Refocusing international engagement as well as the peace negotiations is essential to stop South Sudan’s raging civil war from claiming ever more lives.
South Sudan’s four-month civil war has displaced more than a million and killed over 10,000; an escalating humanitarian crisis threatens many more. In its latest report, South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name, the International Crisis Group looks at the longstanding political and military grievances behind spiralling violence and examines the steps necessary for peace and reconciliation. Communal conflicts cannot be separated from political disputes, and resolving both requires sustained commitment from South Sudanese and international actors.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
The dispute within the governing Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) that led to the conflict was primarily political, but ethnic targeting and communal mobilisation quickly led to appalling levels of brutality against civilians. As peace talks between the government and the SPLM/A in Opposition stalled, both sides sought gains on the battlefield to strengthen their position in negotiations.
Peace talks and reconciliation efforts must expand considerably beyond deals between political elites to include other militarised actors as well as community-based organisations, religious groups, women’s associations and others.
To address the rapidly growing humanitarian crisis, armed actors must permit unconditional humanitarian access to civilians in areas they control. Aid providers must prepare to scale up humanitarian service delivery to prevent an avoidable famine.
Plans by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to deploy a Protection and Deterrent Force raise the prospect of even greater regional involvement. IGAD should only do so with a clear mandate that supports a political resolution of the conflict.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is called upon to be an impartial actor in conflict-affected areas and to carry out state-support tasks in others. This dual mandate creates confusion and should urgently be amended to focus on the protection of civilians, human-rights reporting, support for IGAD’s mediation and logistical help to the African Union Commission of Inquiry.
“Many communities are aligning themselves with military factions, giving the conflict a dangerous ethno-military nature”, says Casie Copeland, Consulting South Sudan Analyst. “To prevent further catastrophe, South Sudan’s leaders and its international partners need to consider a radical restructuring of the state. New constituencies have to be admitted to a national dialogue, including armed groups previously not included, civil society actors and disaffected communities”. “The conflict that broke out on 15 December 2013 was decades in the making. Resolving it requires not a quick fix but sustained domestic and international commitment”, says Comfort Ero, Africa Program Director. “The democratic space that was closed after independence in July 2011 must be reopened to enable peace and reconciliation processes to take hold”.