Spoils of War, Spoilers of Peace: Changing the Calculus of South Sudan's Deadly Conflict

 

South Sudan's civil war, which has exacted a terrible toll on its civilian population, has its origins in a power struggle between factions aligned with President Salva Kiir and those who have joined former Vice President Riek Machar. Despite repeated pledges to put down their weapons, both sides have demonstrated a clear commitment to a military “solution” instead of a negotiated settlement. The country’s competing privileged elites are sacrificing their own peoples’ lives to secure the political and economic benefits—including massive state-corroding corruption—derived from control of the state. In his opening remarks at the latest round of peace talks underway in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, chief negotiator Seyoum Mesfin told the parties, “If you are committed to peace, you will not find it through the barrel of the gun, but around this table.”

Executive Summary and Recommendations

South Sudan's civil war, which has exacted a terrible toll on its civilian population, has its origins in a power struggle between factions aligned with President Salva Kiir and those who have joined former Vice President Riek Machar. Despite repeated pledges to put down their weapons, both sides have demonstrated a clear commitment to a military “solution” instead of a negotiated settlement. The country’s competing privileged elites are sacrificing their own peoples’ lives to secure the political and economic benefits—including massive state-corroding corruption—derived from control of the state. In his opening remarks at the latest round of peace talks underway in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, chief negotiator Seyoum Mesfin told the parties, “If you are committed to peace, you will not find it through the barrel of the gun, but around this table.”

Simply put, unless the calculations of the leaders of the warring parties are altered, the war will continue and likely intensify. The application of a globally enforced targeted sanctions regime could change the calculus of warring elites and end impunity for mass atrocities, the obstruction of humanitarian aid, and violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement. While the United States and the European Union have already made limited sanctions designations against key military commanders on both sides, the impact of these unilateral measures has been inconsequential since most South Sudanese elites’ wealth is concentrated in neighboring states. Although they have threatened punitive measures repeatedly, regional states, in particular Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, have failed to impose targeted sanctions as a regional body in the interest of peace and security.

In the absence of regionally- and internationally-enforced targeted sanctions, the warring parties appear to see no reason to adjust their behavior. Alongside a renewed push for regionally-led sanctions, deeper diplomatic engagement and stronger support for South Sudanese civil society are necessary in order to prevent a backroom deal brokered by regional heads of state that may temporarily freeze the conflict, but will not address the root causes of war in the world’s newest and perhaps most fragile state.

The regionally-appointed mediators from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have dedicated themselves to an inclusive process in order to prevent another instance where the spoils of the state are simply split between warring elites. Nonetheless, in late August 2014, regional heads of state attempted to circumvent their own mediators’ efforts with a last-minute protocol that rewrote key passages of a framework document based on months of inclusive consultations by the mediation team.

The last-minute intervention by regional heads of state has led the warring parties to conclude that they only need to pay lip service to the mediators while focusing their real efforts on lobbying regional heads of state, thus undermining the entire peace process. For the credibility of the process to be restored, at a minimum the mediators will need to be given autonomy by the heads of state to pursue their task without interference or last-minute alteration. The peace agreement must be created and owned by the stakeholders—the warring parties and other key constituencies—for peace to have a chance in South Sudan.

These obstacles are further complicated by dynamics in the three main regions of South Sudan, which could widen or deepen the war. In the oil-rich Greater Upper Nile region, there are at least a dozen rebel commanders that may ignore any agreement reached if it does not adequately address their interests. In the Greater Bahr el Ghazal region, rising intra-ethnic tensions within the government’s cadres risk further fragmentation of the conflict. In the Greater Equatoria region, restrictions on public dialogue around the issue of federalism threaten to destabilize the otherwise peaceful region, where diverse ethnic groups are demanding greater say in the national government and autonomy for state governments.

In order to build the necessary leverage to change the cost-benefit analysis of the warring parties, ensure inclusivity at the peace talks, and provide war-ravaged communities with accountability and compensation, the Enough Project recommends:

Building Leverage for a Sustainable Peace Agreement and an End to Mass Atrocities

1. IGAD must act on previous threats to impose consequences on the warring parties for obstructing peace. On the expiration of their 45 day extension to the August 10 deadline in mid-October, IGAD states should impose punitive and coercive targeted sanctions against key South Sudanese officials on either side who actively undermine the peace process, obstruct humanitarian aid, or commit further grave human rights abuses. IGAD should request the UN Security Council immediately follow regional action with its own globally enforced targeted sanctions regime. At the regional level, there are a number of meaningful measures that could be taken to create leverage for the IGAD mediators and create real consequences for spoilers. Assets should be frozen in bank accounts, houses and cars should be seized, businesses shut down, travel restricted except for essential peace process activity, and visas for family members should be revoked. Further unrealized threats diminish IGAD’s capacity to negotiate and so action must be taken. To improve sanctions enforcement, the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee, the U.S. Department of Treasury, and the U.S. Department of Justice should offer assistance to regional states to build the required legal frameworks and technical capacity to enforce these measures.

2. The U.S. government should seek to identify, recover and return the assets stolen by corrupt individuals to the people of South Sudan through the expertise of the Department of Justice Kleptocracy Initiative. Tracing and identifying ill-gotten gains will be a lengthy and cumbersome process, but will be invaluable for economic transparency and accountability where there is currently none. Asset forfeiture investigations could have an unparalleled reach over South Sudanese elites that have stashed or monetized their ill-gotten gains outside of South Sudan. The government of South Sudan should ratify the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and consider joining the global Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). These state-based transparency measures could be complemented by strong donor support for South Sudanese civil society efforts to generate public accountability on the use of the country’s vast natural resource wealth.

Fixing the IGAD Peace Process

3. The IGAD heads of state should respect the integrity of their own mediation process and empower the mediation team as negotiations commence based on the text agreed to by the parties. Key issues that need to be resolved at the latest round of talks underway in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, include the political leadership of the transition, term limits for currently elected officials, and the mandate of the proposed position of the prime minister. The mediation team will need to take on an active role to reconcile the two parties that remain at an impasse on these key issues.

4. The IGAD mediation team needs to ensure adequate space for civil society participation, in light of demands by the warring parties for direct talks. The U.S. government and international donors could support inclusivity by providing additional skills training to civil society delegates on coalition-building, crisis communication, and negotiations skills to help them take advantage of their presence at the talks. The international community should also apply pressure on the government of South Sudan to respect freedom of the media and allow opposition voices to be heard inside South Sudan. Most importantly, donors should invest in public opinion polling to help galvanize civil society efforts to represent the most marginalized voices in South Sudan. Polling would not only improve connectivity between the talks and communities displaced by the violence but also provide statistically significant data to inform the mediation process. This would make it much more difficult for the warring parties to ignore popular sentiment on the key issues being addressed at the talks.

Providing Accountability and Compensation to War-ravaged Communities

5. The U.S. government and other international donors should strongly support the call of South Sudanese civil society groups to establish a hybrid Special Court for Serious Crimes, included in the August 25 protocol as a proposed “independent judicial body to investigate and prosecute” those bearing the greatest responsibility for violations of both international and South Sudaneselaw. The African Union (AU) Commission of Inquiry (CoI) previously endorsed the idea of a hybrid court. The government of South Sudan also has an obligation to hold its own forces accountable for human rights violations and obstruction of humanitarian aid. Donors should also direct additional resources and technical assistance toward enhancing South Sudanese civil society groups’ capacity to establish a secure database to collect and store evidence on mass atrocities and human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence and the use of child soldiers, which could later be used for criminal prosecutions and truth-telling.

6. The government of South Sudan should create a compensation commission funded by oil revenues and the return of ill-gotten gains to provide financial reparations to communities that have been devastated by the conflict. The government of South Sudan could invite the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) to assist with the recovery of stolen assets. Reparations, which were included in the draft framework agreement presented by the mediation team in mid-August, were not included in the August 25 protocol endorsed by regional heads of state. Reparations should be included in any final agreement reached so that communities may begin to rebuild.

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Photo: Friday, May 21, 2010 file photo former Government of South Sudan Vice President, Riek Machar, front left, and President Salva Kiir, of South Sudan pay respects at the grave of late southern Sudanese rebel leader Dr. John Garang in Juba.