THE BLOG

Canada, Don't Forget About South Sudan

04/09/2014 05:30 EDT | Updated 06/09/2014 05:59 EDT

The conflict in South Sudan began with gunfire at the headquarters of the Presidential Guard in the capital, Juba, on December 15, 2013.

President Salva Kiir claimed that former Vice-President, Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon, had attempted a coup. Machar claimed the shooting was the result of the President's attempt to get rid of the opposition. The Government of South Sudan is experiencing considerable challenges as it seeks to build institutions and provide opportunities for its citizens.

After five weeks of fighting, an Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities (COH) was signed on January 23, 2014, between the Government and opposition forces, but both sides have repeatedly violated the COH.

Talks between the Government and opposition forces in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa have been on and off for weeks. Heavy fighting resumed on February 18th, when ethnic clashes occurred inside a UN compound, causing 2,000 of 20,000 civilians to flee.

The political divisions within South Sudan have resulted in heavy fighting and mass atrocities committed by rival pro- and anti-Government forces; and ethnic mobilization threatens wider inter-communal violence.

Because of the ongoing security concerns and a lack of personnel, the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) is facing challenges to effectively protect civilians outside their bases.

South Sudan is a "Level-3" humanitarian emergency. Violence has displaced over one million people: 803,000 within the country, including 379,000 children; and 270,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.

The current crisis response plan calls for $US 1.27 billion for relief programmes in the coming months. To date, this plan is only 25 per cent funded.

Livelihoods as well as regular development assistance have been disrupted, households looted, and markets destroyed. As a result, more than 3.7 million people are at risk of severe food insecurity, as well as acute malnutrition and disease.

With the rainy season imminent, the situation will only get worse. Life-saving supplies must be deployed to the hardest to reach in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Airdrops are taking place, and famine is probable.

One-hundred days after the conflict began, the United Nations fears South Sudan is "imploding". But with so many crises around the world, the world's newest country is getting scant media attention.

Apart from general statements of principle, the wider international community has been largely silent.

For example, despite Canada's commitment to focus on "helping to set the conditions for long-term peace, stability and prosperity in" both Sudan and South Sudan, the Government of Canada issued only a single press release on January 24th, 2014, welcoming the COH agreement in South Sudan.

On March 25, 2014, the United States announced, $83 million in additional humanitarian assistance to the people of South Sudan for a total of $411 million dollars for Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014. On April 1st, 2014, Canada's Minister of International Development and La Francophonie announced $24.85 million in new funding for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan.

Both sides need to fully abide by the commitments made under the COH agreement and to continue to engage to resolve the crisis. Major international supporters should assist in mediation, facilitating the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism of the COH, and providing support to UNMISS. All perpetrators of mass atrocities must be held accountable, and a comprehensive strategy for ethnic and political reconciliation must be put in place.

Canadian Members of Parliament were briefed on the worsening situation through a joint meeting with Médecins Sans Frontières‎, UNICEF, and World Vision. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs and International Development committee should now undertake a study to follow-up on its last report.

Will the Government of Canada support the threatened peace talks in Addis Ababa by offering mediators to the warring parties and other stakeholders? Will it support civil society coalitions, which are working for reconciliation inside South Sudan?

How will the Government of Canada continue to monitor humanitarian needs, and respond in a timely fashion to the changing needs on the ground, and will it consider increasing support to UNMISS to protect civilians from violence?

Will the Government encourage the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to travel to South Sudan and request a report to the UN Security Council on the situation of children, and will it request that the African Union has child protection specialists on the Commission of Inquiry into human rights violations? And how will the Government renew longer-term development programming?

If the violence does not stop, South Sudan could slip further into ethnic conflict, with a risk of disintegration and the potential for regional disaster: the Central African Republic and Somalia remain embroiled in civil war, Eritrea is under dictatorship, and Sudan is on the verge of economic collapse.

Canada must remain engaged to keep South Sudan at the forefront of international attention.

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