In March 2016 aid workers and officials in South Sudan estimated up to 300,000 peoplei have been killed in South Sudan’s ongoing civil war that officially began in 2013, although the actual figure is hard to discern as government troops have been burying bodies in mass graves, dumping them in rivers, and burning them. Less than a year into the civil war in November 2014, the International Crisis Group estimated the death toll could be between 50,000 and 100,000 and within just the first week of the war there were 5,000 killed.ii More than 2.3 million people have been forced from their homes in South Sudan, more than 400,000 have fled to neighboring countries, such as Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda, 15,000 child soldiers have been recruited in violation of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, 200,000 are sheltered in UN camps, and 6.1 million are in need of emergency food aid.
The U.S. has spent $1.6 billion since the beginning of the civil war on humanitarian aid but this has proved not to be enough and much of it is being stolen by the corrupt government and militant groups in opposition. (The US has also sold weapons to the government of South Sudan and refused to enact an arms embargo for three years. John Kerry has stated “I don’t think South Sudan has a better friend than the United States.”) According to UNOCHA, “more than 50 trucks carrying 2,000 tonnes of urgent aid supplies were held up at government checkpoints” and 20% of internally displaced people are inaccessible as the government forbids humanitarian aid organizations access to them. Even before the ongoing civil war, in 2011 90% of the population of South Sudan lived on less than a dollar a day and infant mortality was three times higher than in Sudan. However, Western media silence has left most of the West oblivious to the brutal war motivated by ethic hatred, racism, control of oil, greed, and resource scarcity, all which can be traced to the colonization of the Sudan, which favored certain ethnic groups over others.
A Brief History Of South Sudan
To understand the ongoing Civil War in South Sudan, an understanding of the context and history of the country is vital. South Sudan and Sudan were occupied by Egypt under the Muhammad Ali Dynasty from 1805 to 1898. Between 1899 and 1956, they were ruled as a “condominium” by Egypt and Britain, which governed southern Sudan and northern Sudan separately. From 1899 to 1922, Egypt was part of the British Empire and, therefore, Britain had most control over South Sudan. In 1946 southern Sudan and northern Sudan were merged by Britain without consulting leaders in the South. This created tensions in part because Southern Sudan was and still is dominated by Christianity and traditional African religions while northern Sudan was and still is dominated by Islam and a much larger Arabic population. These differences in religion are primarily the result of Western, Christian missionaries who have been traveling to Sudan for decades, as well as Muslim proselytization and regimes spreading from the Middle East. They are, in large part, responsible not only for conflict between these two religions in the region but conflict between different denominations within them as well, such as Catholics and Protestants as the Catholic Church was assigned the western bank of the Nile and American Inland Mission proselytized on the eastern side of the Nile.) 70% of Sudan’s population is Arabic while the second largest ethnic group in Sudan is the Dinka people. The British colonizers established different relationships with locals in the North than in the South. The Dinkas were more accommodating of the British than the Nuer people who were more resistant and inimical to the invaders, and the Nuers paid the price for their resistance and continue to do so.
In February 1953 Britain and Egypt signed an agreement to give Sudan its independence but there were still tensions between the north and south over governance. The Arab-led government of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, broke its promise to create a Federal system and refused the South its right to autonomy. This led to a mutiny by Southern troops in Equatoria and the First Sudanese Civil War that claimed half a million Sudanese lives, (80% of whom were civilians) which broke out on August 18, 1955. Sudan became officially independent on January 1, 1956 but the war raged on until the signing of the Addis Ababa (capital of Ethiopia) Accords in 1972, which gave southern Sudan its long-sought independence. The Southern Sudan Autonomous Region lasted until 1983 when it was abolished by Sudanese President, Gaafar Nimeiry, sparking the Second Sudanese Civil War, which raged until 2005 when the US sponsored Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) brokered by IGAD, (an eight-country trade bloc in Africa that includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda) was signed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement led by Salva Kiir and the Government of Sudan lead by Omar Al-Bashir, another war criminal who has stolen billions from the state. The US government sponsored the CPA and pushed for South Sudanese independence as the South was more willing to renegotiate oil field ownership in favor of the US and the UK, whereas the north was more intent on Chinese, Japanese, and Malaysian ownership of the oil fields.
While the end of the war brought some relief, 1 to 2 million (most of whom were civilians) were left dead largely due to starvation and drought, and the CPA didn’t address the issues of accountability and justice for human rights violators and their victims. Addtionally, four million were displaced from their homes by the conflict. Southern autonomy was restored when the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan was formed later that year. The US offered to remove Sudan from its lists of states sponsoring terrorism to get the North to agree to the referendum for South Sudanese independence. Six years later, a referendum for independence was held in January 2011 and 98.83% voted for independence from Sudan.iii South Sudan became officially independent in July of that year although tensions still lingered. For example, there were ongoing clashes between the Murle people and Nuers, which escalated to cattle raids in Jonglei state, during which 600 people were killed and 985 were injured on August 18 2011. According to the state’s minister for law enforcement, Gabriel Duot Lam, some Murles stole 38,000 cattle, sparking the violence.iv In December 2011 and early January 2012 the Nuer White Army (so named for their practice of smearing white ash on their skin as an insect repellent) attacked Pibor and nearby Murle villages in retaliation for the cattle raid, displacing 20,000 to 50,000 people. Women and children were also abducted and the UN conservatively estimated 800 more people were killed. However, Joshua Konyi, the commissioner of Pibor County and a Murle, estimated that 2,182 women and children and 959 men were killed, 1,293 children were abducted, and 375,186 cows were stolen. The government launched a civilian disarmament campaign called “Operation Restore Peace” in response in March 2012, but of course, their campaign was anything but peaceful. Soldiers killed and beat civilians, tied them up, water-boarded some for information, and raped women and girls.v Journalists who objected publicly were beaten or incarcerated by state security forces. South Sudan signed an action plan with the UN in March 2012 to end its use of child soldiers and ordered the release of all children from the SPLA. However, the UN reported that more than 150 children were found in SPLA barracks in June. According to journalist and historian Nick Turse, “President Obama’s State Department, again and again, provided waivers that allowed South Sudan to keep children in its military and still keep receiving US assistance.”
Adding literal fuel to the fire is the fact that 75%-80% of Sudan’s oil lies in South Sudan and 98% of South Sudan’s budget comes from oil while all the pipelines run north to Sudan.vi The largest oil fields in the country are located in the same region with the most severe food insecurity, ironically named “Unity State.” The government of South Sudan decided to shut down its oil production (which amounted to 350,000 barrels daily) in February 2012 over a disagreement with Sudan over how much it should pay to export it, (almost all of South Sudan’s oil is refined in Sudan), resulting in oil shortages, a rise in oil prices, and austerity measures from the government. Lower revenues from oil also resulted in brutal austerity measures in Sudan. According to the Fifth International “Of the $3 billion budget of 2008, 45 per cent went towards government salaries, largely towards the Southern elite.”vii (Kiir also admits that $4 billion has been stolen by 75 former and current officials.viii) In response in March 2012, soldiers from Sudan clashed with soldiers of South Sudan at the Heglig oil fields. In September the governments of Sudan and South Sudan agreed to resume oil production and trade, but couldn’t agree on the final status of Abyei, a region on the border claimed by both countries, and clashes in Abyei in May 2011 displaced tens of thousands of civilians from the area.
The Provenance of the Ongoing Civil War
On December 15 2013, the South Sudanese Civil War officially broke out. The SPLM (South Sudan’s ruling party) government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyalists who are mostly Dinka led by President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, supported by some Darfuri soldiers of the “Justice and Equality Movement,” (or JEM) Uganda, Sudan, and UNMISS (or the United Nations Mission in South Sudan established when South Sudan became independent in 2011 who have been attacked by both government forces and rebels and do very little fighting when this occurs1) are fighting the South Sudan Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) led by former Vice President, Riek Machar, which consists mostly of Nuer, rebel, defectors of the SPLA along with the South Sudan Democracy Movement Cobra Faction and the Nuer White Army. The bulk of the violence is between ethnic Dinkas, Shilluks, Murles, and Nuers as they are ordered to kill each other or manipulated into conflict via imposing resource scarcity by their leaders. The SPLA has its origins in a series of mutinies that occurred in the Sudanese army. The mutineers formed the core of the SPLA.
The Dinka people inhabit the Bahr el Ghazal region of the Nile basin, Jonglei, parts of southern Kordufan, and the Upper Nile regions. There were about 4.5 million Dinkas in 2008 in Sudan according to its own census and they are the largest tribe in South Sudan. They subsist mainly through cattle herding, speak the Dinka language, and are also among Africa’s tallest people. The Nuers who number about 1.8 million, (less than half the population of Dinkas) inhabit the Nile Valley, mostly in South Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia. With the wars many have fled to Kenya, Ethiopia, and even further to America, Canada, and Australia. Nuers speak the Nuer language and cattle are even more important to the Nuers as they carry symbolic, religious, and economic value.
The ongoing civil war in South Sudan began largely due to the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit. When rumors of a coup emerged in 2012, Kiir began to dismiss large numbers of officials who he believed were disloyal, including army generals, Vice President, Riek Machar, his entire cabinet, the SPLM Political Bureau, the National Convention, the National Liberation Council, and SPLM Secretary-General, Pagan Amum Okech who was also forbade from leaving South Sudan’s capital of Juba and from speaking to the media.
Kiir is an ethnic Dinka while Machar is an ethnic Nuer, and much of Kiir’s actions seem to motivated by an apparent contempt for Nuers. According to the Former Minister of Higher Education, Peter Adwok, at a meeting of the National Liberation Council on December 15, 2013, President Salva Kiir ordered the Major General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Marial Ciennoung, to leave and disarm the troops from the “Tiger Battalion” after opposition leaders had boycotted the meeting. After disarming all within the guard, the officer in charge of the weapons stores began re-arming the Dinkas.ix A Nuer solider who saw that the Dinka were being rearmed questioned the soldier in charge of the weapons stores and a fight broke out, which more Nuers then joined. Eventually, Nuer soldiers took control of the military headquarters until SPLA reinforcements removed the mutineers. However, the fighting spread, the Juba International Airport was closed indefinitely, a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed, (which according to a former member of the Tiger Battalion, Riek W. was used to remove masses of bodies) the homes of critics of Kiir were surrounded, eleven politicians were arrested on charges of “coup plotting,” (seven of whom were released into the custody of Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta on January 29 and the rest of whom were released on April 25 to aid peace talks) and several civilian arrests were made. Kiir claimed this was an attempted coup and blamed former Vice President, Machar. Machar’s residence was then shelled by tanks, killing his body guards and the remains of the building were burned to the ground but Machar managed to escape. Machar claimed that soldiers were going door-to-door, killing Nuers indiscriminately and this has been corroborated by many witnesses. Susan, a resident of the Eden neighborhood in Juba described the killing of her son, his friend, and her brother in law on December 16 to Amnesty International:
“At about 2pm soldiers came to the house. I think they were looking for Nuer men. We are Nuer…They took them outside and tied their hands behind their backs and then tied their feet with the same rope, so that their hands and feet were pulled together like sheep and they could not move. Then they shot them repeatedly, killing all three of them, and then left. They said nothing to them or to me. There were many soldiers around, about 25 of them, but it was five of them who killed my son. I ran away from home immediately, without even being able to bury my son. I don’t know what happened to the bodies.” Subsequently, Susan fled to her neighbor’s house where two days later she and nine other women from the neighborhood were kidnapped and gang-raped by a group of soldiers.
Another 88-year-old civilian described his experience to Amnesty International on January 10 when the government was massacring Bentiu, “I refused to leave because I am an old man. I couldn’t run. I thought that if the government came, I would be ok. But unfortunately they were killing people… So many people died. I moved around the area of my home and saw that a lot of people were killed. The soldiers did not let anyone escape. They killed everyone.”
While Machar was targeted as well, it would be a mistake to consider him one of the real victims. Machar’s rebels have burned Shilluk villages and looted them in 1987, 1997, 2013, and 2014, and on November 15, 1991 the SPLA-Nasir led by Machar massacred 2000 Dinka civilians and wounded several thousand more over the course of two months. It is estimated 100,000 people fled the region following the attack. Machar initially denied the attacks ever occurred and then publicly apologized for his part in them.
Immediately after the beginning of the civil war, the International Crisis Group (ICG) also reported that some fighting occurred between the Dinka and Nuer in Pibor and the military barracks in Jonglei. Large numbers of the SLPA began to defect and many civilians sought refuge in UN Centers, some of which were attacked. According to Adwok, “Military doctrine dictates that once a contingent of mutinous troops have been dislodged, appeal is made for their surrender and they are then disarmed. Those who remained loyal (to the president) are also disarmed to prevent bad blood. The loyal troops of Tiger, hailing mainly from Warrap and Aweil, were not disarmed. In fact, they are the ones rampaging Juba, looting and shooting to kill any Nuer in the residential neighbourhoods.”Aljazeera reported,“Others say tanks are flattening Nuer villages, members of the country’s national intelligence services are picking people off and carting bodies round the capital, and eyewitnesses report executions in busy streets in broad daylight.”x “Everyone here has lost someone [in the last week],” Juba resident, Gatluak Kual, explained. “We have seen our daughters, our brothers, our mothers killed simply because they are Nuer. To me this is already a civil war.”xi
On December 18, Machar called for the removal of Kiir from office. The following day, the government lost control of Bor to the South Sudan Liberation Army, a mainly Nuer militia led by former SPLA 8th Division commander, Peter Gadet. Maj. General, James Koang Chuol, commander of the SPLA’s 4th Division defected on December 21 and removed the governor of the state of Unity, one of the 10 states of South Sudan located in Greater Upper Nile. He also claimed he had formed a new interim administration, which declared itself loyal to Machar. Uganda deployed its troops to Juba to aid in securing the airport and evacuating Ugandan citizens. On December 21 three US Air Force V-22 Osprey aircrafts arrived to evacuate US nationals from Bor. They took small arms fire from the ground and four Djibouti-based Navy SEALs on the ground security team sustained injuries. Rebels also took control of Bentiu on the same day. UNMISS reported men, women, and children who hid and refused to join the opposition forces were killed. On December 24 the government claimed to have retaken control of Bor.
In mid-December 2013, 240 Nuer men were rounded up by police and soldiers and massacred at a police station in Gudele, Juba. xii One survivor arrested with his colleagues described the massacre to Amnesty International: “We were put into a room. The following morning [16 December] we asked soldiers to let us go but they took us to a bigger place nearby, also a barracks. There were many Nuer detained there. We found three of our co-workers there…More and more people were being brought in different groups at different times. There were maybe 300 men or more. Towards the end of the day the soldiers took some of the detainees from our room to a room next door as ours was too full. It was so hot and we had no water, some people fainted. At about 7-8pm we opened the windows to get some air. When we did so, soldiers fired into our room from the windows. Many people were killed in my room. Survivors lay among the dead, pretending to be also dead. The soldiers had fired from the windows at anything that moved. We were 12 survivors, eight were injured but not seriously and me and three others were ok. We stayed there in that situation until the next morning [17 December]… In the afternoon we opened the windows because of the terrible smell and many flies. Then a soldier patrol passed by the open window and one of the detainees in my room recognised one of his former army colleagues and begged him for water, in Arabic. The Dinka soldier asked about our conditions. He brought us water and said he was going to the station and would come back. He came back with four military officers from National Security who released the 12 of us who were still alive. I don’t know what happened to the people in the room next door, if they were all killed or if any survived. I don’t know how many were killed in total, but it was very many.”
South Sudanese officials established a committee consisting of five members under the police inspector-general, General Pieng Deng Kuol, to investigate the massacres of civilians in Juba, including the Gudele incident, which was a ludicrous move. Putting the police in charge of investigating their own crimes is akin to allowing a defendant to be the judge and jury in his own case. It is an obvious conflict of interest. Human Rights Watch noted the South Sudanese government sealed off access to Nuer suburbs where the genocide began and guards these areas with heavily armed personnel, preventing the media from accessing them and from government forces being held accountable.
On December 19 2013, 126 out of 127 patients in Bor’s hospital were slaughtered. It is not clear who was responsible as the government as usual blamed the rebels and the rebels blamed the government.xiii On January 2nd 2014, South Sudanese rebels loyal to Machar again seized control of Bor according to Mayor Nhial Majak Nhial. In the weeks prior Bor changed hands three times. President Kiir subsequently declared a state of emergency in Unity, Jonglei, and upper Nile states. More defections from the military followed. On January 14 2014, a fight broke out at the UN compound in Malakal, which housed 20,000 people. Both sides of the conflict claimed control of the city while a Nile ferry with fleeing refugees sank in the river, drowning over 200.
On January 31 2014, the government troops attacked and looted Leer in Unity, forcing 240 staff and patients of MSF to flee. MSF lost contact with two thirds of their staff as a result and their hospital was looted and burned to the ground along with several other NGOs and churches by government forces. Civilians who fled into the forest were pursued by government forces. On February 10 2014, armed government soldiers and police encircled the UN base in Juba, demanding the UN hand over all the 20,000 Nuer civilians in the facility.xiv They also destroyed bathrooms outside the facility for the internally displaced people. In Bentiu on March 19 and 20th, government forces mutilated and killed a pharmacist from Yida. His eyes were gouged out, his throat slit, and his feet amputated. Two women were found in Bentui as well with their lips cut off and throats slit. On December 20, in Panyang government forced killed 250 people, mostly women and children (including children as young as two years old) who were being escorted by some Nuer men. A survivor told Amnesty International that after the group fled into the grass to hide, military trucks ran them over. In Gandor government forces burnt three men alive.
In May of this year Truthout reported “In 2014…Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang, the rebel army’s spokesman, called out the SPLA for “committing crimes against humanity.” Kiir, he said, had lost control of his forces and had become little more than a puppet of his Ugandan backers. Last year, Lul split from Machar to form the “South Sudan Resistance Movement/Army” — an organization that attracted few followers. This year, he found a new job, as the spokesman for the military he once cast as criminal. “I promise to defend SPLA in Media Warfare until the last drop of blood,” he wrote in a Facebook post after being tapped by Kiir.”
In January 2014, the SPLA retook every town under control by the rebels, including Bor and Malakal where civilians had been robbed of their money, food, even their clothes in some cases, and slaughtered in a teaching hospital. Some were still in their hospital beds when they were killed.xv A 36-year-old Nuer woman named Buk Chol Ruai was killed by government forces on December 27 2013 with her two sons, aged eight and 15 in Malakal Teaching Hospital. Her husband told Amnesty International: “I learned that my wife and our two youngest children were killed from people who witnessed their killings. They said that they were stopped by soldiers and when they could not understand or speak Dinka or Shilluk, they were shot. They said that the soldiers then threw my children’s bodies into the river. My wife’s body was found two days later and I was able to see it and to pray for her before she was buried. She had two gunshot wounds, one on the forehead and one in the chest.” In the same month in in Malakal, the World Food Programme’s warehouses were looted and destroyed. According to Amnesty International: “Food supplies sufficient to feed 400,000 people for three months were reportedly looted in less than three days”
Sexual violence has sadly been another consistent characteristic of the conflict. Susan, a resident of Thong Piny protection site (which has flooded several times from rain, causing increased risk of typhoid and cholera) told Amnesty International that a group of soldiers came to her home in Juba on December 18, 2013 where they took her and nine other women to an empty clinic. 15 soldiers subsequently raped them and then violated them with sticks, causing significant vaginal bleeding and resulting in six deaths. Also in December in Panyang, Unity state, a group of 18 women who were raped in Palop. One of women, Nyawal, told Amnesty International, “I was three months pregnant, but because I was raped by so many men, the baby came out. If I had refused those people, they would have killed me. Nine men raped me. They were Dinka.” From January to March 2014 government forces and Darfuri soldiers raped, looted, and killed civilians in Koch, Mayendit, and Leer counties. In Gandor, Leer county, in February a ten-year-old girl was raped by ten men.
On March 3, 2014, Barack Obama signed an executive order to allow for potential visa bans and the freezing of assets belonging to individuals linked to the conflict in South Sudan.xvi But only two individuals have been put on this list, rendering it fairly useless.xvii When the government and Darfuris from JEM retook Bentiu on January 10, they looted the town and burned most of it to the ground according to witnesses who spoke to Amnesty International. On January 23 2014, representatives from the government of South Sudan and Riek Machar brokered a ceasefire agreement in Ethiopia with the mediation of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development, (IGAD). After rebels accused the government of taking over Leer to sabotage the second round of talks, they threatened to boycott the talks and demanded the release of four remaining political prisoners and the withdrawal of Ugandan troops. Later that month, Nuer rebels retook Malakal and then Bentiu in April. More than 400 civilians (mainly Dinka and Sudanese Dafuris) seeking refuge in Churches, mosques, and hospitals in Bentiu were killed in April in what is now called the Bentiu massacre but again it is not clear who was responsible. The UN blamed Nuer rebels and the rebels blamed the government. The EU imposed sanctions on Peter Gadget, believing his forces were behind the attack. According to the Washington Post “A local radio station featured rebel commanders warning certain ethnic groups, everybody but the Nuers, that they were coming for them, calling on the other groups to rape the non-Nuer women.”xviii
In the same month UNICEF warned that 50,000 children could die from famine in the coming months caused by the conflict.xix Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF representative in South Sudan explained “Sadly, worse is yet to come. If conflict continues, and farmers miss the planting season, we will see child malnutrition on a scale never before experienced here. If we cannot get more funds and better access to reach malnourished children in South Sudan, tens of thousands of under-fives will die.”
On April 17 armed forces pretending to be peaceful protesters attacked a UNMISS site sheltering civilians, killing over 50.xx Kiir and Machar signed the second ceasefire in Addis Ababa in May 2014, recommitting to peace but within hours both sides were fighting again. Talks for the development of a transitional government called the “Transitional Government of National Unity” and a third ceasefire fell apart on June 11 and fighting resumed 5 days later. In November both sides renewed the ceasefire but this ceasefire was too violated within 24 hours. Repeat talks in February 2015 again collapsed as Machar and Riek refused to share power and the government again attacked the town of Leer, gang raping some civilian women and abducting others as sex slaves. Whole villages were burnt to the ground and many children drowned as they tried to escape into the bush and nearby bodies of water.
John Uliny, member of the Shilluk ethnic group who has fought in many factions of warring parties over the years, captured Malakal with the assistance of the SPLM-IO on May 16 2015. His militia is called the Agwelek forces, which have been accused by UNICEF of recruiting child soldiers. President Kiir signed another peace agreement called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in August 2015 that Riek Machar had previously signed. The agreement renewed Machar’s position as vice President (However, Machar was not sworn back in as VP until April 2016) and called for the withdrawal of Ugandan troops who did, in fact, withdraw in October 2015.
On December 24 2015, Kiir announced a plan to break up South Sudan’s ten states into 28, giving Dinkas majority in strategic locations (particularly the oil fields of Toor and Toma South in Pariang) and dividing Unity state into three different states with the poorest part most affected by the Civil War becoming an all Nuer state. Again, Kiir also dismissed all state administrations and swore in new governors who he considered loyal to him. The Small arms survey reported that“Kiir gave the governance of Southern Lich to Taker Riek, a Dok Nuer trader, who, from 2009 to 2010, had been an exceptionally unpopular commissioner of Leer county, until his dismissal by Taban Deng. During the 2015 dry-season offensive in southern Unity, Riek led attacks on multiple villages and burned down much of Leer town, except for the south, which is inhabited by his relatives.”xxi
What Should be Done
Both Riek Machar and Salva Kiir should be indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Convention and sentenced to death or life in prison. South Sudan never signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which means the ICC has no jurisdiction there. But the UN Security Council can override this. It is very unlikely to do so, however, as the Security Council is made up of the most powerful, nuclear states on Earth, which only act if there is something for them to gain. Civilians lack the resources to defend themselves from the South Sudanese government and rebel forces, so an international response is necessary. The government of South Sudan must be dismantled and all those guilty of crimes against humanity must be disarmed and if they refuse they should be killed. Autonomy must be restored to South Sudanese civilians who are the only ones who should decide the future of their country once peace is established.
According to Amnesty International: “The SPLA Chief of General Staff formed two investigation committees on 31 December. One was tasked with investigating “the cause of the shoot out within the Republican Guard Division on 15 December 2013.” Another was mandated to investigate extrajudicial killings in Juba. In February, the SPLA spokesperson Phillip Aguer announced that approximately 100 individuals had been arrested as a result of these investigations. However, all of these individuals escaped on 5 March during a gunfight among soldiers at the Giyada military barracks in Juba.” (Prisons in Bor, Bentiu and Malakal were also besieged at different points since fighting broke out and all prisoners were released.) Further investigations, such as Kiir’s Investigation Committee on the Jonglei State Crisis have been fruitless. Their findings were not made public and no arrests were made.
The government cannot and should not be trusted to punish its own employees for crimes against humanity. Announcement of investigation committees organized by the government merely serve as a facade or a PR move to deceive the public into thinking the government is interested in human rights. Instead, independent, transparent civilian courts must be established to determine guilt and punishments. Independent committees and human rights groups like the AU Commission of Inquiry, (created on December 30 2013 by the African Union Peace and Security Council, which was only able to stay in South Sudan for 10 days) IGAD’s MVM (monitoring and versification mechanism, which is supposed to monitor for human rights and ceasefire violations) and UNMISS should be allowed access to all areas for as long as necessary. If either side had nothing to hide, they wouldn’t refuse them access. To refuse that access should be tantamount to admitting guilt. Genuine NGOs like MSF, peacekeeping, and humanitarian organizations also ought to be funded far more heavily to ensure civilians are safe and their needs for safe drinking water, food, shelter, health-care, and education are met.
MSF has been critical of UNMISS for their campsites and compounds, many of which are in deplorable condition, which contributes to disease and mortality rates. Tomping UN peacekeeping base, for example, in the capital Juba, which held 21,000 people in April 2014 had crowded IDPs in low-lying areas prone to floods. According to MSF “Diarrhoeal diseases, respiratory infections and skin diseases already make up more than 60 percent of the cases in MSF’s clinic in the camp.” Bureaucracy slowed down the process as plans were made but not implemented. In April 2014 emergency coordinator, Carolina Lopez of MSF reported, “The UNMISS decision not to improve conditions in Tomping is shameful. In the first rainfall of the season 150 latrines collapsed, mixing with floodwater. People are living in natural drainage channels as there is no other space and there are 65 people per latrine. The rains, which will last the best part of six months, are getting heavier and if nothing is done right now the consequences, already horrific, could become fatal. Whether as a permanent or as an interim solution, expanding into the dry parts of the compound has to be an immediate action. They say there is not enough space in Tomping, but this is a sickening argument when on the other side of the barbed wire there are dry parking and storage spaces.” On April 3, Hilde Johnson, head of UNMISS, stated herself that the Tomping camp is “at imminent risk of turning into a death trap.” Camps in Malakal and Minkamman faced similar situations. Clearly, UNMISS needs more funding or their role in sheltering civilians should be taken up by another organization with greater capabilities and concern.
Further aggravating the situation is the fact that the government of South Sudan has spent $2.1 million on Washington lobbyists to improve their image. The point of this is to prevent punitive measures from the US like sanctions and military actions and instead encourage increases in funding to its government. For example, South Sudan paid R&R, a firm led by Billy Vassiliadis, a longtime friend and PR consultant for ultra conservative Harry Reid $900,000 to spread lies about its government, discourage sanctions, and increase aid to the government. A press release for R&R Partners created for South Sudan reads “Sanctions only serve to weaken peace efforts and demoralize ambitions of the elected government.” South Sudan is just one of many corrupt regimes that has hired R&R. Watts Partners, KRL International, and Podesta Group are further examples of PR firms that have been hired to improve the image of South Sudan’s government. In Podesta Group’s words, South Sudan’s government is “committed to lasting peace, justice, and accountability” and President Kiir “cares deeply about his people and their well being,” according to a press release issued on behalf of the South Sudanese Embassy. This release was sent to nearly 20 staff members of congress and the State Department. It also called President Kiir a “hero” and blamed humanitarian challenges on a “lack of funds” to the government, calling for the U.S. and others to “redouble its efforts” to support the government of South Sudan. Bill Owens, the former Republican governor of Colorado was also paid $50,000 by the PR firm to spread similar lies about the government of South Sudan.
Podesta Group employees working on the South Sudan account include a number of former high-ranking government advisers and Washington insiders, including, David Adams who served as assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs and chief legislative adviser to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mark Tavlarides who worked as the special assistant for international security affairs to the secretary of defense during President Bill Clinton’s administration, and Stephen Rademaker who served as former assistant secretary of state, and headed State Department bureaus under President George W. Bush. Soon after South Sudan gained independence, then-secretary Clinton embraced the new government with open arms stating, “We will work with you, we will stand with you, we will support you.” Podesta’a other clients include Azerbaijan, Egypt, and the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court, a sector of the Saudi government.
The PR propaganda focuses so much on the fact that the government of South Sudan was elected and ignores the atrocities it has committed. The argument is since the government was elected the people wanted it. This makes it a “democracy” and so the government forces responsible for rape, mass murder, torture of civilians, and razing of villages are evidently irrelevant, even though that is not what people voted for and none of that is mentioned at all of course. These lobbying efforts entirely undermine any attempts to bring peace and security to South Sudan and are nothing short of misanthropic.
The US government could easily dismantle the South Sudanese government but they refuse to impose even a simple arms embargo and weapons continue to flow to South Sudan. According to a report by the World Policy Institute, “throughout the Cold War, the U.S. delivered over $1.5 billion worth of weaponry to Africa. Many of the top U.S. arms clients – Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC)” These arms sales continued even during times of genocide. Unfortunately, the US government will sell weapons to any country with the cash to afford them. In 1994 the US went so far as telling the UN not to intervene in Rwanda when genocide was taking place. Therefore, the US government is unlikely to offer South Sudan any military assistance, except to the brutal regime instead of against it. Surely, the lies spread by lobbyists hired by South Sudan’s government and other regimes are contributing to Washington’s and the West’s general apathy towards South Sudan and other nearby conflict ridden regions. Ideally, such hiring of PR firms to engage in this kind of propaganda ought to be illegal so long as there are governments. Further, individuals can help combat this propaganda just by sharing information like this article to their friends, family, and colleagues about the atrocities committed on both sides of this conflict and the civilian lives that hang tenuously in the balance. Writing to your congressman or woman about this issue could also be of help if enough people do it. It is very hard to do much about this America but the American government has the most military power of any country (although they have committed more atrocities and violence than any other, they have the capability to fight tyranny and win) and if enough pressure is applied, they will at least have to acknowledge it and change their tune.
AFRICOM, (which carries out several missions a day and is responsible for all US military operations in every African state except Egypt) and the United States European Command have more than enough resources to take out the South Sudanese government and other terrorist forces. However, AFRICOM mainly exists to combat piracy, drug and weapon cartels, and protect US interests like oil in Africa. So the political will has to be generated. It is open to debate to whether pressurizing the US to intervene is even worthwhile as they likely never would but some force (perhaps the UN) with the capabilities must intervene, and that can achieved with enough public pressure and exposure on this life and death issue. Unfortunately, soldiers aren’t allowed to decide where to be deployed. They follow the orders of their masters, (politicians). So that is where the pressure must be applied.
1(UN Police also lack the authority to charge or detain civilians and the troop numbers are low, giving them very little power to do any real peacekeeping. They also support the South Sudan National Police force, despite their corruption.)