“R-ARCSS slowly missing intended targets again”- civil society group sounds alarm bells

 

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South Sudan Leaders Signing The Revitalized Peace Agreement In The Sudanese Capital Khartoum (File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

October 3rd 2019 (Nyamilepedia)-The South Sudan Civil Society Forum’s Observations on Cantonment and Related Processes.

1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1. Efforts by transitional security mechanisms to unify the forces of the parties to the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) were desperately frustrated and made to fall far behind schedule by insufficient government funding of the peace process.

2.  It is no longer possible for parties to the R-ARCSS to produce trained Necessary Unified Forces (NUFs) at the agreed upon amounts prior to commencement of the Transitional Period set for November 12, 2019.

3. Without clear allocation and consistent disbursement of government revenues for implementation of the R-ARCSS, the anticipated Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU) is bound to be paralyzed if it is formed at all.

4. Lack of full and sustained national ownership of the R-ARCSS is a stark indicator of weak internal commitment to implement the peace agreement and is likely to shatter public confidence in the peace process.

5. Unfavorable conditions bordering starvation at cantonment sites present a threat to both the process of reorganization of the forces and safety of civilians. Persistent hunger may cause soldiers to loot food from civilians and desert the cantonment sites.

6. Intercommunal violence and a surge in armed criminality have profound implications on the safety of civilians and may eventually erode their confidence in the peace agreement.

7. The level of collaboration among military officers of the various parties since the signing of the R-ARCSS is an important asset to sustain compliance with provisions of the permanent ceasefire.

8. Achievements of the R-ARCSS are far below intended targets in the Pre-Transitional Period. However, the country would have disintegrated more and descended further into political violence and destruction without this imperfect peace agreement.

9. The country should continue to pursue peace through the R-ARCSS and other viable options.

10. As regional authorities, IGAD and the African Union, acting collaboratively can help increase R-ARCSS outcomes and prospects for peace in South Sudan. Backing from the United Nations and other wider international community are critical in this regard.

  • 2. INTRODUCTION

This report presents a summary of observations of civil society on cantonment process and review of reports of mechanisms implementing the Revitalized Agreement on the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). It follows a visit to Ding Ding cantonment site and Bentiu army barracks on September 20, 2019.

 

The report is not a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the R-ARCSS in the Pre-Transitional Period. It is limited to cantonment process and related outstanding issues of the RARCSS. It is meant to draw attention of the parties, implementation mechanisms, stakeholders, guarantors and partners to the R-ARCSS to issues surrounding implementation of this peace agreement. It was produced by the South Sudan Civil Society Forum (SSCSF) through its representation in the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC).

SSCSF is aware that status of implementation of the R-ARCSS changes on daily basis. It is possible that some changes might have happened since these observations were made over a week ago.

  • 3. CONTEXT Ding Ding Cantonment site and Bentiu Barracks

Implementation of the R-ARCSS is a major political development in South Sudan. The first phase of implementation of this agreement, an 8-month Pre-Transitional Period, provides for creation of trained Necessary Unified Forces (NUFs) to take charge of security of the country in preparation for establishment of a unity government to implement the peace agreement.

This deadline was missed in May, resulting in an extension by six months. Less than six weeks to the end of this extension, a hugely demanding process initially designed to last for a minimum of eight months, to canton, register, screen, unify, train and deploy combined forces of government and opposition groups is just beginning. The parties agreed to use 35 cantonment sites and 10 major barracks for the initial stages of this process.

Representing civil society, SSCSF participated in a visit to Ding Ding cantonment site and Bentiu Baracks in the former Unity state on September 20, 2019.

This joint visit was organized by the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSMVM) and included members of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) and defense attachés form diplomatic missions.

At the cantonment site, registration of forces was steadily making progress. Civil-military relationship at Ding Ding cantonment site located in an area hosting about 30,000 civilians appeared to be good. Relations were also cordial between government forces, the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) and forces of the opposition, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army – In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO). They hold joint weekly meetings on Wednesdays and at the time of the visit, the shadow state governor of the SPLM/A-IO was returning from Bentiu, a town under government control. In this visit, presence of child soldiers was not seen both at Ding Ding cantonment site and Bentiu barrack.

 

SSCSF learnt of major logistical deficits especially at Ding Ding cantonment site. The 5,000 opposition forces in this cantonment site share one water borehole with about 30,000 residents of the area. According to Gen. John Tukutur Khor, the commander of Ding Ding cantonment site, the last time this site received food supply was in June and his repeated calls for new supplies received no response from his superiors in Juba.

Non-military logistics like medical supplies, transport and storage facilities were also lacking at the cantonment site. Sick soldiers are carried by their colleagues to health clinic in Rubkona, a small town about 20 kilometers away. Bentiu barracks, the only cantonment site for government forces covering three states of the former Unity state also lack transport facilities to aid movement of soldiers from neighboring outposts to the barracks for registration.

 

Expressing frustration over the logistical inadequacies, Gen. John Tukutur Khor said his forces were better off at their base before assembling at Ding Ding cantonment site. Meanwhile SSPDF commander at Bentiu barrack said logistical inadequacies have slowed down the registration process.
The Joint Defense Board (JDB), Joint Military Ceasefire Commission (JMCC) and the Joint Transitional Security Committee (JTSC), institutions of R-ARCSS directly responsible for implementation of Transitional Security Arrangements (TSA) presented their monthly reports to RJMEC on September 12. From the reports, one could deduce that the current realities in all of the cantonment sites and barracks around the country are not so different from Ding Ding cantonment site and Bentiu Barracks.

 

The parties agreed to have trained 83,000 NUFs prior to commencement of Transitional Period by November 12. In a consultative meeting in Addis Ababa in August, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the mediator and main guarantor to the R-ARCSS recommended that the parties produce at least 50% of the NUFs by end of September.

According to the JTSC, the body responsible for training of the forces, the duration of the training for a set of NUFs is 45 days. This is now almost exactly the time left before November 12 but the much anticipated training is yet to commence.

The JTSC reported in the September 12 RJMEC plenary session that training centers had not been prepared because of lack of funds. Even if the training centers were ready and registration of forces completed at cantonment sites and barracks, weeks would still be required to screen registered forces for physical and health fitness before they are confirmed for training.

SSCSF followed up with JDB to understand the level of donations from different countries towards the cantonment and training of the forces. Maj. Gen. Majier Deng, head of security at the National Pre-Transitional Committee (NPTC) and one of the officers involved in receiving donations at the airport and river ports in Juba outlined some of the consignments so far received. They include: tents from the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), tents and medical supplies from the Arab Republic of Egypt, about 13,000 tracksuits from the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and about 30 tons of rice from the People’s Republic of China. Maj. Gen. Deng said pledges from other countries, mainly African countries are yet to materialize. This includes a pledge of 2 generators by the AUPSC from its base in Cameroon.

  • Number of states and tribal boundaries.

Among the outstanding issues of the R-ARCSS to be resolved prior to commencement of the Transitional Period is the matter of the number of states and tribal boundaries in the country.

In the nine months of the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF), negotiations that led to the signing of the R-ARCSS, differences among the parties on the number of states and tribal boundaries were not conclusively resolved.

It will be impossible to determine responsibility sharing ratios (ie power sharing) at the state and local levels until this matter is decided and it has the potential to contribute to conflict no matter how it is decided. Formation of the Council of States, South Sudan’s upper house of parliament, is also hinged on the number of states in the country.

A mechanism defined in the R-ARCSS to resolve this matter through an Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC) has failed and recommended that the parties reach a political solution.

In the first week of September, a face-to-face meeting between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Riek Machar Teny, Chairman of the SPLM/A-IO recommended the establishment of a committee, inclusive of the parties to the R-ARCSS to attempt resolving this issue. This recommendation is yet to take effect.

Permanent Ceasefire, and Safety of civilians

Generally, there is observance of ceasefire especially among forces of the parties to the R-ARCSS for almost a year following the signing of the R-ARCSS. This is the longest period of ceasefire especially between SSPDF and SPLM/A-IO forces since the onset of the conflict in December 2013. It is probably the major achievement of the R-ARCSS so far.

In a public event organized by the Organization for Responsive Governance, ORG, on July 12, 2019, the JDB revealed that it has done its best to contain the forces of the respective parties to the R-ARCSS with extremely limited resources. The JDB politely emphasized the need for sufficient resources to help accelerate the multiple processes of reorganizing the forces into the NUFs otherwise the gains made in the Permanent Ceasefire may be lost or reversed.

Military confrontations have continued discretely between SSPDF and forces of non-signatories to the R-ARCSS, mainly the National Salvation Front (NAS) and the South Sudan United Front (SSUF). These cases of fighting have concentrated in Yei River and Lol states and civilians in their thousands have been targeted victims .

In a meeting between civil society and parties to the R-ARCSS, Hon. Michael Makuei Lueth, Minister of Information, government spokesperson and a member of the NPTC emphasized the need to engage and involve the non-signatories in the implementation of the R-ARCSS. He said even just a few forces of the non-signatories are enough to disrupt implementation of the RARCSS. However, IGAD’s efforts to mediate between signatories and non-signatories to the RARCSS have not seen any notable progress since March.

A Petition on a Surge in Armed Criminality in Juba City Submitted to the Hon. Minister of Interior of the Republic of South Sudan
Juba, September 4, 2019

Summary: Petition for Immediate Action on Armed Criminality in Juba City.

We, the undermentioned representatives of civic groups in the implementation mechanisms of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), petition the Government of the Republic of South Sudan, through the Ministry of Interior, to take immediate, concerted and sustained action on armed criminality in the national capital, Juba.

Experiences shared in a consultative meeting we held on August 27 – 28, 2019, revealed that there is a surge in armed criminality in Juba in the preceding weeks. Gangs of armed criminals usually in uniforms of organized forces rob, harass and harm civilians at gun point. A follow up on this case revealed that several victims lost lives and property including telephones and money. In places like Gueri, these incidences reported to be happening almost on daily basis, some as early as 7:00pm. As a result, the safety of civilians is compromised and they live in fear.

Aware of the constitutional mandate of the government, vested in the Ministry of Interior, to protect the people; and conscious of your commitment to this responsibility, we hereby request the Ministry to pursue, apprehend and punish the armed criminals in the city. We are convinced that appropriate action from the Ministry will save lives, give people hope, encourage their pursuit of livelihoods without fear and restore public confidence in the peace agreement.

We avail ourselves of the opportunity to collaborate with the Ministry on this important subject.

Outside the civil war,intercommunal violence and armed criminality have been a major threat to the safety of civilians. The R-ARCSS does not effectively address these issues. Representatives of civic groups in the implementation mechanisms of the R-ARCSS extensively discussed the effects of armed criminality on civilians and petitioned Hon. Michael Chanjiek Gai, Minister of Interior to address this matter. This inset shows a copy of the petition they delivered to the Minister.

Authorities in state and local government levels in collaboration with community leaders and with support from national and international organizations pursue local solutions to these issues. Their work has resulted in several community peace and reconciliations initiatives.

Confidence Building and Political Will
Confidence building among the parties is part of reconciliation and healing as they attempt to move from a bitter violent conflict to peace. It may be categorized into military and political fronts.

On the military front, relations at the surface appear to manifest commendable levels of cooperation and collaboration among officers of the various parties to the R-ARCSS. In official meetings and public events, the language and conduct of the officers in the transitional security mechanisms demonstrate some encouraging level of professionalism, shared responsibility and cooperation. This new paradigm of comradeship seems to substitute a situation of open tensions and hostilities among government and opposition officers in 2015/16, marked by searching military vehicles of opposition forces, reported cases of attacks on their officers, hostile propaganda and continued military confrontations in different parts of the country.

On the political front however, there are mixed signals of peace, evasion of responsibility for peace implementation and “polite hostilities”. In all formal statements, each party expresses commitment to implementation of the R-ARCSS. For example, on September 15, 2018, barely three days after the signing of the R-ARCSS, the President issued a public statement assuring citizens of the voluntary decision of the parties to sign the peace agreement, work together in its implementation and never to let down the people again. South Sudan’s delegation to the 74th General Assembly of the United Nation included representatives of the opposition, something the government doesn’t have do at this point, according to the US Ambassador to South Sudan.

While it appears again quite encouraging at the surface that the parties are good preachers of peace, generally, they are collectively accused of demonstrating insufficient political will to implement the peace agreement. Political will is demonstrated by the amount of efforts, resources and time dedicated to a cause. For the R-ARCSS, all these are in short supply.

First, the parties hardly invest efforts to meet on their own to substantially discuss and address outstanding issues of the peace agreement. For example, it took IGAD to convene meetings in Addis Ababa in May and August for the parties to discuss extension of the Pre-Transitional Period and delayed implementation of key tasks of the extended period. The August meeting concluded with no decision or commitment from the parties, except a communique from IGAD’s Council of Ministers.

Meanwhile meetings between President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar, R-ARCSS signatories and partners commonly referred to as “the two principals” hardly happen without external facilitation. In its Communiqué on the Consultation Meeting of the Parties to the R-ACRSS, IGAD Council of Ministers recommended “…to the IGAD Heads of State and Government to convene face-to-face meeting of the top leadership of the Parties to discuss and resolve outstanding issues ” of the R-ARCSS.
Second, resources the government disburses for the peace process are so inadequate that in almost all meetings of RJMEC, implementation mechanisms plead for funds so as to deliver on their respective mandates. In a report of the NPTC to the consultative meeting IGAD convened in
August, the Government has disbursed slightly more than $33 million for the peace implementation.

This includes $10 million before the extension of the Pre-Transitional Period, $10 million thereafter and SSP1.7 Billion (about $13 million). $33 million is about 11.6% of the estimated $285 million budget developed by the NPTC for the Pre-Transitional Period.

Third, elements of hostilities can still be clearly seen in the actions of the parties. For example, President Salva Kiir publicly declared an intention to constitute the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity without Dr. Riek Machar.

This declaration came just days after the face-to-face meeting between the President and Dr. Machar; and following a massive prayer session at the Presidential Palace in Juba. In response to this declaration, Hon. Henry Odwar, Deputy Chairman of the SPLM/A-IO wrote a strong worded-letter to the President, stating that this declaration did not send a message of trust and confidence building for the sake of realizing peace.

The South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC) covered the defection of a former commander of SPLM/A-IO to government. Citizens around the country watched on the national television the defection rally in which the defectors were shouting “down, down Riek Machar”.

The coverage was introduced by the Hon. Michael Makuei Lueth, the Minister for Information and spokesperson of the government. He said the defecting commander and the people with him had decided to “join peace”.

Meanwhile opposition groups in Juba have always complained of restrictions of political space. These actions appear quite openly confrontational and they amount to hostilities contrary to the provisions of the R-ARCSS on reconciliations and healing.

4. KEY OBSERVATIONS

1. It is no longer possible for parties to the R-ARCSS to produce trained Necessary Unified Forces (NUFs) prior to commencement of the Transitional Period set for November 12, 2019. It is evidently impractical to accomplish the unification of the forces with inadequate resources within six weeks when it could not be done in over 12 months.

2. The planning and actions of the transitional security mechanisms – the JDB, JMCC, JTSC and SDSRB demonstrated commitment and capability to substantially implement the Transitional Security Arrangements. However, all these efforts were desperately frustrated and made to fall far behind schedule by insufficiency of government resources to the peace process. A major national process at the scale of the R-ARCSS cannot be successfully implemented at any point with only 11.6% funding from government and 88.4% left for unsubstantial external in-kind support.

3. Without clear allocation and consistent disbursement of government revenues for implementation of the R-ARCSS, the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity is bound to be paralyzed upon formation, it is formed at all.

4. Unwillingness of the parties to take full responsibility to regularly convene meetings, discuss and timely resolve pending and emerging issues on implementation of the peace agreement shows inadequate national ownership and leadership of the R-ARCSS. This lack of full and sustained national ownership of the R-ARCSS is a stark indicator of weak internal commitment to successfully implement the peace agreement. It is likely to shatter public confidence in the parties and the peace process.

5. President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar are still living in the pre-R-ARCSS period of no direct engagements. The High-Level Revitalization Forum and its resultant product, the RARCSS have not created substantial peace, reconciliations and healing between the two. Given this reality, it is obviously difficult to sincerely expect them to deliver peace, reconciliations and healing to the rest of the country without first doing so to themselves.

6. Polite hostilities among the parties to the R-ARCSS contradict their commitments towards confidence building, reconciliations and healing. Such hostilities risk fomenting and escalating hatred and divisions. Hostilities and differences among the parties usually spread very fast among their supporters. This is a situation the R-ARCSS was meant to address for the purpose of harmony, national cohesion and transition to peace and stability.

7. Unfavorable conditions edging starvation at cantonment sites present a threat to both the process of reorganization of the forces and safety of civilians. Persistent hunger may cause soldiers to loot food from civilians and desert the cantonment sites. Reluctance of commanders in Juba to maintain effective contacts with and provide appropriate and timely responses to concerns of their respective forces in cantonment sites may constitute preliminary reasons for frustrations and eventually defections among the forces.

  1. Intercommunal violence and surge in armed criminality have profound implications on the safety of civilians. This situation increases the suffering of the people, undermine their strong desire for stability and to live in dignity. Such a situation will only reduce their confidence in the peace agreement.

9. The level of collaboration among military officers of the various parties since the signing of the R-ARCSS is an important asset to sustain compliance with provisions of the permanent ceasefire.

  • 5. RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Military officers of the various parties should sustain compliance with the Permanent Ceasefire and serve as internal guarantors of the R-ARCSS. They should continue to normalize relations, increase collaboration and comradeship at the leadership level and effectively manage their respective forces. Partners supporting confidence building measures should continue to maintain engagement in this areas. Such efforts should include support for civil society particularly at the state level, to complement by providing additional space for parties to meet and build trust.

2. Substantial percentage of government revenue should be allocated and accordingly disbursed to institutions implementing the R-ARCSS as a guarantee for meaningful implementation of the peace agreement.

  1. The parties, stakeholders and guarantors should use the status of implementation of PreTransitional tasks as a lesson and a point of honest evaluation of the way the R-ARCSS will be implemented in the Transitional Period. The authority of the guarantors is necessarily needed in this regards.

4. Collective leadership of the parties and particularly President Salva Kiir, as head of state and government, should provide clarity of direction around commencement of the Transitional Period when necessary security requirements and related outstanding issues have not been resolved. This should take in consideration honest and sincere messages of reconciliation, healing and collective action.

5. Intercommunal violence and surge in armed criminality should be addressed primarily by the Ministry of Interior and with necessary support to subnational governments. No matter what the status of implementation of the R-ARCSS, the Ministry of Interior and related security institutions should remain effectively functional to protect civilians and their property at all time.

  1. Alongside IGAD’s mediation with non-signatories, there is need for more robust track II efforts by civic actors, especially faith-based leaders and civil society, with appropriate backstopping by technical experts in mediation.
  • CONCLUSION

7: There is no doubt that the achievements of the R-ARCSS are far below intended targets in the PreTransitional Period. However, the country would have disintegrated more and descended further into political violence and destruction without this imperfect peace agreement. The country should continue to pursue peace through the R-ARCSS and other viable options. As regional authorities IGAD and the African Union, acting collaboratively can help increase R-ARCSS outcomes and prospects for peace in South Sudan.

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