It’s Time for an Arms Embargo on South Sudan
Five years after South Sudan became the world’s newest country, the civil war that ensued has reached horrifying levels of human rights’ abuses and violence. Since the country overwhelmingly voted to split from Sudan in 2011, political feuds have escalated into full-blown ethnic violence. The army has split and there have been clashes across the country, with civilians bearing the biggest burden, thousands have been killed and many more forcefully displaced. A report by the African Union has found the atrocities committed by warring parties amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, yet despite overwhelming evidence to this, the UN has failed to move forward with an international arms embargo on South Sudan.
Reverend James Ninrew, a South Sudanese Presbyterian priest agreed to share with us some of his experiences on the ground and his thoughts on the road ahead for his country [below is a summary of our interview].
Conflict and war were no strangers to Reverend James, even as a child he was unable to attend school until he was 10, and his parents were forcefully displaced from their homes in 1965. “I have experienced conflict since birth and until this day. It is by miracle of God that I am still alive today”, says Ninrew.
While conflict has existed in South Sudan for decades, the disputes in the past were mainly between rivaling communities over water point access or grazing land. Yet these disputes were manageable either through locally available disputes resolution mechanism or using the government set up courts and police. There also used to be certain norms and ethics that were respected, even during times of conflict, women, children and the elderly were never targeted for example. Women actually used to act like a sort of local Red Cross, by providing aid and rescue to the wounded.
The conflict today is very different. It is one characterized by tribal hatred, political divides and a vast use of deadly weapons, the conflict has spiraled out of control. “All kinds of human rights abuses are being committed in South Sudan.” More than 200,000 people have been forced out of their homes and are now living in UN Protection of Civilian Camps (PoCs), Journalists are being shot dead or detained by National Security forces by sharing their opinions and a different tribal identity has become enough reason to be murdered, an estimated 1500 people have been killed.
“The worst part is that the government, who is supposed to protect its citizens, has been the one committing war atrocities. The situation here is [upside down], the government is behaving like the outlaw and the outlaws are behaving like government.” says Reverend Ninrew.
The war has also had horrific consequences for women and girls as they have become subject to gendered based violence. Around the PoCs there have been many cases of rape when women leave the camps to look for food and water. 27 women were raped in a span of two days, 4 women are still missing and two girls were found unconscious and bleeding. Some of the rapes have occurred by government soldiers in uniform, “the SPLA has turned against women to defile them rather than protecting them as is their national duty.”
Despite previous peace agreements, the flow of arms and ammunition, coupled with a lack of accountability and widespread immunity has fueled the conflict and made peace unreachable. The types of arms being used in the war range from small arms and light weapons to Battle Tanks, Armored Combat Vehicle, Large Caliber Artillery system, Combat aircraft, Attack helicopters, missile and missile launchers. These have been supplied in part by states like China, Israel, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Russia and Sudan, as despite plenty of support for an embargo, the UN Security Council has failed to impose one.
“The ever-promised UN arms embargo, as well as targeted individuals’ sanctions is now needed more than ever.” Stressed Ninrew at the conclusion of our interview
*Reverend James Ninrew has been an ordained priest of Presbyterian Church of South Sudan/Sudan for 21 years; he is also holder of a Bachelors Degree in Theology and Christian Education. He has worked as a Human Rights Activist during the war and is a founding member Nuer Peace Council (NPC) and the South Sudanese Network for Democracy and Election (SSuNDE) and Chairperson for South Sudan Action Network on Small Arm (SSANSA).
As a humanitarian worker, Reverend Ninrew is founding member and Executive Director of Assistance Mission for Africa (AMA). A National NGO with a vision of “A just, free, dignified and self actualizing society”. He has also worked as an administrative Officer with the local government.