WASHINGTON - Two leading human rights groups have warned in a letter to top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, that South Sudan could collapse as a nation unless the international community is able to get the country's leaders to end months of bloodshed.
The open letter sent to Kerry, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, warns of "pockets of famine and genocidal targeting" in both South Sudan and Sudan, and of "intensifying wars" that are pulling in neighboring states.
The letter written by Enough Project and Humanity United goes on to lay out steps that the two rights groups say would help to promote accountability, bolster peace and foster democracy in the two countries and the region.
A key step would be to impose targeted sanctions on South Sudanese leaders who block the peace process in the young nation where thousands are believed to have died and more than 1.2 million have fled their homes during more than four months of fighting.
Targeted sanctions for South Sudan were first mooted by the White House last month, but have not yet been imposed.
Going ahead with sanctions could help to increase international influence at the slow-moving peace talks for South Sudan, the letter says.
Sanctions could increase U.S. influence at peace talks
"The key to increasing international leverage at the peace talks will be for the U.S. to work closely with regional states to freeze or seize assets of senior government and rebel officials implicated in atrocities," it says.
The Enough Project and Humanity United note in the letter that most South Sudanese elites keep their assets outside the country -- mainly in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa or Dubai -- and many are dual nationals whose families live in Canada and the United States.
"Seizing houses, freezing accounts, and limiting or ending the travel and residence of family members would quickly alter the landscape," the letter says.
But Sudanese political analyst Magdi el Gizouli says sanctions would not just hurt the country's leaders.
“Sanctions... also have effects on the general population," he says.
"In Sudan, for instance, they arrested the development of higher education, which made it almost impossible for independent research and scholarship to develop," he says, adding that sanctions would only "estrange the South Sudanese."
US needs to 'recalibrate' South Sudan policy
The letter says Washington has to fundamentally recalibrate its approach to South Sudan if it wants to bring peace to the young country.
Alex de Waal, executive director at the World Peace Foundation, agrees.
“A different formula for peace-making needs to be made that actually does not reward those who took up arms, does not allow them to simply get away with carving up the national cake for their own good, and instead has a much more viable and democratic system of governance and resource allocation," he said.
De Waal said negotiators at peace talks in Addis Ababa need to look at the underlying causes of the crisis in South Sudan, including the lack of democracy in the young nation, under-development, and impunity.
“Unless those are front and center in the negotiations, I think they are just going to drag on and on," he said.
South Sudan's peace talks began in January and have achieved little since then, as both sides have repeatedly violated an agreement to end the hostilities.
Kerry met Friday in Juba with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. The U.S. Secretary of State is trying to convince Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar to meet in Addis Ababa next week for talks.
"This meeting of Riek Machar and President Kiir is critical to the ability to be able to really engage in a serious way as to how the cessation of hostilities agreement will now once and for all really be implemented, and how that can be augmented by the discussions regarding a transition government," Kerry said.