'The EU has a responsibility' to end conflict in South Sudan

MEPs from parliament's main groups have written to Federica Mogherini asking for action to be taken in South Sudan.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

12 Feb 2015

South Sudan has been prey to violent conflict since December 2013, the result of a power struggle between president Salva Kiir Mayardit and former vice-president Riek Machar. 

Earlier this month, after the hostilities left thousands dead, both parties agreed to a ceasefire. However, they were unable to reach a compromise on a power sharing deal proposed by the intergovernmental authority on development (IGAD), whereby Kiir would remain president and Machar would reclaim his position as deputy.

In a letter written to EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, MEPs from the ALDE, S&D, EPP, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL groups stressed, "this ceasefire agreement is highly welcome as it could, at least, end the killings, but should be viewed with much caution as it does not fully address South Sudan's underlying problems and tribal divisions."

People in the region have been the victims of "human rights abuses and sexual violence", yet so far no perpetrators have been held accountable for their crimes. The African Union (AU) has penned an inquiry report on the matter, and MEPs say this "represents the beginning of the end of impunity in South Sudan. The revelations of this report, followed by a credible accountability mechanism, could play a crucial role in avoiding further rumours and crimes."

Now European deputies, as well as representatives from local organisations and the united nations, have urged the African union to make this report public. In their letter to Mogherini, MEPs point out that, "the EU has a key role to play to help break this cycle of violence and impunity in South Sudan. EU representatives in the region must urge African leaders to make this report available to the public. [By doing so, it] would demonstrate its commitment to promoting human rights and accountability."

"The EU has a responsibility and - I believe - the power to lead" - Petr Ježek

Responding to the letter, the EU foreign affairs chief called the conflict "a disaster for the people of South Sudan which has put at risk the stability of the entire region". She urged all parties involved to "go beyond short-term interests and build on the initial talks to make the necessary compromises for peace", and said the current negotiations should be completed "no later than 5 March".

Mogherini added that she supports "repeated IGAD and AU warnings that if the two sides continue to violate the ceasefire mechanism or fail to finalise a political agreement, appropriate sanctions will need to be adopted by the international community". She has also called for the AU's report to be made public.

The letter sent to the Italian official was the brainchild of ALDE MEP Petr Ježek. Speaking to the Parliament Magazine, he explained, "I became familiar with the absolutely horrific situation in South Sudan, including malnutrition and the threat of famine for unacceptably high numbers of children, when exploring where a donation on my part may best serve to improve the lives of underprivileged children. I started to follow the situation and was trying to prompt another round of donor conferences. But the violence escalated to a higher level and a broader approach needed to be taken." 

Commenting on Mogherini's statement, he said, "I am pleased she has recognised the need for the publication of the inquiry report", but warned that, "it is important to be aware that sanctions could have an adverse effect on the people who are suffering so horribly in South Sudan. Therefore, appropriate sanctions should be specifically targeted at those who are allowing the state of violence to continue and should serve as a stick to push those responsible for violence to put an end to it for good."

Ježek added, "I would expect that she will do everything in her power to ensure that the ceasefire continues to be held by all sides - it is essential that [Mogherini] and [European international cooperation and development commissioner] Neven Mimica bring all members of the EU together to ensure that there is an end to the suffering and famine of the people of South Sudan."

The Czech deputy is confident "parliament and the rest of the EU institutions can make a real difference" but stressed the urgency of the situation, saying, "people in the region are eating leaves from trees". Yet he is hopeful, underlining, "the EU has a responsibility and - I believe - the power to lead".

The initiative has gained cross-party support, and Ježek highlights that, "a desire for justice in this particular case is not dictated by party lines. Justice is indivisible - injustice in Africa cannot leave us indifferent in Europe."


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