Tuesday, February 06, 2018

South Arica and South Sudan

On January 29, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the South African minister of defence and military veterans, flew to Juba to visit her South Sudanese counterpart. She wasn’t there to urge South Sudanese authorities to stop and investigate their serious violations in that country’s abusive conflict. Instead she was there to reward South Sudan with a military cooperation agreement. The agreement will allow South African soldiers to train South Sudanese troops, who have shown no regard for international human rights or humanitarian law despite previous training by international forces. Instead of using South Africa’s privileged role to urge an end to war crimes and crimes against humanity and to demand accountability, government spokespeople have been intent on normalizing the military cooperation agreement between both countries. The official line is that it is merely “a product of long existing bilateral relations between the two countries dating back to the liberation struggles and South Sudan’s independence, in which South Africa played a critical role.”

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.

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