By Anders Breidlid and Tomm Kristiansen (*)
Norway is a new member of the UN Security Council from January 1 2021 and will, according to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “use the experience of decades of work for peace and reconciliation to be a bridge builder and seek solutions to the challenging conflicts that come at the Security Council table.”
In other words, conflict resolution stands out as one of the areas where Norway will engage most strongly. One of the countries where Norway is already heavily engaged is South Sudan, where Norway together with the United States and Britain form the troika pushing for a peace solution to the civil war in the country.
Norway has, from 2011 to 2019, provided NOK 4.8 billion in aid to a regime that the international community describes as corrupt and failed.
War and conflict for over 50 years
South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after a fractious civil war between northern Sudan with the National Congress Party and southern Sudan under the leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), a war that had lasted for more than 50 years.
Optimism was high on independence day on July 9, 2011, but the optimism was short-lived. As early as 2013, there was a full split within the government of South Sudan, and the split resulted in a full civil war within South Sudan between President Salva Kiir (who belongs to the largest ethnic group, the Dinkas, and who is the leader of the SPLM) and Vice President Riek Machar (from the Nuers and who formed the SPLM in Opposition).
Already a year after the conflict broke out, several thousand were dead and nearly two million people were displaced.
Both parties to the conflict targeted attacks on civilians: old people, women and children, and on hospitals, churches and on UN areas. The parties also attacked humanitarian aid supplies, and many cities were deserted after the attacks. The university town of Malakal in northern South Sudan, for example, was completely destroyed. Already a year after the conflict broke out, several thousand people were dead and nearly two million people were displaced.
The United Nations has subsequently reported on gross human rights violations on civilians on all sides of the conflict suggesting war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2016, there was a kind of reconciliation between Kiir and Machar, and Machar again became Vice President of the unity government.
The United Nations has subsequently reported on gross human rights violations on civilians on all sides of the conflict suggesting war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2016, there was a kind of reconciliation between Kiir and Machar, and Machar again became vice president of the unity government.
2 million refugees
Although there have been some ceasefires since 2013 and a peace agreement was signed in 2018, there are still acts of war in the country, not the least in the southern and central part of the important agricultural region of Equatoria. South Sudan is today a country in political, economic and humanitarian ruin. The suffering of ordinary people is enormous, and aid organizations warn of an extreme famine situation this year for almost 60 percent of South Sudan’s population. The civil war has made it impossible to produce food and it is dangerous and difficult to provide aid to vulnerable groups. In addition, the corona pandemic and large flood-prone areas have made the situation even worse. It is estimated that 400,000 people have been killed since the civil war began in 2013, and that 2.2 million are refugees or asylum seekers. Many are internally displaced, and many have fled to neighboring countries in the region, including one million refugees who are in Uganda.
Following the 2018 peace agreement, several mechanisms were established to deal with human rights violations in the country, among others. The Commission for Truth, Healing and Reconciliation (CTRH), but neither CTRH nor the other mechanisms have yet to take effect.
In December 2020, a report from a steering group was published. The report provides a summary of the process that has been going on for three and a half years and is devastating in its characteristic of the conditions in the country and of the dysfunctional government.
The report writes, among other things, that it is quite obvious that this dysfunctional government cannot deliver the peace, security and stability that the country desperately needs. The report describes in no uncertain terms that a transition to another government through an election depends on the non-participation of President Kiir and Vice President Machar and that they should prepare to leave politics with honor and dignity.
Unfortunately, there is nothing to suggest that the two fighters responsible for, among other things, violating the Geneva Convention’s prohibition on torture, the use of child soldiers and attacks on civilian targets such as hospitals and schools, intend to give up their positions even though the report promises Kiir and Machar full amnesty from prosecution.
Norway should require leaders to be held accountable
The troika is also harsh in its judgment, arguing that the economic, security, human rights and humanitarian crisis in the country is caused by the political leaders with Kiir and Machar as leaders.
At the same time, the UN Sanctions Committee has compiled a list of people responsible for some of the worst war crimes in South Sudan, calling for the seizure of the properties of these individuals and the seizure of money they have illegally placed in banks in the region.
But neither the request of the steering group nor the work of the troika have yielded the desired results. Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are still in power, and there is no real reconciliation to track.
Since South Sudan is not a member of the International Criminal Court in the Hague (ICC), the ICC can only launch investigations into war crimes in South Sudan if the UN Security Council transfers the situation in South Sudan to the ICC or if the Government of South Sudan requests the ICC to get involved. The latter, of course, is completely unlikely.
Although recent years of experience from Syria, Sudan and Myanmar have shown that there are major challenges in trying such cases for the ICC, Norway – as a member of the Security Council and with its great involvement in South Sudan – should demand that South Sudan’s leadership duo be first held accountable in the Security Council of the United Nations and then in the ICC.
(*) Anders Breidlid, Professor, Oslo Metropolitan University- Tomm Kristiansen, former Africa correspondent for NRK