08.06.22

Statement On The Need for Peace and Democracy in South Sudan

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
On
The Need for Peace and Democracy in South Sudan
Congressional Record

August 6, 2022

Mr. LEAHY. I have spoken twice this year about the despair and insecurity that are a daily reality for the people of South Sudan, despite independence eleven years ago that held so much promise and hope for that country.

On January 6 and 31, I noted that the country’s independence was a result of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which took years of negotiations facilitated in part by the United States, Norway, and the United Kingdom. It provided a roadmap for political stability, economic development, respect for human rights, and justice. I further noted that since then, two former warlords, President Kiir and First Vice President Machar – who were never elected – have dominated the political landscape. It is they, throughout these formative years, who have had the executive power, and the responsibility, to turn the aspirations of independence into meaningful improvements in the lives of their people.

Eleven years later the country is in a state of political paralysis and its people are coping with a widening humanitarian crisis, brought on by violence instigated by government security forces, severe flooding, skyrocketing fuel costs, and acute food shortages compounded by the war in Ukraine which was a major source of grain imports for South Sudan. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes by the fighting, flooding, and hunger.

I will not take time today to recount the litany of failures of the Kiir-Machar government which I enumerated in January, and which have only worsened since then. Rather, I want to call the Senate’s attention to a Vatican mission of peace, unity, and reconciliationto South Sudan in early July. The visit by Cardinal Pietro Parolin came at a time when the country’s leaders are apparently, though not surprisingly, seeking to evade elections and extend their stay in office illegitimately, even though the peace agreement mandated that elections be held this December.

Kiir and Machar have now proposed extending their unpopular authoritarian rule for three years without the consent of the people of South Sudan. The parliamentary faction of President Kiir has passed a political parties bill in which they have changed political parties’ registration requirements in order to limit those who could pose a serious challenge to their continued hold on power. The text of the bill that was negotiated and agreed to by the parties was changed by Kiir’s parliamentary caucus and rammed through the parliament despite boycott and serious objections from the other parties. All these actions provide sufficient evidence to suggest that President Kiir and Machar are determined to cling to power by any means necessary.

It is no secret that President Kiir and his Deputy Machar have made the conditions for holding free and fair elections impossible, for all the reasons noted earlier. The country’s leaders have done nothing to prepare for elections, preferring instead to retain power by default. By fomenting civil unrest and violence and threatening and arresting their critics, they have transformed the peace agreement into a meaningless document. Rather than peace and prosperity, it has brought dictatorship, corruption, violence, and misery.

As I said on January 31,

The sad reality is that while the South Sudanese people won their independence from Sudan, they remain captives of the same ruthless and corrupt warlords who created so much ethnic conflict, bloodshed, and misery during the civil war and who have not been held accountable.

They simply reinvented themselves as political leaders, with a stamp of legitimacy from the international community, while continuing to act like the warlords they are and always were.

They have shown no interest in implementing the R-ARCSS or any other peace agreement.

They have shown no interest in the welfare of their people.

They have shown no interest in anything except holding onto power, avoiding justice, and enriching themselves.

Real peace requires justice, and it requires respect for fundamental rights regardless of ethnicity, race, or religion. It requires free and fair elections, and equitable economic development. Cardinal Pietro Parolin conveyed a clear message to President Kiir and Vice President Machar. Their churches played an indispensable role in the international effort that culminated in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and they too have a stake in its success. Above all, President Kiir and Vice President Machar should know that the world is watching.

The ethnic and political violence, displacements, and destruction of villages and food stocks perpetrated against South Sudanese civilians in different parts of the country, including by forces loyal to them, must stop.

The arbitrary arrests, sexual assaults and rape, forced disappearance, and killings of religious, civil society, and political leaders must stop, and justice done for the victims.

Those currently detained arbitrarily must be released, including Kuel Aguer Kuel, the former Governor of Northern Bahr El-Ghazal,and Pastor Abraham Chol Maketh.

The daily corruption in South Sudan, including illegal loans and growing debt burden that has impoverished the current and future generations, must end, and South Sudan must begin to feed and care for its own people from its existing resources, which are sufficient if used prudently.

President Kiir and Riek Machar are responsible for the chronic hunger, insecurity, economic, and political crises in the country, and they have the power to bring peace and stability to South Sudan, which is a matter of urgent priority.

But the country is certain to disintegrate further if Kiir and Machar continue to hold it hostage to their individual interests at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of the South Sudanese people. They must prepare to step down and allow the country to recover and rebuild from the ruins of their policies.

I commend South Sudanese civil society and pro-democracy movements, such as the People’s Coalition for Civic Action (PCCA), for their efforts in creating awareness about the plight of the people of South Sudan and for their non-violent campaign for freedom and democracy. They have our support.

Finally, I want to again urge the Biden Administration to listen to the people of South Sudan. I commend recent steps by the State Department to recognize the fallacy of continuing to support a failed peace agreement that South Sudan’s own leaders do not support, and I urge the European Union and Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) countries to take similar action. There is no point in admonishing two failed leaders to implement a peace agreement they have no intention of implementing. That is not a policy. It is a dead end.

Instead, the Administration should join with other key governments and stakeholders in exploring the possibility of recreating a new political forum for South Sudan to address the challenge of the looming end of the transitional government, and the reality of the impracticality of conducting democratic elections in the current environment. Given the failure of the leaders of the current transitional government, it is unacceptable to extend its mandate. It should be brought to an end. I also urge the IGAD governments, particularly President Museveni of Uganda and President Uhuru Kenya of Kenya, and the other regional leaders, to face the fact that the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) they helped mediate has been sabotaged by South Sudan’s leaders. The time has come to do what is needed to help the South Sudanese people get back on a path to achieve their democratic aspirations and freedoms.

South Sudan needs a new broad-based political dialogue that is inclusive of all political forces and civil society. This political dialogue, which many political parties and organizations have endorsed, should focus on peace and stability in South Sudan beyond the confines of power sharing, taking into account key provisions of the R-ARCSS, combined with the outcomes of the South Sudan National Dialogue. Such a broad-based political dialogue should aim at reaffirming a shared vision for South Sudan, and building consensus on political and constitutional matters, ending violence, saving lives, uniting the nation, and preparing for elections.

The dialogue process should culminate in the establishment of an interim administration led by persons of consensus, technocrats, and individuals not politically aligned with the warring parties and not entangled in corruption and political violence. Such an administration should have a limited mandate to further political dialogue, rebuild public trust in government, strengthen the unified forces, deliver the Constitution, return the IDPs and refugees, conduct a census, and culminate in free and fair elections.

The Biden Administration should articulate a new policy that reinvigorates U.S. engagement and supports peace, stability, and democracy in South Sudan. No one should be under any illusion that this can achieved quickly or easily. But without a competent or credible government to engage with, we must shift our focus to providing strong support to pro-democracy, non-violent organizations to create the grassroots pressure necessary for a genuine political dialogue to take place and build the foundation for a better future.

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