Warring parties in South Sudan have signed a new security accord which brings hope for peace and increased humanitarian aid. South Sudan became the world’s newest nation after voting to become independent from [North] Sudan in 2011. The civil war that broke out two years later has wreaked havoc on the nation since. The conflict has resulted in a major humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, which is now the world’s third largest producer of refugees. After a cease-fire was signed and then quickly violated last week, the people of South Sudan are counting on this new security agreement to help bring their suffering to an end.
The current civil war erupted following a conflict between the political leaders at the time, President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. The dispute split the nation along ethnic lines, as Kiir is a Dinka and Machar is part of the Nuer ethnic group. Over 50,000 people have been killed as a result of the conflict, and both sides are guilty of serious human rights abuses. Civilians have suffered violent attacks and sexual abuse, while government authorities have forcibly repressed opponents with violence and by policing the media. It has been estimated that 19,000 of the armed forces are made up of children. Machar, the leader of the rebels, fled South Sudan to safety. Others have also fled their homes as a result of the violence. The civil war has produced approximately two and a half million refugees flowing into neighboring countries, namely Uganda. Almost another two million remain in South Sudan as Internally Displaced Persons.
This crisis has called for an enormous humanitarian response. Over seven million are facing food shortages with over 100,000 at risk of famine. The resulting malnutrition combines with water-borne illnesses, especially cholera, to pose serious health risks. Humanitarian aid workers themselves are also at risk of violence. Workers have been abducted and over 100 killed during the war. In addition to the safety risks, aid workers face challenges with accessing affected populations. With the start of the rainy season in South Sudan, roads may become increasingly difficult to access in order to distribute aid. Giving out supplies via air drops is an expensive option, especially as the humanitarian response is still significantly underfunded.
The latest security agreement, signed Friday, offers a chance for the conflict to come to an end. The two sides signed the agreement after a round of peace talks hosted by Sudan’s defense ministry. Machar, the leader of the rebels, was present along with officials of the South Sudanese government. One of the aims of the security accord is the removal of military from urban spaces, including churches, schools, and villages. In addition, goals were set for South Sudan’s military to be united and decisions made regarding where these forces would be based. To ensure that these steps will be effectively carried out, a joint security committee is going to be set up who will oversee the progress. This agreement precedes another meeting set to take place Saturday, where leaders are expected to set out terms of a final arrangement for peace. Saturday’s meeting will be held in Uganda and the presidents of both Sudan and Uganda will be in attendance.
Many hope that this security agreement will have set the groundwork for meaningful progress at Saturday’s meeting. People expect that these final talks will yield a power-sharing agreement between Kiir’s government and Machar’s rebels that will satisfy both sides. In addition, the peace accord will result in increased humanitarian aid. With urban spaces being made safer, humanitarian actors will have better access to hard-to-reach populations and hopefully will have to worry less about their own safety. The reunification and organization of the military could also benefit humanitarian work, as military forces have played a beneficial role in past crises. With better coordination and government support, the people of South Sudan will have a better chance of receiving the aid they need to alleviate current suffering.
Time will be the test of whether this peace agreement will hold, after similar actions in the past have failed. Last Friday, a ceasefire went into effect after being agreed on by both warring sides. The ceasefire was meant to be permanent, yet was violated only hours later. The violation came in the form of an attack in South Sudan’s Wau County, resulting in the deaths of 18 civilians. A similar agreement was implemented in 2015, but also resulted in failure. Violence continued after the agreement was signed and even increased. The agreement’s key tenets were never fulfilled, necessitating the further action that is currently being taken.
The leaders of South Sudan must now take it upon themselves to uphold this critical security agreement. With so many lives lost and thousands more at stake, it is paramount that this agreement does not fail like those that came before it. The creation of the joint security is a valuable measure set out by the agreement. This committee will be key in ensuring that the changes agreed on are actually put into place. Its joint nature allows both the rebels and current government to cooperate in taking steps toward peace, as well as holding each other accountable to their promises. It will be important to have goals and timelines set, so that the demilitarization and organization of the military is regulated and effective. Once a majority of people are no longer facing the direct threat of violence, more attention can be turned towards the humanitarian effort. The security agreement is crucial to bringing about peace, but the struggle does not end with a ceasefire. The millions of people who are hungry, injured, ill, or without shelter still desperately need aid, and the recent peace accord is only the first step in addressing these needs.
Increased international action may be necessary to guarantee the fulfillment of this agreement. While there have been some international efforts, these steps have not been highly substantial or unified efforts. For example, the US placed sanctions on some South Sudanese government officials in September, but these sanctions were opposed by Russia and China. If multiple nations could agree on a course of action and regularize their behavior toward South Sudan, then their actions might be more effective. Possibly an international joint security committee could be established by the UN which would check the work of South Sudan’s own committee. If deadlines are not met or changes not made, then an agreement could be made that coordinated sanctions would be placed on South Sudan. These sanctions might be more effective than unilateral ones placed by the US, and later Canada.
Together, the actions of the international community and those inside South Sudan working towards peace should be able to bring an end to the conflict that has brutalized the nation. Cooperation between the two sides is in the interest of the South Sudanese people, as well as the people of neighboring countries. This violence must give way to peace, just as the hostilities must give way to aid for suffering populations. It is time for this civil war to come to an end, and it up to Kiir, Machar, and the rest of South Sudan to ensure that the new agreement ushers in a period of peace.