Articles (Opinion/Analysis)

Issues around Ceasefire, Arms Embargo & Supporting South Sudan’s peace process

By Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, 19th January 2022

In his 2nd State of the IGAD Region Address dated 17th December, Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyehu, Ph.D said IGAD welcomes “the recent overtures of H.E. President Yoweri Museveni, alongside Kenya’s Special Envoy to South Sudan and the Troika Partners to hold the long-overdue retreat for the leadership of South Sudan as a confidence-building measure to accelerate the implementation of the peace agreement.” 

A day earlier, while welcoming the decision to host the retreat, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General and head of UNMISS Mr. Nicholas Haysom said he is also concerned “that multiple regional crises are reducing the political bandwidth for international attention on South Sudan, at a time when international support is urgently needed,” and he urged that the retreat “should be supported in order to give impetus to the peace process.” That was in his statement to the UN Security Council.

The retreat is said to take place this month though so far there appears no official information regarding its detail and date.

Major issues here also concern the implementation of Chapter 2 of the peace agreement which is about the Permanent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements; Arms Embargo and Sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the peace process as a whole.

On the Permanent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements

It is clear that the implementation of the agreement continues to face several delays. In his End of Year message published 25th December and titled “Complete the unification of forces, redouble efforts in implementation of the Peace Agreement”, Major General Charles Tai Gituai, the Interim Chairperson of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC), urged the Parties to the Agreement to reach consensus on “prioritisation of tasks, and continue to build political will, and strengthen trust and confidence.”

“The stalled Transitional Security Arrangements, especially the unification of the forces, must be completed. Also central to the Agreement is the consitution making process, which prepares the way for elections to be held,” he said, adding that both of these must be central in the plan of action of Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity RToGNU and that there is need for “more concurrent activities across all chapters of the Agreement.”

Indeed, the implementation of the Agreement is, in various ways, connected to and or also concern its parties, the RTGoNU (Presidency, Council of Ministers, Legislature); the Civil Society; IGAD, the African Union, United Nations Security Council as well as many partners/countries/diplomatic community involved.

The often referred to Chapter 2 of the Agreement is significant for the success of the peace process. Major provisions in that Chapter include that the Permanent Ceasefire shall be “observed meticulously” throughout the Republic of South Sudan to ensure sustainable peace, and facilitate the operationalization of the Transitional Security Arrangements and the voluntary repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

The parties also agree to respect and ensure full compliance with international humanitarian law, the agreement says, and that all Parties agree to cease security forces recruitment and training of late recruits.

Civilian areas including schools, service centers, occupied houses, IDP camps, protection of civilian sites, villages, churches, mosques, ritual centers and livelihood areas shall be immediately demilitarized, according to the Agreement. It also provides for training and redeployment of “necessary unified forces” at different levels and sizes (units, formations and commands) and building of the national army, police, security and other forces. The Agreement stipulates that “All forces shall be screened and classified according to known military criteria followed for the purposes of recruitment for the army, police, national security and other services. Ineligible individuals shall be referred to DDR [Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-Integration.]”

The Parties also agree to ensure that all non-South Sudanese armed groups leave the country within the Pre-Transitional Period, the Agreement says.

On Current Issues and Actions Taken

As noted by Gebeyehu in his Address, it is issues around the implementation of provisions of the Chapter Two that triggered an internal dispute within SPLM/A-IO and resulted in clashes in August 2021.

In a Communique in August during its 73rd Extraordinary Session, the IGAD Council of Ministers called upon all factions in the dispute within SPLM/A-IO to immediately and unconditionally cease armed confrontation and refrain from any offensive, provocative or retaliatory utterances, behaviours and other actions that will escalate tensions and hostilities and urged the parties to pursue peaceful avenues of resolution of internal differences and disagreements through dialogue, trust and confidence building and demonstrate greater political will and commitment.

Also in a Joint statement the same month, IGAD, UNMISS, RJMEC and CTSAMVM said they are “ready and committed to provide support to the Parties to aid in resolving the extant challenges relating to the Transitional Security Arrangements and towards the timely and full implementation of the R-ARCSS.” The statement also says IGAD, UNMISS, RJMEC and CTSAMVM have agreed to forge a closer working relationship with a view to coordinate and synchronize efforts towards a smooth transition to sustainable peace, prosperity and development in South Sudan.

Last week, the breakaway faction of the SPLA-IO allied to General Simon Gatwech Dual and General Johnson Olony Thabo  started negotiations with a delegation from the South Sudan government in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. James Kalany Mamoun, the press secretary for the office of the interim head of the Kit Gwang faction, according to Radio Tamazuj, said the negotiations are chaired by Sudan, as the head of IGAD.

There may be genuine concerns regarding the capacities of the signatories and some wordings of the agreements that have surfaced since Sunday, one signed by Advisor Tut Galuak as SPLM-IG Representative and Presidential Adviser on National Security Affair, Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, Gen. Johnson Olony, as chairman and deputy chairman, respectively, of the SPLM-IO/SPLA-IO Kitgwang faction, and another signed by Gen. Akol Koor as SPLM-IG Representative and Director General, Internal Security Bureau, National Security Service and General Gen. Johnson Olony as of Chairman of the Agwelek forces. 

However, there are important issues to note on two key points in both of the documents: in the first one, it is a paragraph in the preamble which says “the Parties shall be bound to all provisions of the R-ARCSS”, and a provision regarding the Permanent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements.

In the second one, it is that the two parties agreed that, “Chollo areas’ boundaries should resolved as it stood on 1/1/1956 maps and as provided for in the R-ARCiSS” and that “the two parties agreed that, there shall be communities’ forum for peace and reconciliation between the Chollo, Dinka Apadang in Upper Nile State and Ruweng in order to promote peaceful coexistence and the government shall provide necessary support.”

At the signing of the deal, Gen. Gatwech himself, according to Eye Radio, reiterated his commitment to adhere to the ceasefire and return to Juba once the security arrangements are implemented. Also, Gen. Olony stressed on the need to fully implement the 2018 peace accord (R-ARCSS) and taking into account the grievances of all the parties, Eye Radio reported.

While primary responsibility for implementation lies with the Parties to the R-ARCSS, whether on defining and demarcating tribal areas of South Sudan as they stood on 1 January 1956 and the tribal areas in dispute in the country or Chapter Two on Permanent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements, it seems people, the parties included, have been going around the same issues, despite the fact that some improvements are needed in the R-ARCSS and its implementation. It is also worth mentioning that demarcation of South Sudan borders with its neighbors have not been completed, that too, may have impact on what the R-ARCSS refers to as “defining and demarcating tribal areas of South Sudan as they stood on 1 January 1956 and the tribal areas in dispute in the country.”

Meanwhile, in his briefing to the UNSC last month, Haysom mentioned “some progress” and that funds have now been released to the Joint Defense Board established under the R-ARCSS, “for screening soldiers at Training Centers preliminary to graduation of unified forces.” Delivery of food and medicines has also commenced, he said.

Despite some concerns regarding the wordings of the Agreements reached in Khartoum on Sunday, I believe there are sufficient grounds that they should not contribute negatively to the implementation of the R-ARCSS. For the Agreements can be taken within the commitments of the Parties to the R-ARCSS; the Communique of the 73rd Extraordinary Session of the IGAD Council of Ministers cited above and the Joint statement of IGAD, UNMISS, RJMEC and CTSAMVM in which they said they “are ready and committed to provide support to the Parties to aid in resolving the extant challenges relating to the Transitional Security Arrangements and towards the timely and full implementation of the R-ARCSS.”

On the other hand, while the government is currently pursuing peace talks with groups that are not part of the R-ARCSS, there have been some expressions, at least once recently publicly, by an official from the government, saying if the unified forces were graduated earlier, they could have confronted all “these negative forces together  in Central Equatoria and everywhere.” Such an utterance, though the government may argue that it is legitimate, yet again brings to light the need to limit both the South Sudanese government and armed groups in the Country to dialogue and peaceful means of resolving the crises as opposed to the continued armed conflicts.

Are the Sanctions/Arms Embargo behind delays in graduating the unified forces?

In 2018, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on South Sudan, which has since then been renewed annually. This includes to support the search for an inclusive and sustainable peace in South Sudan, the UNSC says.

Several South Sudanese government officials including President Kiir repeatedly argued that the arms embargo has affected the graduation of unified forces and implementation of Chapter Two of the R-ARCSS as a whole, claims some continue to disagree with.

“Those guns being collected from the hands of civilians have expired and it will not be possible to graduate the national army with expired guns. The unified forces need to be equipped with new guns for them to be able to protect the country and the citizens,” Lul Ruai Koang, the spokesperson for the South Sudan People Defence Forces (SSPDF) was quoted by Radio Tamazuj as having said, “Some of those soldiers who reported to training camps came without guns, especially some soldiers from the opposition side reported to training sites without any guns.”

While speaking last month about the retreat for the leadership of South Sudan, according to New Vision, President Museveni “observed” that the sanctions imposed on South Sudan “were wrong because they create a vacuum” and he called on “the leaders and stakeholders to work towards the lifting of the sanctions.” He also said that the South Sudan government and all stakeholders must work towards holding elections in order to have sustainable peace.

United Kingdom Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador James Kariuki in a statement at the Security Council briefing last month said the UK is also pleased that the graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces is imminent, but added that they refute the argument that the arms embargo was responsible for the lengthy delays in graduating the Necessary Unified Forces. “The exemptions procedure remains in place to ensure the embargo does not constitute an obstacle to South Sudan’s legitimate security needs,” he said.

Also in her statement, United States Representative to the UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the arms embargo provisions are not responsible for delays in the training and graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces.  “Its purpose is to create space to advance the peace process and space for South Sudanese civil society to participate in its own democracy and governance. The arms embargo helps protect civilians by stemming the flow of weapons into the country,” she said Should the South Sudanese government require any arms or materiel in order to implement the peace agreement, there is a clear exemption procedures in place. The Committee only received one arms embargo exemption request this year, which you just heard, and that request was granted.”

On the arms embargo, part of resolution 2577 (2021) adopted by the UNSC in May last year says:

“The Council expressed its readiness to review the embargo measures — including through their modification, suspension or progressive lifting — in light of progress achieved on five key benchmarks.  Those included the completion by the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity of stages 1, 2 and 3 of the country’s strategic defence and security review; the formation of a unified command structure and redeployment of the Necessary Unified Forces; progress on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration; progress on properly managing existing arms and ammunition stockpiles; and the implementation of the Joint Action Plan for the Armed Forces on addressing conflict-related sexual violence.

Council members requested the South Sudan authorities to report on progress achieved on those benchmarks, as well as additional reforms, to the Committee established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015) overseeing the country’s sanctions by no later than 15 April 2022.  They also requested the Secretary-General, in close consultation with the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and the panel of experts assisting the sanctions committee, to conduct an assessment of progress achieved on the key benchmarks by the same date.”

During the last month’s Security Council briefing it was also mentioned that the Panel of Experts could not participate in the trip of the Sanctions Committee the previous month, “because the slate of proposed candidates has been on hold since June” and it was underlined that “unblocking nominations to the Panel of Experts is important” so that the Committee can fulfill its mandate.

Conclusions

Supporting the peace process would also mean regularly taking a closer look at facts versus the commitments of the parties involved and how all these make practical impact on the issues concerned.  

Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, a South Sudanese journalist, is the author of the book Freedom of Expression and Media Laws in South Sudan.  He is also the Producer and Host of The Weekly Review: Making Sense of Relevant Topics and News. For more, keep in touch with this his website rogeryoronmodi.com

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