Change tack to end the South Sudan atrocities

Tuesday March 6 2018

A South Sudanese woman carries some relief food at a camp in Panyijar, South Sudan on March 4, 2017.

A South Sudanese woman carries some relief food at a camp in Panyijar, South Sudan on March 4, 2017. Humanitarian groups say over five million South Sudanese in the country will have no food by April 2018. PHOTO | AFP 

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Where is South Sudan headed? It is now in the fifth year of a terrible civil war with over four million civilians displaced. Estimates by humanitarian groups are that, by April, over five million South Sudanese still in the country will have no food.

At the end of February, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released the one-year report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

The personal testimonies are painful to read as the atrocities being committed defy belief: From mutilations and murders to sadistic sexual violence by all armed groups.

Gang rape, including of men, has debased communities to a point where whole families, including children, either watch or participate in rape and murder. What the report describes is beyond barbarism.

Most of the Commission’s findings are not in the public domain, but the Commission says it has compiled dossiers to charge no less than 40 senior military and political figures with crimes against humanity. The list of 40 comprises no less than five full colonels, as well as three state governors, for direct complicity.

Further to the Commission’s report, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) revealed it was investigating sexual abuse by its own, and has even recalled a Ghanaian police unit from Wau, in response to which the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) had the audacity to demand that UNMISS’s mandate renewal remain suspended pending full investigations and prosecutions.

This should have been its response in respect of its own forces. No government that visits on its own people the kind of atrocities reported should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the GoSS is still being taken seriously.

The Commission has called on the African Union to get the hybrid court intended to try those with greatest responsibility up and running.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission has added its voice to those calling, albeit ineffectually, for sanctions against those continually violating the cessation of hostilities agreement(s).

It is hard not to believe that we do not take the dignity, lives and livelihoods of the South Sudanese seriously. It is hard to believe that some red line, some threshold of acceptable behaviour, even in civil war, was passed so long ago that the situation is essentially irretrievable.

Somehow nobody seems to find the moral and political outrage to say enough. Those negotiating with those who claim to control these forces are not demanding a stop to the atrocities. Where are the radical decisions beyond the liberal peace formula we are pursuing?

What if we withdrew all formal recognition of these so-called political leadership and freeze their personal assets stashed outside the country?

What would happen if we redeployed the financial and human resources to two tasks only: Escorting South Sudanese civilians out of the country into neighbouring states who would have to take them in and deny access to any country these so-called political leadership and confine them in their burnt-out shell of a country.

What we’re doing isn’t working. South Sudanese deserve better. We need to start making that crystal clear.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the Africa director of the Open Society Foundations. [email protected]