Since the beginning of the brutal civil war four years ago, the South Sudanese army’s abuses against civilians have included hundreds of killings, dozens of enforced disappearances, countless rapes, rampant torture, the wholesale destruction of dozens of villages and the forced recruitment of thousands of children. The conflict has created the continent’s largest refugee crisis, forcefully displacing close to four million South Sudanese civilians, half of whom have fled to neighboring countries, away from the warring parties’ atrocities.
The government of South Africa cannot claim to be ignorant of these violations by South Sudanese soldiers. They have been extensively documented. South Sudanese leaders have shown no serious intent to prevent, investigate or punish abuses against civilians committed by troops under their command. South Africa’s plan to assist and train South Sudan’s forces therefore raises serious concerns. While the civil war rages on, assistance to the army could lead to further atrocities and war crimes against civilians, and to South African complicity in them. If South Africa’s government wants to assist the South Sudanese, rather than deepen cooperation with those who use child soldiers, it should support international efforts to provide accountability for grave crimes.