One year after South Sudan's political infighting deteriorated into a deadly conflict, the parties appear no closer to silencing their guns and getting back to the business of building the world’s youngest nation.
Since its 2011 move to independence, the country has spiraled into a humanitarian crisis that the U.N. says has left half the population hungry and nearly two million displaced. Politically motivated fighting over the last year alone has killed thousands — possibly tens of thousands — of South Sudanese.
Ongoing efforts by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-nation regional trade bloc in Eastern Africa, have not yielded a solution to the fighting between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar.
“This has lasted too long, it has been too costly, and, let’s face it, the leaders have not shown much regard for the livelihood of their citizens,” said U.N. Peacekeeping Chief Hervé Ladsous, who added that international pressure must be intensified.
The U.N. Security Council has repeatedly expressed its readiness to impose targeted sanctions if there is no end to hostilities, but so far has not acted.
Ladsous, who has 11,000 peacekeepers in South Sudan trying to protect civilians — including 100,000 sheltering at U.N. protection sites — says that an arms embargo could help remedy the violence, but that sanctions enforcement is a decision to be taken up by Security Council member states
“I think it is not normal that the oil revenue, which is still generated by the oil fields in the north, actually is used to buy military hardware and ammunition," he said. "That is simply not acceptable.”
Human Rights Watch U.N. Director Philippe Bolopion agreed, calling the situation "perverse."
“The international community is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to avert famine in the country, and meanwhile the government is using the oil money to buy more weapons that will, in all likelihood, continue to be used against civilians,” he said.
Bolopion, who recently visited South Sudan, said ethnic tensions in the capital, Juba, remain high, while crimes are committed with impunity.
“A key factor of this conflict is that for months and months, leaders on both sides have been responsible for very serious crimes against civilians and paid no price for it," Bolopion said. "There is no justice in the country for now.”
The violence and resulting humanitarian disaster have forced the U.N. to abandon its efforts to help South Sudan build its state institutions and to focus only on responding to emergency needs. Until there is a lasting political settlement, the prospects for this young nation developing are dim.