Lauren Meyer, Loyola University Maryland:
The long-awaited report from the African Union regarding the abuses that transpired in South Sudan was released on Tuesday, October 27th, and its findings were extremely upsetting, though not entirely surprising. Since the conflict in South Sudan conflict erupted in 2013, the county has been filled with rampant violence, with thousands being killed. The most recent report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan found that evidence exists to support that killings, torture, mutilations and rape against civilians, and forced cannibalism are some of the atrocities that have occurred.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after years of war, making it the world’s youngest nation. The conflict in South Sudan began in December 2013 and in the recently released report, African Union investigators concluded that the conflict was not spurred by an attempted coup by former Vice President Riek Machar on President Salva Kiir, which was the reason initially purported as spurring the conflict. Prior, in July of 2013, President Kiir fired Machar, releasing him as his deputy. Instead of the coup, the investigators, therefore, determined that the conflict began after an altercation between soldiers of the two predominant ethic groups, Dinka and Nuer, following bouts of political tensions between the two politicians. When the violence began, Machar, who is a Nuer, became a rebel leader. Just three months ago, at the end of August, President Kiir signed a long awaited peace deal with the rebels, ending the 20-month conflict. Despite this, UN Officials remain wary about the prospects of immediate peace in the country because some of the commanders who split from Machar have stated that the peace deal does not mean anything to them. As such, official suspect the fighting may not be over.
The violence has largely been ethnic in nature with both sides in the conflict, government forces and the rebels, targeting civilians in a brutal manner. Reports of people being burned alive, beaten, shot, and women of all ages being subjected to sexual violence, such as being raped and gang-raped, and left unconscious or bleeding were documented. Mass graves were discovered and stories of people being forced to eat the human flesh or drink the human blood surfaced and were documented in the report. Although the violence perpetuated in the region is largely ethnic in nature, the African Union commission said that it “found no reasonable evidence to prove that genocide had been committed.” Even though these allegations began to surface in late 2013 and continued into 2014 they have prompted little reaction and coverage from the international community, particularly in the West.
Despite the tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives and the over 1.6 million who have been internally displaced since the civil war broke out, the conflict has only garnered attention from Western powers when it has been convenient. In reference to the peace agreement that was assembled by many Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, officials on the ground say that the agreement is not directly addressing the underlying causes of the violence. President Kiir said that he was suspicious of the deal saying, “The current peace we are signing today has so many things we have to reject.” Pressure from the United States and the United Nations has been observed as the main reason behind Kiir’s signing of the agreement, as both Washington and the U.N., threatened new sanctions and an arms embargo upon military leaders in the country if the agreement was not fulfilled.
With the peace deal largely being a formality, it will be interesting to see if the government forces and rebels comply with the agreement. In order to achieve some standard of peace and stability in the country, it is vital that both sides work towards ending the violence and brutality that has already affected too many lives. Although the West is not entirely to blame, it must be noted that as with many conflicts in the past, the West has played the role of the interventionist, coming in and attempting to create a solution to the problem. But when the West does this, the results are not always positive, because action is often taken without properly consulting those who are in the region, on the ground. Therefore, what Western powers propose is not likely to result in providing long-term peace. If we are going to choose to intervene, the West must be focused more on assisting in creating solutions that are deeply rooted in evidence from the country and are beneficial to the parties most involved, not just our own national interests. Until we learn how to intervene properly or how to not intervene at all, we will continue to allow conflicts to perpetuate, thus believing, either from naiveté or for purposes of expediency, that “Band-Aids” will fix complex situations. As a supposed “world power,” we should want to be better than that.