The state of South Sudan is one which has been rocked with violent sectarian tensions since it’s creation. When President Salva Kiir accused his vice president Riek Machar of plotting to overthrow him, the nation was caught in the middle of a conflict which pitted government backed troops, fighting on behalf of President Kiir, against rebel troops who supported vice president Machar. In August 2015, under heavy pressure from the international community and major global powers, a peace agreement was signed following months of negotiations hosted by Ethiopia that called for a cease fire and reinstated vice President Machar.
Since gunfire resumed on Thursday night between troops loyal to President Kiir and to Vice President Machar, the violent situation has caused hundreds to take refuge in UN compounds, which are far from removed from the conflict. As fighting has moved closer and closer to United Nations territory, two peacekeepers and a member of United Nations staff have lost their lives, and tensions have escalated in the international community. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS, has seen two compounds caught in the crossfire, and the violence has caused thousands within the city to flee to protective locations. Due to the gravity of the situation, some missions in the region have taken action to protect their employees, with the United States ordering that all non emergency personnel evacuate its mission in the region.
Following news of the sudden deterioration of the situation, the Security Council held a closed doors emergency meeting on Sunday night to discuss solutions, releasing a press statement immediately after. In addition to condemning the violence, the Council stressed immediate action on behalf of Sudanese leaders, stating that it was imperative that “…President Kiir and First Vice President Machar do their utmost to control their respective forces, urgently end the fighting and prevent the spread of violence, and genuinely commit themselves to the full and immediate implementation of the peace agreement…” The council also reminded the international community that “attacks against civilians and UN premises and personnel may constitute war crimes.”
Following the Security Council’s press release, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke of the issue in an encounter with the press on Monday morning, in which he recommended that the Security Council take immediate action to address the solution, through a mixture of sanctions and additional aid. He listed three immediate steps for the Council to take, recommending that they “First, impose an immediate arms embargo on South Sudan. Second, enact additional targeted sanctions on leaders and commanders blocking the implementation of the Agreement. Third, fortify the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS. We desperately need attack helicopters and other material to fulfil our mandate to protect civilians.”
The renewed violence deals a severe blow to the efficacy of the peace agreement which was hailed as a great success by regional leaders and by the United Nations itself. The failure of President Kiir and Vice President Machar to implement this accord did not go unnoticed by the Secretary General, who stated this morning that “Yet again, the leaders of South Sudan have failed their people. Rarely has a country squandered so much promise, so quickly.” In an effort to heed the demands of the international community that action be taken, President Kiir released a declaration of cessation of hostilities this morning, in which he called for troops to control their forces, protect civilian life, and reduce the number of checkpoints in the city- an essential point, as there have been issues getting refugees to safety and delivering humanitarian aid since the violence broke out.
As the situation continues to unravel, this series of events sheds new light on worries voiced by President Kiir himself at the signing of the peace accord- a signing which he claimed he had been rushed into. Having stated at the ratification ceremony that a poor agreement could backfire on the nation, it would appear that this fear is coming to pass. It remains to be seen if this move backwards is due to a reluctance or inability of South Sudanese leaders to impose the international legislation which was agreed upon last summer- many believe that it is an unwillingness to enforce the peace agreement which has brought the region back to violence. Representatives from across the world are making their stances on the topic known, with French ambassador François Delattre stating that “What we see coming is the result of a lack of political will on the side of the parties…” [to fulfill the peace agreement.]
Whether it is reluctance or inability which stands in the way of South Sudanese leadership bringing an end to the conflict, the global community has made it a high priority to figure out what steps are necessary to ensure that the region is able to emerge from these most recent confrontations without entering into a second civil war. It is the goal of the entire international community to ensure that this does not happen, and La Voce reporters will continue to investigate the situation and report on it.