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John Prendergast Report South Sudan Field Dispatch : Peace Must Come Soon

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John Prendergast Report South Sudan Field Dispatch : Peace Must Come Soon

Post by Mazy on Fri Feb 21 2014, 01:59

South Sudan Field Dispatch : Peace Must Come Soon

Recent fighting in South Sudan -- marked by evident war crimes and crimes against humanity -- must be resolved through an inclusive peace process, according to an Enough Project field dispatch authored by Enough Co-Founder John Prendergast.

By John Prendergast | Feb 20, 2014

The Episcopal Church has been working in South Sudan for many decades, but in mid-January 2014, the church in Bor, Jonglei's state capital, may have experienced its darkest moment. Very near the church, a compound inhabited largely by pastors and other church workers became the site of a massacre. Just two weeks before our visit there, a mix of anti-government soldiers and irregular militia known as the White Army stormed into the compound, killing everyone who could not escape. Remaining church personnel told us six female pastors aged 50-70 were raped and killed, some in their bedrooms. Twenty-two people are now buried in a mass grave behind the church grounds.

The atrocities committed in Bor are just one example of brutality unfolding across the country at the hands of both national army and anti-government forces. Over the course of the past two months, our Satellite Sentinel Project has documented evidence of wide-scale and systemic destruction to large swaths of Unity, Upper Nile, Central Equatoria, and Jonglei states. Now an estimated 716,100 people are displaced within South Sudan. Another 156,800 people have fled to nearby countries.

The U.N. refugee agency has warned against their return home.
The U.N. has declared South Sudan a Level 3 humanitarian emergency, on par with Syria, the Central African Republic, and the Philippines. The cessation of hostilities agreement between the warring parties appears to have collapsed entirely.

While in Bor, we visited three other mass graves where hundreds of people have been buried, killed during the withdrawal from Bor of the anti-government forces. Every day, dozens of new corpses are discovered in abandoned homes. The body bags prepared by medical workers appear along the roads with relentless regularity. We rode down one road and returned a couple hours later to find a number of new body bags lying by the road. Because most of the town has been abandoned, there is no way to know how many dead are still to be counted.

Everyone we talked with says that the dead in Bor, a Dinka stronghold, were almost  uniformly ethnic Dinka. In other parts of the country, including Riek Machar’s  hometown of Leer, Nuer civilians continue to bear the brunt of tit-for-tat clashes between the combatant forces.

Traveling in Bor, the signs of looting are everywhere, as if the entire town was systematically looted by departing opposition forces. The Enough Project’s contacts across the country confirm similar patterns of looting by both government and anti-government forces throughout South Sudan. In Bor, as in other places, a significant transfer of assets and wealth has taken place, with possessions and cattle being carted away to opposition-controlled areas. The stolen cattle constitute the bulk of the savings of most families in the hardest-hit war-torn areas. The heightened polarization between South Sudan’s communities is eerily reminiscent of 1991, when then-splinter rebel faction leader Riek Machar’s forces launched a brutal attack on Bor and the surrounding region, killing thousands of Dinka civilians and stealing tens of thousands of cattle. The counter-attacks by Dinka communities and the main rebel faction were equally deadly. In the aftermath, I researched these and other massive human rights crimes for a book Human Rights Watch published in 1994 called Civilian Devastation: Abuses by All Parties in the War in Sudan. Those 1991 atrocity-filled attacks and counter-attacks sparked years of intra-rebel fighting within the south, in which mass atrocities were committed by both sides against civilian populations. Those years of fighting laid the foundation for today’s ethnic schisms to widen so quickly, especially since both sides have referenced the 1991 events as a touchstone for mobilizing their constituencies.

As one pastor in the U.N. displaced camp in Bor told us,  “Peace must come soon. If not, the divisions will become devastating to all of us.”

But atrocities elsewhere had preceded the ones committed in Bor. At the outset of the conflict in mid-December 2013, Dinka soldiers of the Presidential Guard conducted targeted killings in Nuer neighborhoods in Juba and Bentiu, going doorto- door in search of Nuer and executing hundreds. We visited the main U.N. compound in Juba, where over 27,000 internally displaced people—mainly Nuers—have sought sanctuary, and listened to harrowing stories of ethnic targeting.

Through our discussions with displaced persons in the U.N. compound, we learned that these communities are afraid to return to their homes in Juba and have asked to either be evacuated to a third country or return to their “places of origin.” We also traveled throughout the neighborhoods where fighting in Juba was heaviest, and we observed that the Nuer sections of town were completely looted and abandoned, with some houses or market stalls burned or otherwise destroyed.

Juba’s neighborhoods are now ghost towns. Still, soldiers we spoke with were adamant that no orders had been given to kill Nuer, and that these were the actions of individual Dinka soldiers. Nonetheless, the consistent and prolonged character of the attacks on Juba’s Nuer community suggests either a significant omission of responsible command and control, or tacit, if not explicit, endorsement of these actions. This perception is only underscored by the fact that the attacks were conducted by Dinka members of the Presidential Guard. These initial attacks provided fodder and fuel for revenge attacks by defecting Nuer soldiers under Riek Machar and their militia allies in a number of places, including Bor.

In Juba, we also attempted to access the building in the Gudele neighborhood where Human Rights Watch concluded that over 200 Nuer were massacred by Dinka soldiers when the war first erupted. In an editorial published by Sudan Tribune, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović cited survivor accounts of 200-400 people who were identified by their accents and traditional markings and brought to police station in Gudele where they came under fire. Government soldiers in the area refused to allow us access to the site, but independent observers have documented harrowing accounts by those who were trapped inside the police station.

Still, the capital city’s social cohesion did not completely fall apart. In fact, we visited a couple sites where government soldiers were dispatched to rescue Nuer who were trapped and feared for their lives. AidLeap collected over two dozen similar testimonials, attesting to Dinka who shielded Nuer in their own homes and many similar accounts. One older Nuer man was taken in and cared for as a family member by Dinka neighbors who had found him alone shortly after the onset of violence. Similarly, a community near Juba arranged community patrols bringing together Nuer and Dinka men tasked with providing collective security for local community members. Dozens of similar stories abound.

State of the Conflict
A decisive military victory by either side is unlikely in South Sudan. Despite the January 23, 2014 cessation of hostilities agreement, both sides continue to launch offensive operations, nullifying the cessation of hostilities document. Since the
agreement was signed, reliable sources confirm attacks on Mathiang, Leer, Gadiang, Malakal and parts of Lakes and Warrap state. Meanwhile, negotiations in Addis Ababa have stalled.

The Greater Upper Nile region (Unity, Jonglei, and Upper Nile states), comprising all of South Sudan’s significant oilfields, has become the main battleground for the conflict. With each passing week, the conflict has taken on an increasingly ethnic
character, especially due to the mass mobilization of Nuer militias, the bulk of which are known as the White Army, a large percentage of which are child soldiers. The stories of Dinka soldiers from the government army targeting Nuer in Juba in the
early stages of the conflict and the continuing concentration of displaced Nuer in U.N. compounds in Bor and Juba fuels fear and recruitment.

Reciprocally, accounts from Bor have spurred recruitment among the Dinka community. Riek Machar allegedly continues to mobilize in northern Jonglei and elsewhere even after the cessation of hostilities agreement, approaching local chiefs to identify and arm new militia recruits. Meanwhile, the government has launched its own recruitment drive throughout South Sudan, for which there appears to be no age limit. In Eastern Equatoria, mostly former child soldiers were among the 7,000
new recruits. Analysts following the conflict closely note that towns have been given enlistment targets, often as high as 1,500 troops per village. At the same time,

President Kiir has publicly admitted to recruiting a “reserve” force of his own, from areas considered his traditional stronghold including Western Bahr el Ghazal,

Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Warrap state.15 Independent observers confirm this
pattern of recruitment.

The opposition has significant combat and combat support capabilities as a result of early defections from the army. Illustratively, a South Sudanese parliamentarian recently suggested that at least 70 percent of the national army had defected to join Machar’s forces.16 The armed opposition’s combat supplies are an unknown variable, dependent in part on the degree to which neighboring countries might be providing such supplies and the degree to which the opposition is able to bring supplies across the border from Ethiopia without detection by or interference from the central government in Addis. During the North-South war, the rainy season, which begins in April, provided an operational advantage to anti-government forces’ militia elements, as they do not travel with heavy armor and can move more nimbly and with greater cover in the tall grasses.

A great deal of fighting around Malakal and Lakes state has occurred since the cessation of hostilities agreement. As talks in Addis stalled, the armed opposition launched a fierce attack on Malakal on February 16 and 17, as documented by our
Satellite Sentinel Project.17 Recently, government officials have claimed a rebel attack on Warrap state’s Tonj East and Tonj North counties.18 This fighting has yet to be independently confirmed.

If his military and negotiating prospects diminish, Machar’s last resort will likely be to launch more focused attacks on Upper Nile’s oilfields, where 90 percent of the government’s revenue comes from currently. Reports on social media indicate that
the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining has already evacuated all non-essential staff from the Paloch fields near Malakal. That is a dangerous trump card, one that could derail South Sudan’s economic prospects for years to come. Ethnic Relations

The origins of the conflict primarily derive from political disputes within the ruling party, but mobilizing by politicians on the basis of ethnicity has morphed the conflict. Increasingly, fighting is taking on ethnic-based undertones, which sustains
the widespread perception of an inter-communal threat, which in turn enables greater recruitment and further mobilization.

The ambitions of politicians and commanders benefit while communities suffer.

As one Nuer IDP camp leader in Juba told us, “The situation has become much more complicated because of the killings in Juba by the soldiers.” The camp residents in Juba and Bor are afraid to move back to their home areas due to the threat of ethnic targeting. Many professed a preference to be resettled in Ethiopia or the Greater Upper Nile area. “We came here to this camp to save our lives,” said one IDP Nuer leader. “But we are just prisoners here in this camp. We see this government as a Dinka government, not a national government.”

One Dinka resident in Bor told us, “The trust between communities has been severely damaged. It will take fifty years to address.” A senior government official from the front lines said, “Ethnic polarization is worse today than it was at the
height of the intra-south conflict in 1991.” Social cohesion and peace messaging emphasizing the political rather than ethnic nature of the conflict remain essential. With each passing day, polarized attitudes grow increasingly calcified.
Regionalization of the War

Throughout the Horn, East, and Central Africa, large-scale violence crosses borders for economic and strategic reasons. South Sudan is not immune to this. During the 1983-2005 North-South war, most of the neighboring states were at one time or another implicated in the conflict. Fears are increasing of a re-regionalization of the  conflict that is unfolding in South Sudan. On the government side, the Ugandan military has played a decisive role in supporting the defense of Juba, the protection of the oilfields, and the recapture of key towns in Greater Upper Nile, sustaining heavy casualties in the process. In Juba, one senior official acknowledged, “It was a very close call. We were almost defeated in Juba in those first days of fighting.” The relationship between Presidents Kiir and Museveni, the long negative history the latter has with Riek Machar, and the significant economic relations between the two countries proved instrumental in Uganda’s quick response to the Juba government’s plight. In particular, “The Ugandan attack helicopters are game-changers,” said one regional observer.
However, Uganda’s continuing highly visible presence in South Sudan is creating increased tension inside the country, providing the opposition with a rationale for not investing fully in the peace process, undermining IGAD’s impartiality, and
aggravating key neighboring states, particularly Sudan, which could be pulled more directly into the conflict as a result of Uganda’s large-scale presence. One regional expert commented, “Early on, Uganda issued a public threat to defeat Riek, and acted on it by deploying forces and fighting battles on behalf of government forces. This represents a serious regionalization of the conflict that risks derailing the IGAD mediation efforts. Uganda is kicking the door open for large-scale regionalization of the South Sudan conflict.”

On the anti-government side, concerns are growing that Eritrea, perhaps with tacit support from Khartoum, may allegedly be providing some resupply to the rebels in northern Bor and Akobo. Eritrea’s primary interest in this scenario would be an
opportunity to undermine the Ethiopian government on its southwestern frontier. If these allegations are true, said one regional expert, “This would be the kiss of death for Riek Machar,” due to the effect it would have on Ethiopia’s position. To
complicate matters further, Riek Machar’s allies are alleged to be recruiting and mobilizing Nuer in the Gambela region of Ethiopia as well.

Peace Process
Well over half of the countries in the world that emerge from conflict return to war within a few years.19 South Sudan has had its explosion, and now it has a second chance to reboot. The chances for a sustainable peace in South Sudan increase
proportionately with the degree to which the overall peace process is inclusive of political parties, civil society groups, and regional interests. This necessitates a broader peace strategy than has ever been constructed in the Horn or East Africa,
and certainly in the Sudans. For too long, deals lacking any transparency or accountability, cut between the men with the biggest guns, have been the norm.

National dialogue, SPLM reform, elections, constitution making, and governance will all presumably be discussed in the peace process, but everything is put at risk if these efforts aren’t inclusive.

To date, neither the constitutional review process nor the SPLM’s internal deliberations have been inclusive enough. In fact, most analysts agree that this closing of political space was instrumental in raising tensions with no release valve.
The cost-benefit on inclusivity is extreme: the only complication arising from wider participation is a more time-consuming debate over the issues, whereas the benefits include vesting primary stakeholders throughout society into the process and
resulting deal, adding more diverse views and ideas into the mix, and undercutting one of the opposition’s stated grievances— the lack of broad consultation in decision-making.

The IGAD mediators have already invited two representatives of various civil society categories— women, youth, religious leaders, and others— to join the discussions in Addis. However, it is still unclear if those invited will be given a seat
at the table. Civil society groups, including Citizens for Peace and Justice and the South Sudan Women Leaders for Peace (SSWLP), have unequivocally demanded this opportunity and publicly called for a seat at the table.20

Throughout the history of the SPLM/A, Salva Kiir played the role of the unifier, the reconciler, bringing together warring factions within the south and making deals that helped bury multiple hatchets. That legacy has been put at risk by events over the last year, during which the government shrank democratic space and removed senior politicians from the ruling party and government. Freedom of speech and expression were restricted, newspapers were confiscated, and reporters were routinely threatened.21 The opportunity certainly presents itself for President Kiir to rebuild that legacy of reconciliation in the way he approaches the peace process, the constitution, and national dialogue. Still, in the aftermath of so much violence, a commitment to accountability should trump a blanket amnesty and reintegration policy. Through grand gestures and inclusive initiatives, President Kiir can reset the post-independence clock and create opportunities to address governance shortcomings and conflict drivers in a transparent, inclusive manner.

Some top officials seem wary of more widely inclusive processes. For example, one senior person in the government told us, “We agree in principle with a national dialogue, but we need to look at the details.” The government is, however, already
meeting with a wide variety of groups about the way forward, from opposition parties to civil society A major obstacle in the consummation of a deal will surely be t he status of Riek Machar. A number of senior officials in the GRSS indicated that they did not see a role for him. “There is no hope of Riek coming back to the party,” said one top official. “He has planted seeds of hatred through his attacks.”

It is important to differentiate between serious governance problems, which have caused a significant deterioration in the public’s confidence in the government since independence in 2011, and the reasons why the dispute turned to civil war.22
The governance issues need to be addressed through inclusive and transparent national dialogue and constitution-making processes. But the question of the use of full-scale armed rebellion, the formation of a resistance movement, mobilization
along ethnic lines, mass recruitment of child soldiers, ethnic-based massacres, and rejection of the legitimacy of the government and advocacy for its dissolution are issues of a different magnitude. Does one process deal with all of this? Probably not. There will need to be broader accountability and reconciliation efforts that are much more meaningful than anything ever constructed before for the Sudans

It would be much better if they could become a third element in the talks, along with other political parties and civil society groups, thus widening the scope of the discussion. A third force could potentially neutralize the heightened tensions
between the combatant groups. As violations of the cessation of hostilities remain rampant, especially in the Greater Upper Nile region, many are losing faith in the combatant forces’ commitment to a peaceful solution. Furthermore, the continued
detention of four senior political officials in Juba, and the house arrest of a fifth, remains a stumbling block towards the forward movement of the Addis talks. Given all the terrible losses suffered by both Nuer and Dinka communities, a
compensation commission should be established to begin to try to account for the magnitude of the losses and examine what is possible in terms of providing compensation to the families and communities that have been hit so hard. Under
both international law and domestic traditional custom, South Sudan’s citizens are entitled to reparations for the crimes they have suffered.23  Security Sector Reform

In the interest of peace, the South Sudan government has made a series of deals with militias formerly supported by the government of Sudan in Khartoum’s attempts to divide the south. While stabilizing the situation in the short-term, these poison pills dramatically inflated the numbers of the army with largely untrained militia, gave ranks to militia commanders that created resentment in the regular army, and created a deeply divided army in which soldiers remained more loyal to their local commander than to the country’s leadership.24

As one senior military figure told us, “The army remained for the illiterate.” This proved demonstrably divisive when the conflict erupted and so many units or partial units flipped to the opposition almost immediately. A general told us, “The
large numbers of integrated militia with lots of officers emboldened people to defect and rebel.”

As one international observer said, “The South Sudan government was not ready to move forward with SSR last year. The donors were prepared to assist, but Juba wasn’t politically ready for reform. It was mostly due to corruption and the difficulty of changing the status quo.”

It will be very hard for Nuer and Dinka to coexist in the army if and when there is a major reintegration of Nuer forces into the armed forces following a possible peace deal. That will be a distinct challenge that will require deft leadership.

In the past, some of the reintegrated commanders retained command of their troops, and these were some of the first units to defect. In a future deal, it will probably be necessary to splinter reintegrated soldiers into small groups and deploy
them throughout South Sudan.

A credible Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration program must also accompany SSR. Alternative livelihoods and educational opportunities will have to be offered to the demobilized and the militia such as the White Army, or the cycle of
recruiting and mobilization will continue with every real or perceived grievance.

Securing the leadership of one African country in SSR such as Angola or Rwanda would be best. Hand in hand with SSR would have to go a reform of the financial management systems to ensure proper payments, transparent contracting,
elimination of ghost soldiers, and other similar measures.

Accountability and Military Justice
A senior army officer acknowledged that “many soldiers took the law into their own hands” in those first few days of the conflict. He said the army has arrested over 20 soldiers suspected of targeted killings, but this number is not confirmed and was contradicted by other officials, one of whom said the number was over 40. 25 A third

official thought it was in the 60s. When speaking to the BBC, Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial claimed that over 100 had been arrested. Other suspects are apparently being held by the Ministry of the Interior. However, another top official
asserted, “The army can’t investigate itself.” In fact, South Sudanese law requires that cases of this nature be transferred to civilian courts.26 Unfortunately, South Sudan’s formal legal system remains embryonic.

More recently, the president has established a Human Rights Committee of judges to investigate the human rights violations and atrocities committed in Juba during December 15-17, what offenses may have been committed by government soldiers, and what legal process they would face.27 The committee is headed by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court. President Kiir told us that he is open to external support and partnering with the committee to enhance its effectiveness and transparency. It is possible that there may be a transfer an the cases into the presidential investigative committee.

Already, senior military officers have approached top government officials to urge them to not proceed with any courts martial, saying that it will be destabilizing within the army. This will be something to watch closely: whether any real effort is
sustained to see justice through and whether doing so poses a threat to those pursuing accountability. Additionally, immediate support is required for those conducting human rights documentation efforts and exhumations.

“Our capacity is insufficient to investigate atrocities,” said one senior official. Another acknowledged, “We need long-term capacity building for the military justice system.” Most military justice cases apparently are sent back to the army to collect more evidence, where they often sit and are inconclusive In Jonglei in 2013, the U.N.’s military justice program’s records  reflect that there were only 115 courts martial against soldiers, of which 39 cases were related to human rights abuses, which according to the SPLA spokesman, 31 were for murder and 8 for rape. In most cases of alleged abuses against civilians, what happens to those dossiers and the accused is unknown. This reinforces the perception of impunity for the South Sudan military, and it is why the work of this presidential committee is doubly important.

Accountability should be a central part of the peace and reconciliation processes. It can show that the government is serious about bringing justice for any crimes its soldiers commit, and demonstrates resolve to do things differently in the future. This would also hopefully provide a deterrent to soldiers or officers who would commit atrocities to further their objectives. A most promising acceleration of judicial capacity could come in the form of a mixed chamber or hybrid court, where South Sudanese capacities would be supplemented by international personnel and support. This should be considered on an urgent basis, given the unexpected demand on the justice sector due to the perpetration of widespread atrocities.


Ultimately, it will be important for the U.S. and broader international community to be prepared to deploy incentives and pressures in support of the negotiations. Creating real penalties for those undermining peace prospects and support for those who demonstrate serious resolve would be an important assist to the mediators and follow-on internal processes like the constitutional review. The U.S. should be working with a number of other countries to begin to develop these instruments of leverage. This includes high-level engagement with China to see what is possible for the U.S. and China to do jointly.

Targeted sanctions are one instrument to create some accountability for the commission of war crimes and undermining of peace efforts. The African Union has already put targeted sanctions on the table, and the U.S. should do so as well.
Neighboring countries involved or potentially involved in the conflict also need tobe subject to international pressure. Currently, Eritrea is covered by sanctions for its support for armed elements inside Somalia. A credible investigation should be
initiated to determine whether Eritrea is providing resupply support to South Sudanese rebels as has been alleged. If so, those sanctions should be expanded from Somalia to South Sudan.

In order to move talks forward in Addis Ababa, one of the sticking points will be the degree to which Ugandan forces remain visibly deployed in South Sudan. Given the presence of the Ugandan attack helicopters, most Ugandan soldiers could redeploy from South Sudan and simply leave an under-the-radar rapid reaction unit to respond to any escalation. The U.S. relationship with President Museveni could influence Uganda to redeploy its forces, which in turn would deliver a positive atmospheric improvement for the peace talks. This issue is increasingly threatening both the forward movement in the Addis Ababa talks and the possibility of further regionalization of the conflict, so the U.S. should bring to bear its influence to ensure a rapid redeployment of Uganda’s forces.

As many have observed, South Sudan can’t just go back to the December 14 status quo ante. There must be a fundamental shift in enhancing transparency and inclusivity, as well as the provision of democratic space. The peace talks in Addis
Ababa, an inclusive national dialogue process, political party reform, opening space for dissent, a reinvigorated constitutional review process, military justice initiatives, security sector reform, and national reconciliation efforts are all areas where the government has a second chance to get it right. At the very least, the long-suffering people of South Sudan deserve that commitment.

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Last edited by Mazy on Fri Feb 21 2014, 02:51; edited 1 time in total

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Re: John Prendergast Report South Sudan Field Dispatch : Peace Must Come Soon

Post by silly girl on Fri Feb 21 2014, 02:04

This is so sad...I have no words to how horrible this is...

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Re: John Prendergast Report South Sudan Field Dispatch : Peace Must Come Soon

Post by Joanna on Fri Feb 21 2014, 08:49

It certainly is sad, horrendous and almost unbelievable
that in 2014 all that is going on, while we live in peace & prosperity.

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Re: John Prendergast Report South Sudan Field Dispatch : Peace Must Come Soon

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