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Advocacy paper on Head of States and Government Summit

  1. Impacts of COVID-19 on the peace process in South Sudan

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the peace agreement in South Sudan, both in terms of delays to critical security arrangements and political processes at the heart of the peace process, and in the challenges that COVID-related economic and social dislocation pose to the transitional South Sudanese state.  

  1. COVID-related delays in the peace process

Delays in the training of the unified armed forces and consequent delays in the entire SSR/DDR process pose a potentially serious threat to peace. These delays have meant parties to the peace process still maintain separate military forces. These delays mean that there is the continued potential for a rapid and widespread return to conflict, even if this is not intended – the civil war broke out in 2013 and the first peace agreement broke down as a result of spontaneous fighting between rival factions’ soldiers.  

The cancellation of cabinet meetings of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity for the last three months also has potentially serious consequences. It has effectively put political processes on hold and has contributed to political tension between rival factions as there is no routine forum to discuss and resolve political differences over, for instance, the national budget, and as a result the government is operating without a budget this year.  

The formation of the institutions of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity is also on hold, and it is not clear when they will be formed. This includes politically important institutions like the State governor of Upper Nile state, the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, the Council of States, the Revitalized Transitional Legislative Assemblies of the states, local government institutions, independent commissions at national and state government levels and the institutions related to transitional justice and financial oversight stipulated in the R-ARCSS. The failure to form these institutions has also meant that the target of 35% representation for women in these national and local institutions has not been met.  

  1. COVID-related challenges to the peace process

The economic fallout of the Coronavirus has already had serious consequences for South Sudan and the peace process. The global collapse of the price of oil has had a massive knock-on effect on the nation’s finances and society. The competition for resources it has set off has driven the rise of criminal and communal violence across the country. It also means that it is now more difficult for the government to finance the institutions of the transitional government specified in the R-ARCSS, not least those concerned with transitional justice.  

Further, a reduction in logistical support for cantonment sites has meant many fighters have left these sites. The cantonment process is collapsing and the fighters that have left the sites. These fighters need to find alternative sources of support and are contributing to the increased levels of violent criminality across the country, for instance banditry on important economic routes like the Juba-Bor road, the Kapoeta-Torit road and the Wau-Tonj road. There is also the very real risk of these forces lending politically opportunistic support to local conflicts for their material advantage.

 

4. Recommendations

The coronavirus has the potential to derail the South Sudanese peace process. If immediate and decisive action is not taken now, the next six months could see the gains made over the last two and a half years lost.  

First, the AU summit should support the decision of the 917th summit communique in February 2020 to conduct the South Sudan Peace Needs Assessment. 

Second, the AU summit should call for an urgent review of the implementation of the security arrangements of the R-ARCSS. The AU and AU states should push the R-TGoNU to move ahead with the SSR/DDR process. Cantonment should be redirected towards disarmament and demobilization to avoid the potential for violence inherent in large numbers of heavily armed fighters across the country. Military experts seconded from AU countries could greatly facilitate this and play an important role in advising on and overseeing these critical steps.

Third, the AU summit should call on the R-TGoNU to immediately proceed with the establishment of the national institutions stipulated in the R-ARCSS, including those concerned with transitional justice, the national parliament and other institutions of democratic and financial oversight at the national and local level. The AU and AU states should pressure the R-TGoNU to take action in this regard, to improve the effectiveness of government in South Sudan and hold those responsible for the violation of IHL to account and discourage the commission of further violations against civilians. Again, AU expertise could prove to be invaluable in the establishment of these institutions.  

Finally, the AU summit could call for and support enhanced public engagement with the peace process, enhancing the role of civilian voices in the reconstruction of South Sudan. The first action the AU and AU states should take in this regard is to act to protect civil activists and journalists in South Sudan from threats and all forms of persecution, encourage constructive public discourse and engagement and support public education about the R-ARCSS. This could include financial support for radio stations and other media adversely affected by the effects of coronavirus.