On 26 August 2015, the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan was signed in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). The Parties to the Agreement – the South-Sudanese Government, the armed opposition and a number of other political parties and stakeholders – committed themselves to achieving enduring peace and stability in the Republic of South Sudan and apologised unconditionally for the suffering, distress, loss of life and instability caused by the conflict which had been going on since 15 December 2013. The Agreement established a Transitional Government of National Unity according to an established power ration. The incumbent President will remain in office for the Transitional Period, whereas the Armed Opposition chooses the First Vice-President, both with carefully assigned functions. In addition, a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing has been established, as well as a Hybrid Court for South Sudan. The Agreement is an important step forward and significant elements are now in place to give hope for a lasting peace.
A number of observations can be made about this occurrence. First of all, although President H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit finally signed the treaty after his initial refusal, he did so with great reluctance. Before signing the Agreement, Kiir Mayardit pointed to ‘serious reservations’ in the deal, and after signing he submitted twelve pages of complaints and reservations to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). His reservations are not accepted by the opposition and rejected by the White House, but they might indicate a lack of willingness on his side to implement the agreement in full.
Secondly, earlier ceasefire agreements did not last. The peace talks and the involvement of the international community, including economic sanctions imposed by the United States since 6 May 2014, lasted over a year, with several ceasefires broken and an on-off process of negotiations between warring parties. On 23 February 2014 for example, the Sudanese government and the armed opposition signed an agreement concerning the Cessation of Hostilities, although with no power-sharing arrangements. (See for a historical overview the New York Times).
Thirdly, the problems in South Sudan are immense. More than 2 million people have been displaced internally and over 2.5 million people are in urgent need of food aid. Killing, rape and forced displacement have characterised the situation in South Sudan for a long time. The process of reconciliation will be long and difficult.
These drawbacks might not look promising for the new Peace Agreement. However, the international support for the Agreement is promising. A large number of Guarantors signed the Peace Agreement, including regional Heads of State (for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union), and International Partners as witnesses, including representatives of the European Union, China, the United States of America and the United Nations. In particular the role of the Security Council has been significant. It has been actively seized of the situation in both Sudan and South Sudan and frequently adopts a resolution on the situation there. Moreover, on 3 March 2015 it adopted a Resolution expressing its willingness to impose a set of sanctions – already spelt out in the Resolution – when the situation so demands, and its readiness to adjust (strengthen or lift) the measures contained in the Resolution, in light of the progress achieved in the peace, accountability and reconciliation process. It is noteworthy that all members of the Security Council voted in favour of that Resolution, and that China was among its strong proponents, having strong economic stakes in the country. Also Russia, having serious reservations about the actual implementations of sanctions in light of the ongoing peace process, agreed with the threat of sanctions. The very concrete sanctions – assets freezes, travel bans and arms embargoes - that would follow delay in the scheduled peace process most certainly helped President Kiir Mayardit overcome his hesitations, especially now the United States made it very clear that it would sanction those that did not sign the Agreement within 15 days after August 18. It is to be hoped that the Security Council continues to monitor the situation closely and wherever necessary translate words into deeds. Whatever can be said about enforcing peace, and the chances such peace will last, the Security Council in this case can show unity, decisiveness and credibility when not only the negotiation process, but also the long process of implementation and reconciliation succeeds. The primary challenge will be to keep Russia on board when actual sanctions need to be implemented to guarantee the implementation of a lasting peace in South Sudan.