South Sudan troops ‘getting away with murder’

Saturday May 28 2016

From left, First Vice President of South Sudan

From left, First Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar, President Salva Kiir and Second Vice President James Wani Igga shake hands after the formation of the new Cabinet in Juba on April 29, 2016. AFP PHOTO | ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN 

By KEVIN J KELLEY

South Sudan’s nine-month-old peace agreement has failed to end fighting and atrocities in parts of the country, Human Rights Watch reported last week.

Two other international advocacy groups also cited inadequacies in the August 2015 agreement that have allowed violence to continue on local levels while enabling South Sudan’s elite to carry on plundering the country’s riches.

Government soldiers have shot elders, tortured young men and raped women in the western town of Wau, HRW said.

The reports are based on field research conducted last month.

With attention focused on formation of the coalition government in Juba, “government soldiers have been literally getting away with murder in the country’s western regions,” said Daniel Bekele, director of HRW’s Africa division.

South Sudan’s army “categorically denied the findings” of indiscriminate killings in a May 5 letter to HRW, the New York-based rights group noted.

Both the South Sudan embassy in Washington and the country’s United Nations mission in New York did not respond to The EastAfrican’s requests for comments on the HRW report and on allegations made last week by two other advocacy organisations.

The peace agreement between the government headed by President Salva Kiir and rebel forces loyal to First Vice President Riek Machar offers “an imperfect solution to other conflict fault lines,” the International Crisis Group said in a report on fighting concentrated in the Equatoria region’s western section.

Violence there intensified following the signing of the national peace deal, the Brussels-based group observed. More than 100,000 people have been displaced by conflicts in Equatoria that are driven by national governance issues and by localised grievances, the Crisis Group said.

Fighters who are part of Mr Machar’s armed opposition capitalised on these divisions in accordance with a “policy of support and incitement to rebellion,” the report stated. The ensuing combat “prompted retaliation from Juba that further escalated the situations,” the Crisis Group added.

The atrocities and civil warfare that have plagued South Sudan for much of the five years since independence are primarily the result of the government’s character as “a violent kleptocracy,” said a third report issued last week.

Billions of dollars being spent on humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and support for the peace deal will go to waste unless systemic theft of resources is addressed, said this report by the Enough Project, a group focused on halting conflicts in East and Central Africa.

“If there are no consequences for mass corruption and mass atrocities, then there should be no illusions that anything beyond cosmetic change is going to result from South Sudan’s current peace deal,” the Enough group said.

The most effective response would involve “a transnational search for dirty money and corrupt deals made by government officials, rebel leaders, arms traffickers, complicit bankers and mining and oil company representatives,” the report suggested.

It specifically called on the Obama administration to take punitive action against South Sudan’s top leaders.

“The US and its allies have continuously threatened consequences without imposing them,” Enough charged. “They have become paper tigers in South Sudan, roaring without biting.”

Mr Machar agreed in an interview last week that the US is falling far short of its capabilities and responsibilities in consolidating peace in South Sudan. The rebel leader told the Washington-based online journal Foreign Policy that he has had no contact with senior Obama administration officials since returning to Juba on April 26 in keeping with the terms of the peace agreement.

Mr Machar also dismissed as false, claims that his forces have been guilty of mass violations of human rights. He has not been aware of any abuses carried out by his forces in the past two years, Mr Machar told Foreign Policy.

He further insisted he has nothing to fear from international judicial institution. If summoned to appear before the International Criminal Court, Mr Machar said, he would comply.” “I’m not intimidated by the ICC,” he said.