International shock and dismay over renewed South Sudan’s fighting

When Dr. Riek Machar returned to Juba in April, taking up the post of vice-president, it was seen as an important step towards securing the peace to end the last two years of long misery that the people of South Sudan had been suffering. Now, only four months later, another outbreak of fighting erupted in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, a major setback in implementation of the IGAD-mediated Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan signed by the two sides in August last year. While the ceasefire in Juba, after five days of heavy fighting that started on Friday (July 7), appeared to be holding at the end of this week, the situation in Juba and outside remained of great concern. After five days of fighting, more than 300 people, including scores of civilians, were killed in the violence in which heavy artillery and helicopter gunships were used.  According to the United Nations about 36,000 people were also displaced. There were even attacks on UN compounds in an apparent attempt to prevent civilians from taking refuge there and getting protection. Food stocks were running low and considerable expectation of further fighting either in Juba or elsewhere.

The UN, IGAD, the US and the international community were quick to respond to the outbreak of violence, and immediately put pressure on the two warring factions, demanding cessation of hostilities as the first priority. In a statement issued on July 10, the Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn warned that both the Government and the opposition were "duty bound to exercise restraint and avoid any measures that are likely to escalate the situation."  Any extension of the current crisis, and a return to open conflict, he said, "could result in a return to the previous widespread violence against civilians." The same day, UN's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar to do everything within their power to immediately de-escalate the hostilities. 

The IGAD Council of Ministers in an Extraordinary Summit on Monday (July 11) in Nairobi, under chairmanship of Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Ethiopia's Foreign Minister and Chairperson of the IGAD Council of Ministers, condemned in the strongest terms the eruption of fighting in South Sudan. The meeting was attended by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Kenya; Somalia; Sudan; and Uganda as well as the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of South Sudan (since reportedly dismissed by President Kiir); Djibouti's Ambassador to Kenya, the Executive Secretary of IGAD and representatives of the Troika (US, UK and Norway), the EU, and Italy as Representative of the IGAD Partner Forum. Festus Mogae, Chairperson of Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, responsible for overseeing the implementation of last August's Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS), briefed the IGAD Council. 

In its communiqué, the IGAD Council urged President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar to assume their responsibility and take immediate measures to prevail upon their respective military leaders and stop the fighting. The Council demanded an immediate ceasefire; the re-opening of the Juba International Airport to be protected by UNMISS; the immediate return of all armed forces and weapons to their barracks; the opening of humanitarian corridors; urgent revision of the UN Mission to South Sudan mandate to establish an intervention brigade and increase numbers of troops from the region to inter alia secure Juba; accountability of those responsible for the breakdown of law and order; and immediate implementation of the security arrangements as enshrined in the ARCSS. 


The next day, the African Union Peace and Security Council meeting in Kigali, fully endorsing the IGAD Council of Ministers' communiqué.  The PSC strongly condemned the recent ceasefire violations, which caused the fighting in Juba; and deplored the loss of lives "at the time when South Sudanese parties, with the support of the IGAD, the AU and the larger international community, should be scrupulously implementing the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS)". It called for an immediate ceasefire, without any pre-conditions and warned those who commit any further violations of the ceasefire that they will be subjected to stern measures, including targeted sanctions. The PSC called on "the Transitional Government of National Unity to take urgent measures to establish conditions conducive for the return of all displaced persons and to establish a corridor for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the affected civilians", and urged "the parties to desist from any actions that may escalate the security situation and [called] for the immediate start of the process of national reconciliation and healing in South Sudan." It endorsed the IGAD's  communiqué and the "the recommendations in it for revision of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) mandate in order to enable establishment of an African-led Intervention Brigade and for increasing the number of troops to, inter-alia, provide protection to civilians, security in Juba and in the whole country". In conclusion, the AU PSC called urgently on the parties to the ARCSS to embrace mutual trust, put the interest of their country and its people above everything else and to scrupulously implement the Agreement, and reiterated its own to undertake a field mission to South Sudan to engage with the stakeholders and consider what more Africa can do to speed up the implementation of the ARCSS with a view to finding lasting peace in the country.


On July 10, President Salva Kiir announced a ceasefire.  This was welcomed by the JMEC Chairperson, Festus Mogae, who called on the President and First Vice President to ensure that the cessation of hostilities was strictly observed by the armed forces of the two sides. The failure to implement the ceasefire fully has raised concern that neither side is in full control of their forces. In his briefing to the IGAD Council of Ministers, Mr. Mogae reiterated what he had said to the AU Peace and Security Council two weeks earlier on June 30 concerning the ineffectiveness of the Joint Military Ceasefire Commission. The JMCC had been operating effectively in facilitating the deployment to Juba of SPLM-IO troops prior to Dr. Riek Machar's return in April. However, after that, he said, the JMCC had failed to meet and work as a team and this had seriously impeded the integration of the forces of the two sides. According to the JMEC Chairperson, "The JMCC has increasingly been unable to secure access for CTSAMM's monitoring and verification teams whose work is critical to the implementation of the Transitional Security Arrangements." He stressed that it would be absolutely necessary that the JMCC functioned properly if a repeat of violence was to be avoided. He underlined that the prolonged initial delay by the political leaders, coupled with the lack of implementation of the transitional security arrangements, provided fertile ground for mutual suspicion. This, he said, had indeed triggered the current armed conflict. "However", the JMEC Chairperson added, "we should not lose hope or be discouraged. We must redouble our efforts to engage the authorities to ensure the return to full implementation of the Peace Agreement."


The UN Security Council also issued a press statement at the beginning of the week, encouraging "states in the region to prepare to provide additional troops in the event the Council so decides. In the interim, [the Council] stressed the need for the UN Mission to South Sudan UNMISS to make full use of its authority to use all necessary means to protect civilians." The statement condemned in the strongest terms the escalation of fighting in Juba and "expressed particular shock and outrage" at the attacks on UN compounds and protection of civilian sites. The members of the Security Council urged an immediate end to the fighting by all concerned and demanded that President Kiir and First Vice President Machar do their utmost to control their respective forces, urgently end the fighting and prevent the spread of violence, and genuinely commit themselves to the full and immediate implementation of the peace agreement, including the permanent ceasefire and redeployment of military forces from Juba. The members of the Security Council stressed that attacks against civilians and UN premises and personnel may constitute war crimes, and they emphasized the importance of transparent investigations into these crimes and that those involved must be held accountable and could be potentially subject to sanctions as authorized under the resolution for actions that threaten the peace, security or stability of South Sudan. The members of the Security Council expressed their readiness to consider enhancing UNMISS to better ensure that UNMISS and the international community could prevent and respond to violence in South Sudan.


On Wednesday (July 13), the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council on the activities of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). UNMISS' mandate runs out on July 31. He proposed this should be extended until the end of August to allow a rapid assessment on the need for a stronger mandate. This would allow the UN Secretariat time to do a quick assessment, consult the region and the African Union and make recommendations to the Council. Mr. Ladsous told the Council that at least 36,000 civilians had been displaced by the fighting. He said a ceasefire endorsed by both leaders on July 10 appeared to be holding in Juba, which, he said, appeared to be under full control of the SPLA. However, "further clashes, therefore, cannot be ruled out." Juba airport had been reopened and was under the control of the SPLA. Mr. Ladsous said some fighting had taken place outside Juba, and the UN remained extremely worried about the potential for the resumption of widespread violence. Mr. Ladsous warned "only a strong political and coordinated approach can salvage the peace process now," and urged the Security Council to urgently reconsider an arms embargo, and immediately enact additional targeted sanctions on leaders and commanders blocking the implementation of the peace accord. He said the Council had been "cautiously optimistic about the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity back in April, [but] it is unclear now what further progress can be made under current conditions."


Even before this latest violence in Juba, implementation of the peace agreement had been slow and it had even stagnated recently due to the apparent lack of political will. There were concerns about the demilitarization of the opposing armies. Encampment sites for Dr. Machar's forces in Greater Equatoria and Greater Bhar El Ghazal had still to be identified. There were issues over drafting a new constitution, and over President Kiir's determination to create additional states, strongly opposed by Dr. Machar, and by the international community. The legislature and judiciary have yet to be reconstituted. With the lack of progress on implementation of the peace agreement, the economy continued to deteriorate, with inflation soaring to over 300%.  There were earlier outbreaks of violence. In February, more than 18 people died when SPLA soldiers broke into the UN compound for Protection of Civilians in Malakal. In Wau, last month, hundreds died, and homes were burnt. Some 120,000 people fled their homes, with 25,000 taking refuge at the UN camp and others fleeing into the bush; the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had managed to reach 70,000 with food aid in the last two weeks.


Some observers claimed that the leaders of the two sides were showing little or no interest in solving any of the problems that remained despite the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity. There were even suggestions that it was time to make urgent alternative arrangements so the country could hold elections within a year to regain a degree of legitimacy and look for a new leadership. This would require effective regional and international community involvement.


Widespread renewed conflict would be devastating for South Sudan. It would also threaten regional stability. The earlier mediation efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development had to put enormous pressure on Kiir and Machar to sign the peace agreement and establish the transitional government. The collapse of the agreement could have serious implications for the regional stability that IGAD's Heads of State and Government have worked hard to create.


Similarly, Dr. Dlamini Zuma in her opening remarks at the 29th ordinary Session of the Executive Council in Kigali, Rwanda on Wednesday (July 13) said, "It is with grave concern that we start this Council, as over the past few days we see the resurgence of the conflict in South Sudan, after more than two years of talks. Hardly two months after the formation of the Government of National Unity, the belligerents seem to back in the trenches, and the people of South Sudan, instead of celebrating five years of independence, once again are barricaded in their homes or must flee like sheep before the wolves."