Ten months after fighting first broke out, the world is finally moving on South Sudan. As a key negotiating deadline looms, world leaders are stepping up pressure on South Sudan’s leaders.
Last month, as world leaders gathered for annual UN General Assembly top-level meetings, thousands of activists joined United to End Genocide in calling for them to take action on South Sudan. The UN answered by holding a ministerial high-level meeting focused on the humanitarian crisis.
United to End Genocide also joined several NGOs in a statement calling for more strategic international pressure. The United States has used some of the strongest language yet in warning South Sudan’s warring sides that anything but progress towards peace will not be tolerated. A U.S. representative at the ministerial meeting warned of “punitive measures including multilateral targeted sanctions.”
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power followed with another warning:
“if this round of talks…do not succeed then IGAD and the (Security) Council are going to need to move out on these long-threatened sanctions”.
This rhetoric has been backed up with new U.S. sanctions on a high-level individual from both the government and opposition sides responsible for atrocities in recent months.
The United States has also ramped up its humanitarian commitments to the nearly 2 million people displaced by violence in South Sudan, announcing an additional $83 million in humanitarian aid for a total of $636 million this year, helping to stave off condition so f complete famine.
The recent uptick in pressure has helped to bring the sides back to the negotiating table with the latest deadline set by the regional mediating group (IGAD) looming in just a few days.
However, the challenges in South Sudan remain grave. Indications out of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, where the latest negotiations are taking place are less than encouraging. South Sudanese government representatives are calling for a change of negotiating venue to Kenya and are demanding a 30 month transition period while the opposition demands a more immediate transition.
The end of the rainy season also brings uncertainty. While it could allow a period for fixing roads and getting aid out to isolated communities, it may also be an incentive for increased fighting as transport of troops and heavy weapons becomes more manageable.
The latest humanitarian forecasts may have pushed off the threat of outright famine in the immediate term due to the strong humanitarian response and the recent rains, but are now looking to early 2015 as the time of greatest risk to hundreds of thousands.
One thing is certain, the warring parties in South Sudan need to be held accountable. There have been strong words and threats from the United States and regional leaders. But it remains to be seen whether this pressure will be enough to push the sides towards an initial agreement and whether the world is prepared to follow through beyond its stepped up rhetoric.
If South Sudan’s leaders do not take a big step in the direction of peace, it is time for concrete consequences. The world and especially South Sudan’s key neighbors must take the ‘punitive measures’ they have warned about. Activist voices have helped to gain global attention and get us to this point.
If South Sudan’s leaders do not hold to their promises of doing what is best for the people of South Sudan, then we’ll be ready to hold the world leaders to theirs.
South Sudan, A Country in Jeopardy
Despite a ceasefire, tensions on the ground remain high with accusations of violations of the agreement by both sides. Immediate action is needed to shore up this tentative ceasefire. Ask President Obama to help: