Let’s Make a Deal

Will There Ever Be Peace In South Sudan?

It’s the eighth peace agreement in just over a year for the world’s newest country. What makes people think it will stick this time?

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Well after midnight on Feb. 1, South Sudan’s warring leaders agreed to cease hostilities and re-establish peace in their war-torn nation. This is not the first time they have made this promise. In fact, it’s the eighth such agreement in a little over a year. At the signing ceremony in the plush Sheraton hotel, as delegates exchanged jokes and handshakes, civil society advocates, cramped in the back, were left wondering if there was cause for celebration at all.

The two sides, the government of President Salva Kiir and the opposition lead by former Vice President Riek Machar, mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), have committed to come back to the negotiating table in three weeks, on Feb. 20. A final agreement is promised before March 5. But this latest deal has only a short list of areas of consensus, and a much longer list of points of contention. And while the process drags on for another month, the U.N. estimates that 6.4 million people—more than half of the country’s population—need humanitarian assistance in South Sudan.

Other than a commitment to let Machar resume his old position as vice president, it’s hard to see what makes this new agreement any different from the seven that came before. Joint monitoring teams have documented dozens of violations, demonstrating time and again that both sides don’t adhere to their promises. Most recently, monitors confirmed a January incident where government troops burned down a mosque in Nasir. Rebels were found to have attacked civilians in Jamam, a town that is home to tens of thousands of refugees from Sudan.

For months, South Sudan’s neighbors and the African Union (AU) have promised to sanction those responsible for these kinds of violations. They made a similar vow on Monday. But continuously threatening sanctions without action undermines the credibility of IGAD. Real consequences will require a regionally and globally enforced targeted sanctions regime that punishes those that undermine the peace process and commit atrocities. Such a regime is needed now, but could be lifted once a final settlement has been achieved.

In the wake of the latest deal, many also worry that the AU’s long anticipated Commission of Inquiry report may never see the light of day. Those that lost loved ones or risked everything to testify in front of the commission feel deeply betrayed by the lack of commitment the AU has shown to its own process.

After being put on hold for months, the AU Peace and Security Council finally met to consider the report and its findings last week. Instead of grappling with the report’s findings, the Council has decided to avoid the discussion of how accountability issues should affect the transition, allowing those responsible for such crimes to resume their positions in government.

The problem with this approach is that peace cannot come without justice and impunity will only lay the groundwork for the next crisis. This sentiment was echoed by the displaced people we spoke to in the dusty Juba protection site where tens of thousands still seek protection. They insisted that leaders on both sides be held accountable for corruption, human rights abuses, and war crimes. They responded with great clarity: let them go to the International Criminal Court.

After over a year of internecine war, it is clear that a lasting and durable peace will require much more than an elite power-sharing deal. In Upper Nile, Machar’s forces are showing signs of fragmentation. Small Arms Survey warns that personal and political tensions between former state governor Taban Deng Gai and rebel militia commander Peter Gadet have prevented the rebel force from formulating a coherent power structure in oil-rich Unity State. Now, a new rebel faction based in Western Equatoria State, aligned with neither Kiir’s government nor Machar’s rebels has announced itself. Just giving Machar his old post will not be enough.

The dividends of any agreement must benefit not only those at the negotiating table, but also those affected by war. Reparations should be included in any final settlement so that communities can begin to rebuild. In accordance with both customary law in South Sudan and international human rights law, victims of grave human rights abuses are owed reparative compensation. South Sudan’s parliament should pass a transitional justice law that enshrines a consultative and collective community based reparations program.

Most urgently, unless the planned transitional government commits to accountability and embarks on inclusive and transformative reform, factions and interests are likely to splinter, leading to further conflict. An elite deal that ignores these factors, like the 2006 Abuja agreement on Darfur, will leave South Sudan plagued by insurgencies for many years to come.

As IGAD attempts to impose yet another deadline on the warring parties, they must also consider the somber realities on the ground. Without targeted sanctions, the largest potential point of leverage for peace is being omitted from the equation and an even deadlier conflict is likely to unfold in 2015.