accountable by Government authorities.”
This attack followed reports of fresh clashes between government and opposition forces in the area surrounding Kajo-Keji in Central Equatoria. The Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) has meanwhile confirmed that it is investigating alleged violations of the ceasefire agreement in the Yei area.
Prior to the wounding of the peacekeeper, Government soldiers had fired approximately 50 shots, about 500 meters from the UN base in Yei.
“All forces must disengage as required by the peace agreement and end the violence. The parties must also work together to build trust between themselves and with the people of South Sudan who are suffering immensely from the ongoing conflict,” Shearer added.
‘Brutal sexual violence in South Sudan
In the midst of fragile peace, the UN Human Rights Council has on September 17 focussed on the plight of South Sudan’s women and girls, citing the disturbing testimonies of sexual abuse victims who have been treated by soldiers and militias as the “spoils” of the more than five-year conflict. This “should no longer be ignored”, UN investigators said.
“Women in South Sudan have been treated by government soldiers and armed actors to the conflict, including local militias, as spoils of the conflict,” said Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
In addition to highlighting testimonies of killings and sexual violence in South Sudan, the UN panel also found food shortages at crisis levels. According to its findings, six million people face “desperate” food insecurity – a 20 per cent increase from last year, Sooka said.
“Given the acute levels of food insecurity in the country, one would imagine that the Government of South Sudan would do its utmost to facilitate unimpeded access to UNMISS and the humanitarian organizations,” she explained.
“Instead, there is constant bureaucratic stalling of access and more alarmingly, targeted attacks against humanitarian convoys which makes it almost impossible to deliver emergency relief,” she added.
In a call for the Government to tackle impunity, the UN Commission chair welcomed a recent ruling by a national military tribunal in the high-profile Terrain Case, in which 10 soldiers received sentences for their part in the murder, rape, sexual harassment, theft and armed robbery of aid workers, some of them foreign nationals.
“Under pressure by the international community, the Government of South Sudan was able to muster the political will to combat impunity,” Sooka said, before noting that “only the foot soldiers were prosecuted, while those with command responsibility have gone unpunished”.
It should be remembered, she continued, that UN forces documented the gang rape of more than 217 South Sudanese women by Government forces in 2016 and none of the perpetrators has been held accountable or received any compensation for their ordeal.
It is a matter of regret, the UN Commission chair continued, that President Salva Kiir has yet to sign fast-track the establishment of a special court to address impunity in South Sudan, as it had recommended in March 2018.
“The failure to punish the perpetrators of serious crimes in South Sudan has led to many to believing that they can continue to commit these crimes with total impunity,” she said.
Established by the Human Rights Council in March 2016 according to resolution 31/20, the UN Commission has a broad mandate to investigate wrongdoing in South Sudan, and seek to clarify who is carrying out alleged gross rights violations.
Since 2013, South Sudan’s civil war has led to the displacement of more than 1.7 million people inside South Sudan and created 2.5 million refugees – including more than 65,000 unaccompanied minors.
In response to the Commission’s findings, South Sudan insisted that the security situation in the country had improved and would continue to do so, following the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 September 2018]
Photo: The leader of the opposition armed forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), Riek Machar, shaking hands with his chief military and political opponent, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir to make a fresh joint commitment to peace for the sake of their people. Credit: UNMISS
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