With the many conflicts causing suffering around the world as well as the troublesome policies in the United States, our brothers and sisters in South Sudan are often times forgotten. Church leaders there are working faithfully to shore up South Sudan’s fragile peace and head off new humanitarian crises, even as international agencies find evidence of continuing abuses.
More than 400,000 people are believed to have been killed in the civil war that has ravaged South Sudan since late 2013. Nearly four million people have been displaced and more than half of the country’s 13 million people now depend on humanitarian aid for their survival.
On 12 September 2018, most of the parties to the conflict signed the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). Five months later, the United Nation Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported that there had been a general decline in fighting across the country. However, the Commission also documented ongoing attacks on civilian populations, particularly in Unity and Western Bahr el Ghazal States, as government forces attempt to establish control over areas previously held by opposition movements.
Church leaders have welcomed negotiations but have also voiced concern over the superficial impact of the agreement. “While the level of open conflict has reduced, the Cessation of Hostilities agreement is not holding, and all parties are involved either in active fighting or preparations for war,” the South Sudan Catholic Bishops said in a statement at the end of February. “The value of human life and dignity is forgotten as human rights abuses continue with impunity, including murder, rape, widespread sexual violence, looting and the occupation of civilian land and property.”
The UN Commission’s findings confirmed that state security forces and rebel militias continue to commit serious human rights abuses, including the detention and torture of opponents at secret locations, the indiscriminate killing of children and the pervasive use of rape and sexual violence.
Currently, the South Sudan Catholic Bishops are urging further negotiations with General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, leader of the National Salvation Front, one of the groups that rejected the R-ARCSS. “Peace cannot be made by killing people,” they insist, “and we demand a nonviolent dialogue.” In addition, Pope Francis, Anglican Primate Justin Welby, and former Moderator of the Church of Scotland John Chalmers recently co-hosted an unprecedented ecumenical spiritual retreat for South Sudan’s leaders, including President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar, at the Vatican in an effort to “build confidence and trust between parties and give them spiritual nourishment.”
The Hybrid Court
The 2015 peace agreement calls for creating a hybrid court staffed by South Sudanese and nationals of other African nations. The court would try war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of Sudanese and international law since the start of the conflict.
The court would be structured to prevent corruption in its process. The majority of judges on a panel would come from nations other than South Sudan. The court would be distinct from the national system and have primacy over South Sudan’s courts. Being a government official would not preclude being put on trial.
However, the court's formation has been delayed several times and, earlier this week, it was reported that the South Sudanese government has hired a U.S.-based lobbying group to actively prevent the creation of the court. The future of this necessary, groundbreaking institution is in jeopardy.
What you Can Do
Please support the peace efforts of our partners in South Sudan and the larger ecumenical community. In particular, Presbyterian World Mission would urge people of faith in the USA to:
- For the safety and well-being of all of South Sudan’s people, and particularly those who have been driven from their homes by conflict and hunger.
- That all of the parties to South Sudan’s conflict will put the needs of the people above their own personal interests and will find genuine commitment to a peaceful future.
- For the fruitfulness of ecumenical efforts to build trust and a spirit of cooperation for the public good among South Sudan’s leaders.
- Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Presbyterian World Mission are accompanying our South Sudanese partners as they respond to the crisis. PDA supports Presbyterian Relief and Disaster Assistance as they provide emergency relief and work to improve health and food security. Through PWM’s South Sudan Education and Peacebuilding Project RECONCILE and the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan address the root causes of the war through peacebuilding, trauma recovery and education ministries. Please support this work by making gifts to: