Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 8 March 2015

What next after the final South Sudan Peace Talks?

By Luka Biong Deng

The disappointing outcome of the final round of South Sudan peace talks is not a surprise to the people of South Sudan as they were expecting “no deal” or at best a bad peace. With the failure of IGAD mediation, the real question is what to be done to encourage parties to continue pursuing the option of peace instead of war. It is apparent now that war is the only option available to the warring parties. With dry season and apparent military preparation of the warring parties for the dry season, one expects escalation of fighting, particularly around the oilfields areas of Upper Nile and Unity States. There will be more human suffering, displacement and increased food insecure population or even famine if humanitarian access is restricted.

Besides this increased human suffering, the targeted sanctions of UN on individuals obstructing peace will now be enforced. Although these sanctions will target individuals, they will indirectly affect the people of South Sudan if individuals affected hold key positions in the government. However, experience from previous sanctions imposed by UN or USA shows the difficulties in implementing them and in most cases they tend to harm more the normal citizens. A Sudanese diplomat once told me that although Sudan downplayed US sanctions because of its reliance on support from Arab Countries and Islamic countries, yet these sanctions are now biting and may continue to affect Sudan even after such sanctions are lifted. As a land-locked country with bad neighbours, these sanctions of UN are likely to bite now than later, particularly as they target individuals.

With the failure of peace talks, the AU Peace and Security Council will certainly consider the report of AU Commission of Inquiry. The leaked synopsis of the report provides mixed feelings of whether the report would contribute to stability or exacerbate the already fluid situation or whether the Council will endorse the report. As IGAD prevailed on the Council to restrict the publication of the report so as to give peace talks a chance, the members of IGAD in the Council (Ethiopia and Uganda) may not resist the publication of the report after the failure of peace talks. However, Uganda may not be comfortable with putting South Sudan under a joint AU-UN trusteeship. Certainly, some members of the Council such as South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Tanzania may not favour the endorsement of the report. Even members of the Council from North Africa such as Algeria and Libya may not support the publication of the report. Probably, Nigeria and Gambia with other members of the Council from West Africa and Francophone Africa (Chad, Burundi, Equatorial Guinean, Guinea, Niger) may support the publication of the report.

Also the future implications of the recommendations of the report, particularly the direct joint AU-UN intervention to the internal affairs of a member state, will make most members of the Council not to set precedence by accepting the report. As the mandate of the Commission is to “investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan, and make recommendations on the best way and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities”, one is not sure whether the Commission has exceeded its mandate. The Council may only adopt the recommendations that are relevant to the mandate of the Commission, particularly the list of individuals who participated directly or indirectly in the atrocities committed since December 2015. The recommended joint AU-UN trusteeship may shift attention away from the critical issues of transitional justice and may contravene with international law. One is afraid that the recommended takeover of South Sudan by AU/UN and the Commission’s regret of the secession of South Sudan may remind the people of South Sudan of their bitter past of suppression and they may stand-up together to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of their country. Besides the war between the warring parties, the suggested takeover of South Sudan may trigger another war between the people of South Sudan and AU and UN forces. The experience of Somalia is a good reminder.

Even if we assume that the Council will endorse the report, the AU does not have a mandate to impose such recommendations on its member state but to forward such recommendations to the UN Security Council to be implemented under Chapter VII of UN Charter. The unanimous decision of the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on targeted individuals should be read carefully. Probably China and Russia accepted the imposition of sanctions as the only effective way of exerting pressure on the warring parties to conclude peace deal and they would support the enforcement of such sanctions after the failure of peace talks. It is most likely that China and Russia may not support the joint AU-UN trusteeship or intervention in South Sudan as that may have far reaching implications such as the current crisis in Ukraine. Also, the UN Security Council faces a lot of challenges such as Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, civil wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria and Ukraine but unable to agree on international collective intervention in these countries. The decision of UN to put East Timor under its trusteeship was rather exceptional and it cannot be compared with the context of South Sudan.

It is my personal conviction that regional or international intervention will not resolve the crisis of South Sudan but instead the regional and international actors should continue to assist the people of South Sudan to reach an acceptable peace deal. The people of South Sudan should now explore other options of resolving their crisis through a homegrown initiative rather than attaching all their hopes on external actors. Despite the failure of peace talks in Addis Ababa, the Arusha Agreement remains the only achievement during the entire 15 months of peace talks.

Some members of Troika may need to revisit their narrative that Arush Agreement is an attempt to resurrect a dead monster and to assist instead the SPLM to democratize itself through the implementation of Arusha Agreement. With the failure of peace talks in Addis Ababa, the Chairman of the SPLM has a moral and national responsibility to champion the implementation of Arusha Agreement and to initiate as well a national dialogue with all stakeholders with the aim of building a national consensus of how to face the challenges ahead such as peace, sanctions, elections and the report of AU Commission of Inquiry.

Besides these internal measures and initiatives, the pursuit of peace talks between the warring parties needs to be creatively redesigned. Although IGAD has taken the right decision to withdraw from the mediation, it remains indispensible in achieving peace in South Sudan. In fact the period of 15 months of IGAD mediation has not been in vain. IGAD has undoubtedly managed to provide a sound framework for addressing the conflict in South Sudan and what was missing was the appropriate design of mediation.

If IGAD were to continue mediating South Sudan peace talks, it would need to draw lessons from its CPA mediation experience where all members of IGAD were observers in the negotiation rather than restricting mediation to few countries (Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan). Given the increasing conflict of interests and narrow national security and economic interests of members of IGAD and based on CPA experience, Keya will be ideal to take the lead in future peace talks. Other option is for AU Council to set up a new mediation mechanism consisting of countries with less direct security and strategic interests in South Sudan such as South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Rwanda. The third option is to combine the two options and to have an expanded IGAD mediation. Given the regional and international dynamics, this third option may be the most appropriate one.

The author is the Director, Centre for Peace and Development Studies, University of Juba, Global Fellow, Peace Research Institute Oslo, and Associate Fellow, Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. he can be reached at luka_kuol@hks.harvard.edu