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South Sudan: No Sanctions without a Strategy
South Sudan: No Sanctions without a Strategy
Instruments of Pain: Conflict and Famine
Instruments of Pain: Conflict and Famine
Statement / Africa

South Sudan: No Sanctions without a Strategy

As South Sudan’s civil war continues unabated and multiple peace processes and initiatives create little tangible progress, members of the UN Security Council are seeking to adopt sanctions against six generals, three each from the government and the opposition sides. This would in effect punish past wrongdoing and risk compromising ongoing peace efforts. It would also undermine the renewed impetus for a coordinated international approach to peacemaking in South Sudan. That process remains under the auspices of the regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which has recently been augmented by a wider grouping, known as “IGAD-PLUS”. Imposing sanctions on these generals at this time would also turn individuals and communities in South Sudan who currently favour a peace agreement against the international community. The Security Council should hold off on this sanctions package and reframe its South Sudan sanctions strategy.

None of the six named generals are responsible for the failure to reach a viable agreement. They are not key political decision makers and do not play major roles in shaping positions at the Addis Ababa negotiations. Most favour a negotiated settlement and their support will be crucial for successful implementation of any peace agreement that is achieved.

The failure of the IGAD-sponsored talks to date has created frustration, but IGAD-PLUS, launched in South Africa earlier this month, seeks to coordinate a more effective and broadly-supported international strategy by bringing in additional important players, including the African Union (AU), the U.S., UK, European Union, Norway and China, among others. IGAD-PLUS can only succeed with coordinated and effective support from its members and the Council. While IGAD, the AU and UN agree that the road to peace undoubtedly requires a combination of pressure and incentives, these proposed sanctions would likely weaken, not reinforce a more strategic approach. A unity of approach is required, not uncoordinated, independent actions that may produce long-term negative consequences for peace prospects.

Sanctions as a means of pressure should:

  • be imposed only when clearly supporting a revitalised peace process;
  • make clear to those targeted what they would need to do to avoid the sanction or have it removed; and
  • provide clear timeframes and benchmarks for such action to be taken.

The sanctions that are being considered meet none of these tests. In seeking to demonstrate the credibility of the Council’s threats, the Council risks achieving the reverse with ill-timed and ill-conceived sanctions. They will not build greater support for an improved peace process, which is the present imperative, and should not be pursued.

Addis/Brussels

Men unload boxes of nutritional supplements from a helicopter prior to a humanitarian food distribution carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme in Thonyor, Leer county, South Sudan, on 25 February 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Statement / Global

Instruments of Pain: Conflict and Famine

For the first time in three decades, four countries, driven by war, verge on famine. Over coming weeks, Crisis Group will publish special briefings on Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. Each conflict requires tailored response; all need increased aid and efforts to end the violence.

The last time the UN declared a famine was in 2011, in Somalia. The last time it faced more than one major famine simultaneously was more than three decades ago. Today we are on the brink of four – in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.

The spectre of famine is primarily the result of war, not natural disaster. According to the UN, more than twenty million people, millions of them children, are at risk of starvation. This is happening in man-made crises and under the Security Council’s watch. In some places, the denial of food and other aid is a weapon of war as much as its consequence. Combatants’ fighting tactics often make the problem worse.

Both sides of Yemen’s conflict, for example, fight with little to no regard for the local population. The Huthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces, on one hand, and their opponents in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, on the other, have repeatedly strangled the flow of aid and commodities to areas controlled by their rivals. The impending Saudi-led push to recapture the Red Sea coast, including the port of Hodeida – the main entry point for imports on which much of the country depends – and the battle that offensive will provoke risk creating another major chokehold on supplies.

Critical norms, including adherence to International Humanitarian Law, are fast eroding. For the first time in a generation, most indicators suggest the world is becoming more dangerous.

Elsewhere, too, the actions of governments and their opponents exact high humanitarian tolls. In north-east Nigeria, Boko Haram’s attacks on rural communities and the destruction wrought by fighting between its insurgents and the military caused the acute food crisis. The curtailing by Lake Chad basin states of economic activity, aimed at weakening the insurgency, has damaged communities’ livelihoods and increased their vulnerability.

Fighting in South Sudan often involves indiscriminate killing of civilians, sexual violence and pillage by state and non-state armed actors alike. Civilians in Southern Unity state must constantly flee armed groups, rendering them unable to farm or receive assistance and creating conditions for famine. Many resort to hiding in swamps; to seek food is to risk attack. 

The risk of famine is thus closely tied to the spike, over recent years, in war and its fallout, particularly mounting human suffering. Critical norms, including adherence to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), are fast eroding. For the first time in a generation, most indicators suggest the world is becoming more dangerous.

The Nigerians, Somalis, South Sudanese and Yemenis over whom famine looms have already suffered intense, in some cases protracted conflict. The impact on those most affected is more than a passing tragedy. The displacement, destruction to livestock and local communities and the threat of a lost generation, without education or socio-economic prospects, hinder prospects for building sustainable peace.

Beginning today with publication of the special briefing Instruments of Pain (I): Conflict and Famine in Yemen, and continuing over the next few weeks with similar special briefings on South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, Crisis Group will describe these crises’ roots and the measures necessary to prevent their further deterioration. Each requires a unique response: challenges of access and funding vary, as do ways to quiet and eventually end the wars that have increased risks of famine. Each special briefing will offer detailed prescriptions.

Overall, though, governments of the states affected and their backers should:

  • show far greater respect for IHL, particularly by allowing in aid and protecting those delivering it. They must avoid tactics that contribute to the risk of famine, like the Hodeida offensive, the curtailing of Lake Chad basin trading or predation in Southern Unity state;
     
  • increase and sustain funds for relief efforts. Shortfalls are not the only financial challenge – in Yemen, for example, the central bank’s failure to pay public sector salaries has left many Yemenis unable to buy food that is available. But humanitarian efforts in all four crises are chronically underfunded; and
     
  • renew efforts to calm violence and bring those conflicts to a sustainable end. The spike in war over recent years, which has already caused more civilian casualties, mass displacement and terrorism, now threatens to starve millions. Without redoubled efforts to end those conflicts, 2017 promises to be not the low-water mark, but rather a way-station on the descent to something far worse.