By Guest Contributor:
Laura Nyantung Beny Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School Co-editor of Sudan’s Killing Fields: Political Violence and Fragmentation
Following decades of civil war in Sudan, in 2011 South Sudan became an independent nation due to an internationally brokered peace agreement and referendum on secession. At independence, Southern Sudanese and many international supporters were jubilant and full of great hope for the new country, a region which had been in nearly perpetual conflict.
Early hopes and celebration gave way in December 2013 to an intractable conflict, now recognized as a civil war, between rival factions of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (the “SPLM/A”). The competing factions include forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer. The humanitarian situation is dire. The United Nations (UN) and other bodies have issued warnings about ethnic cleansing and impending genocide. Over 3 million people have been displaced, internally and in neighboring countries. The UN has declared famine status in several regions. Reports chronicle massive human rights abuses, including gender-based violations, such as rape and sexual harassment. Peace remains elusive.
The UN Security Council, governments, and civil society groups have put forth multiple proposals to end the conflict and restore peace to South Sudan. Proposed measures include: UN sanctions (general and targeted); criminal tribunals for culpable leaders; international peacekeeping forces (AU and UN); and national dialogue. Ironically, some have even proposed “neo-trusteeship” for South Sudan.
None of these preceding measures alone is sufficient to end the conflict. Some, like national dialogue, are necessary, while others, like criminal tribunals or sanctions, might be unnecessary for peace. This commentary gives an overview of several of the proposed measures and potential obstacles to their success. It concludes that the most promising, indeed indispensable, measure is an indigenous, all-inclusive peace process. Trusteeship is especially problematic, as it would entail a break from the foundational basis of South Sudan’s sovereignty – self-determination.