Open Letter to Ambassador Ismail Wais, IGAD Special Envoy to South Sudan

H.E. Ambassador. Ismail Wais,

IGAD Special Envoy to South Sudan,

5 March 2019

Your Excellency,

I am one of many South Sudanese who were disturbed by your March 1, 2019 letter of invitation to opposition leaders opposed to the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS). Intentionally or otherwise, your letter suggests these leaders must board a sinking ship or risk being crushed by the might of the region, regardless of whether their concerns are legitimate.

…..peace can be attained only through an inclusive peace process.

Most South Sudanese have learned that peace can be attained only through an inclusive peace process. We also know that a process fraught with conditionality, unilaterally determined rules and pre-judged outcomes will fail. This is why IGAD’s approach, as outlined in your letter is so troubling. It does not recognize legitimate concerns raised about the agreement and its implementation and could threaten the relationship between IGAD and the parties.

It’s not clear why you wish to engage only those parties that participated in the High Level Revitalization Forum. You say your mandate emanates from the Communique of the 66th Extraordinary Session of IGAD Council of Ministers on Somalia and South Sudan held on 16th November 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In that case, your selection of parties is inconsistent with Paragraph 10 of that Communique, which “Directs the IGAD Special Envoy for South Sudan to reach out to the South Sudanese stakeholders and any warring groups who are not signatories to the R-ARCSS.”

IGAD’s role is to mediate among the warring parties, not to negotiate on behalf of one or some of them.

In paragraph 3(a) of your March 1, 2019 letter you appear to dismiss all the avenues to open the peace process to non-signatories or renegotiate the R-ARCSS, 2018. This position contradicts IGAD’s role in resolving the conflict. While only the parties in article 8.4 of the R-ARCSS may amend, review or reopen the R-ARCSS for discussion, IGAD’s role is to mediate among the warring parties, not to negotiate on behalf of one or some of them. The decision not to consider renegotiating R-ARCSS conflicts with your mandate as a facilitator. Many non-signatories maintain that the process leading to the Agreement was fraudulent and the expected outcome isn’t viable or implementable. Among other things, it fails to address the war’s political, economic and socio-cultural triggers. According to the February 28, 2019 Pastoral message of the Catholic Bishops Conference of South Sudan, the R-ARCSS failed to address “the root causes of the conflicts in South Sudan. It propagates the “power sharing” model which encourages the parties to bargain over posts, positions and percentages rather than working for the good of the country.” It seems unwise to ignore these and so many other skeptical voices.

In paragraph 3 (d) you write that “A non-signatory to the R-ARCSS cannot claim adherence or protection by CoHA, in as far as the actions are inconsistent with PCTSA under R-ARCSS.” This implies that CoHA no longer exists as a standalone legal instrument requiring compliance by any party outside the PCTSA. This unfortunate characterization lends legitimacy to the government’s ongoing military offensives in Greater Yei and elsewhere, worsening the humanitarian and security conditions in the country. It also could be construed as justifying the regime’s massive military operations in Juba and across the country against ordinary citizens, which have killed and displaced countless innocent civilians. If IGAD truly intends to reduce the suffering of the South Sudanese, why does it matter which framework is used for stopping the hostilities?

It is not clear from your letter why you call on only one side to commit to a ceasefire.

Paragraph 3 (e) of your letter states that “any group unwilling to join R-ARCSS…shall be considered as a spoiler and held accountable.” An agreement is a voluntary meeting of minds between parties. If there is one lesson from the Khartoum debacle, it is that coercing parties into an agreement is bound to fail. If IGAD truly seeks spoilers to hold accountable, they should look no further than the parties to the R-ARCSS. According to the Catholic Bishops Conference of South Sudan – an institution whose reach surpasses any other in South Sudan, “all the parties [to the R-ARCSS] are involved either in active fighting or preparation for war.” It is the signatories that are impeding the implementation of R-ARCSS. This is clear from the incident at Luri near Juba, where the government army not only blocked IGAD’s own monitors from inspecting its training sites, but also violated their human rights and dignity.

It is not clear from your letter why you call on only one side to commit to a ceasefire. All parties must stop fighting in order to create the right environment for dialogue. According to the February 18, 2019 report of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (paragraph 37):

attacks against the civilian population even though they took no active part in the hostilities, and their campaigns involved killing fleeing civilians, detaining and beating men, raping and gang raping women, burning down peoples’ homes and looting their possessions. The brutality of these attacks has resulted in massive displacement and terrible humanitarian conditions for civilians;

And yet, according to paragraph 3(d) of your letter, IGAD aims to strip these communities of the protection offered by the now defunct Cessation of Hostilities Agreement of December 2017.

What South Sudanese need now is not more elite power sharing, but a National Peace Conference that includes all political actors

Does IGAD genuinely seek dialogue with the non-signatories parties? Or is it simply looking for excuses to declare them spoilers when they don’t turn up for talks which are in essence, just dialogue of the deaf? It’s not clear how the proposed March 8th meeting can bear fruit without discussion of the issues that led to the crisis.

What South Sudanese need now is not more elite power sharing, but a National Peace Conference that includes all political actors, civil society organizations, faith-based institutions, traditional leaders and partners of South Sudan in an environment free from coercion and intimidation and facilitated by neutral and impartial individuals or entities.

I sincerely hope that you will reconsider this your rigid position and give a honest, open and frank dialogue between the parties a chance!

Dr. Remember Miamingi

Principal Convener, South Sudan Human Rights Observatory