By Banin Abdul Khaliq, STAND Canada Blog Writer
In 2011, South Sudan finally gained independence from Sudan, becoming the world’s newest country. Merely two years later, the young nation was engulfed in civil war, following a power struggle over Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) between SPLM chairman, President Salva Kiir, and his then Vice President Riek Machar – current head of rebel group and political party Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO). Tensions between the two leaders escalated when President Kiir dismissed Machar who had accused him of being undemocratic and dictatorial. Suspicions of Machar orchestrating a coup d’état against President Kiir further exacerbated the tensions between the two leaders and their respective Dinka and Nuer ethnic communities, resulting in a full-scale civil war.
Yet, the situation – in 2017 – seems to be getting progressively worse.
Chief of International Organization for Migration, William Swing, stated at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in September, “Every year we gather and we hold this meeting on South Sudan, the conclusion is always the same: It cannot get any worse. And each year we come back – in fact, it has gotten worse”.
David Shearer, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, recently stated, “The parties have shown little interest in engaging in serious negotiations on the way forward, despite the various initiatives aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict”. Peace agreements, signed by both President Kiir and Machar, have been immediately breached, rendering peace negotiations futile. The failure of peace can be attributed to the leaders’ unwillingness to end the crisis, as the conflict provides them with power and control over financial resources, an abundance of natural resources, and the militia – at the expense of innocent civilians.
Currently, 60 percent – that is 7.5 million people – in South Sudan is in dire need of humanitarian aid. Adding to this, South Sudan’s famine has been labeled a man-made tragedy; it is not a result of common factors such as drought or natural disaster but, rather, a result of human conflict. Farmers have been driven out of their lands resulting in low crop production, while economic inflation has made it impossible for civilians to even afford food. The UN’s relief efforts are continuously deterred by pro-government blockades, making it difficult for food to even reach those in imminent need. Out of desperation, civilians have resorted to eating water lilies and weeds, “surviving on what they can find to eat in swamps”. Consequently, the countless human rights abuses and a critical shortage of food has forced a total of four million civilians to flee, with at least half seeking refuge in a neighbouring country, including Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia.
Despite humanitarian efforts, aid in South Sudan is assiduously failing. One of the reasons for this can be attributed to the UN Security council continuing to do exactly the same every year; diverting away from an arms embargo. While the UN’s efforts have been helpful in humanitarian relief efforts, provision of food, assistance in development, and in aiding refugees, it will continue to fail in ameliorating the conflict in South Sudan, if nothing is done to directly stop the arms flow fuelling the incitement of atrocities; an arms embargo is urgently needed.
While an embargo was proposed in 2016, eight countries (China, Russian Federation, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela) voted against it and seven (France, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay) voted in favour. Those who voted against the resolution reasoned that imposing an arms embargo would be counter-productive to their efforts in restoring peace and additionally cited the failures of arms embargoes in other countries that have undergone similar conflict.
The international community, including Canada, cannot wait for South Sudan to get any worse before imposing an arms embargo. Nor should they continue leading the same efforts that have failed to restore peace by predominantly focusing on relief efforts rather than mitigating the incitement of violence and warfare. The international community needs to make it difficult, inconvenient, and expensive for the warring parties to obtain weapons, and to do so they need to make it illegal to sell weapons to South Sudan. While it will not eradicate the disaster, it will mitigate the violence against innocent civilians and the tensions surrounding military confrontation between the warring parties. South Sudan is in critical condition and efforts should be executed to their full force – an arms embargo needs to be imposed before a mass genocide becomes fully in effect.
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