The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations recently said that South Sudan’s government is responsible for the country’s brutal four-year conflict, and that the U.S. should exert its influence to end the fighting. At least one analyst says he appreciates Nikki Haley’s hard-hitting remarks.
“The United States has a lot of leverage that it has not used previously and it really needs to happen at the moment,” said Brian Adeba, deputy director of policy for the Enough Project, an activist group that has been tracking atrocities in the war.
“And one of the things we’re saying to stop this war [is that] we really need to make sure that those who are behind it begin to feel the consequences of their actions.”
That includes financial pressures on the people in charge and ensuring that there’s a price to pay for perpetuating the conflict, according to Adeba.
WATCH: Nikki Haley says US Must Take Sides in South Sudan Conflict
Adeba spoke to VOA’s South Sudan in Focus this week after Haley made pointed comments about South Sudan’s government at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington.
“The government is engaged in a brutal, protracted military campaign against a fragmented opposition,” the ambassador said. “The divisions are tribal. Both sides are responsible for atrocities against civilians, but the government is primarily responsible for ethnically based killings and for deliberately blocking the delivery of humanitarian assistance to suffering people.”
Haley told of the suffering she saw and heard about on her recent visit to a South Sudanese refugee camp in Ethiopia.
“One woman told me about being gang raped. She told me about how the soldiers ripped her baby out of her arms, threw him in a fire, and then they forced her to eat the flesh of her own child.” Audible gasps could be heard in the room when Haley told that story.
Truth or exaggeration?
Some South Sudanese observers doubt the truthfulness of that account. They say refugees sometimes exaggerate their stories to gain attention and receive more humanitarian aid.
“I think that there’s always that possibility,” Adeba said. “But we also want to be realistic about some of the atrocities that have been committed during this conflict. And I think personally, after having studied this conflict for a while now, that it is not out of the realm of possibility to believe that such atrocities may have occurred. Nevertheless, we need more documentation.”
Adeba said human rights organizations have uncovered similar, brutal attacks on women in other parts of the country.
“In one instance, in the city of Bentiu, we have heard of cases in which objects were pushed into the genital organs of females who found themselves caught up in the fighting,” he told VOA. “So when we say there are cases of cannibalism, it is absolutely not out of the realm of possibility.”
Tame words tossed aside
Haley did not mince words when she held a brief, one-on-one meeting with President Salva Kiir in Juba.
As she was approaching the presidential palace, making her way through layers of security, Haley says she changed her mind about what she would say. She decided her prepared words were too tame for what she called “a leader so bloodstained and isolated from his people.”
Haley says she remains critical of Kiir, even though the president is a former rebel leader who has endured hardships in his own family.
“While I could have some sympathy for his past, there is only revulsion and disgust for what he has allowed to happen and for what he has himself done to the people of his country,” she said.
Now action needed
Adeba praises Haley’s straightforward approach with the president, saying it’s important for the U.S. to flex its muscles and threaten action. But that’s been done many times before, and Adeba says President Kiir knows he can get away with saying one thing and doing another.
Adeba says instead of making more threats, the U.S. should take unilateral action, as it did Sept. 7, when it imposed economic sanctions on key individuals on both sides of the conflict.
“So there is the multilateral side of it and then there’s the unilateral side of it. The unilateral side of it has a lot of potential because when we talk about corruption and enacting financial measures, we’re hitting these people in their pockets because of one vital thing that the United States has and that’s the use of the U.S. dollar.”
Adeba says that’s where the U.S. has a lot of power and can go it alone without having to depend on multilateral efforts in the U.N. Security Council, where similar efforts have failed in the past.
Adeba also says the U.S. should use its influence to pressure all parties to take part in efforts to revitalize the peace agreement that collapsed last year. He says the process should be restructured so that the regional bloc IGAD would be monitored by another body, preferably from the U.N. or the African Union.
He says too many individual countries represented in IGAD have competing interests in South Sudan, which stymies any possibility for a real and lasting peace agreement.