Genocide looms in South Sudan, does anyone care?

Tuesday December 06 2016

What does it say about us that a warning of genocide has been given and yet we have no response?

Adama Dieng, the Senegalese United Nations Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, has spoken with urgency of the degenerating situation in South Sudan. His findings were reiterated this past week by Christine Chanet, the South African chair of the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding committee. She warned of intensified violence with the advent of the dry season.

Their calls — largely unheeded — have been for individualised and targeted sanctions, an arms embargo and the hybrid court. Sanctions and the arms embargo are blocked by differing interests at both the UN Security Council and the African Union levels.

The AU is moving on technical preparations for the hybrid court — but how it can possibly function, let alone achieve compliance, in the prevailing situation is hard to understand.

Their calls have also been for urgent reinforcement of the UN Mission in South Sudan by at least 4,000 new troops. Here too there is no seriousness.

The AU’s authorisation of an intervention force mid-this year only recently achieved the consent of the belligerents, notably in the transitional government. The removal of the (then new) Kenyan commander for failure to protect civilians, including relief workers in a Protection of Civilians site, sparked the retaliatory withdrawal of Kenyan troops.


In the ensuing furore, what was left unaddressed was the culpability of commanders and troops of the transitional government who attacked civilians and the PoC site in the first place.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has been allowed to undermine the peace agreement with impunity. First, by his creation of multiple regional governments under his control to minimise the control of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition. And second, by getting away with ousting the head of the IO from the transitional government.

The transitional government is bankrupt — with oil production down as a result of the conflict and global oil prices down as well. The numbers of internally displaced are steadily rising, as are the numbers of asylum-seekers crossing the border into Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda.

Yet there are no new ideas on the table. The latest from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s monitoring group is a feeble call for “traditional” leaders to work for peace at their level.

It is nothing short of tragic. Showing up the failures of both the UN and the African Peace and Security Architecture. And of the model of conflict-resolution still so doggedly relied on to date — the negotiated peace settlement between the belligerents.

What is the alternative? South Sudanese academics and civil society have reacted as strongly to the mainly American calls for a “trusteeship” over South Sudan as they did when the call was first made by the AU’s Commission of Inquiry into South Sudan.

They call instead for renewed negotiation of what they have termed a “legitimate, just” peace — based on inclusion of all South Sudanese except the belligerents. With a transitional and purely technocratic government. Militarily guaranteed by some combination of an UN/AU force.

The answers are not clear. What is clear is that this cannot go on. We said “never again” when we introduced what is the right of humanitarian intervention into the AU’s Constitutive Act. We seem to have forgotten that.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes