South Sudan Signs a Peace Deal that is Unlikely to Last

President Salva Kiir signs a peace agreement
President Salva Kiir signs a peace agreement on 26 August that may not be worth the paper Ii’s written on. (Photo: Charles Lomodong)

By Colum Lynch & Siobhan O’Grady | for Foreign Policy,

Yielding to the threat of U.N. sanctions, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir grudgingly signed a landmark peace deal Wednesday that would cede considerable power to his bitter enemy, rebel leader Riek Machar, as part of a power-sharing arrangement aimed at ending the young country’s 20-month-long civil war.

Or did he?

Before putting his pen to paper, Kiir initialed a 12-page document, separate from the 75-page agreement itself, that included a list of 16 reservations and other grievances with the peace pact and that raised questions about his commitment to the agreement. The grievances included everything from a complaint about the manner in which President Kiir’s full title is described in the peace pact to a demand that reconstruction funds flowing from the deal be placed under the control of the finance minister, not a foreign official, according to a copy of the document obtained by Foreign Policy.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Kiir said that some provisions in the agreement would need to be corrected.

The pact can be tweaked, Kiir said, because it is “not the Bible; it is not a Quran.”

With all those reservations that we have, we will sign this document,” he said. “But I warn you regional leaders you will stand with us in the implementation; otherwise we may spoil it if it is left to us.”

Still, by adding his signature to the deal, Kiir has bought time and averted a move by the U.N. Security Council to impose a new round of sanctions on South Sudan, including an arms embargo and targeted measures against individuals linked to the government.

“He has signed, but with reservations. I don’t think we have had a chance to analyze what that means and how sincere the signature is,” said one Security Council diplomat. “The Security Council will want to understand that before we look for a response. But the immediate need for a resolution has probably fallen away. This was about pressuring him to sign.”

Kiir signed the peace agreement at an event in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, that was attended by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. In a statement Wednesday, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice said that Washington welcomed Kiir’s decision to sign the deal, but does notrecognize any reservations or addendums to that agreement.” Implementing the pact, she added, is where “the hard work begins.”

The deal calls for an immediate halt to fighting and requires that government and rebel troops be confined to barracks within 30 days. Foreign forces, including most pro-government forces from Uganda, would have to leave the country within 45 days. The agreement will, however, allow Ugandan forces to remain in Western Equatoria state, where Ugandan and South Sudanese forces are cooperating in an effort to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The deal would likely return the rebel leader, Machar, to the South Sudanese vice presidency, a post he held before fighting broke out in Juba in December 2013. The violence, which began as political infighting between Kiir and then-Vice President Machar, quickly spiraled into an ethnic-based civil war that has killed more than 10,000 and has threatened to plunge the country into a mass famine.

The South Sudanese government indicated that one of Kiir’s major concerns surrounding the deal — which is more comprehensive than previous cease-fire agreements — is the demilitarization of Juba. “This is a matter of sovereignty,” according to the 12-page document that Kiir signed alongside the peace deal and that outlined his government’s reservations over the agreement. “The army has a responsibility to protect the nation, its people and its leadership.” The document, which was obtained by FP, said that South Sudan’s national army should be permitted to remain in its headquarters. Machar had fewer hesitations with the deal: He signed it last week, even though Kiir had at the time refused to approve the entire pact and instead initialed only certain sections.

Celebration of the peace deal was tempered by the fact that the rivals have repeatedly breached prior agreements to put down their arms. There have been at least seven cease-fires over the course of the 20-month conflict in the world’s youngest nation. With strong U.S. backing, South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 and declared itself a sovereign state.

Humanitarian conditions have since deteriorated sharply. Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator, told the Security Council Tuesday that more than 2.2 million people have been displaced during the 20 months of conflict, with more than 600,000 fleeing the country and almost 200,000 seeking protection near U.N. peacekeeping bases. “Severe hunger will be a threat well into next year — especially if fighting continues,” he said.

News of the peace deal comes just one day after the release of a report by U.N. experts that claims South Sudanese soldiers have in recent months targeted civilians — burning them alive in their homes, raping women, and kidnapping children. According to the report, government forces were “intent on rendering communal life unviable and prohibiting any return to normalcy following the violence.”

The U.N. experts said that violence has only intensified since the Security Council last moved in March to impose sanctions against South Sudanese nationals accused of opposing peace. “The intensity and brutality of the violence aimed at civilians are hitherto unseen, even in what has already been, without a doubt, an exceedingly violent conflict,” the experts stated.

“Obstruction of humanitarian assistance and of peacekeeping operations has also escalated since the adoption of [the sanctions resolution]. Humanitarian workers and United Nations Mission in South Sudan personnel alike are regularly being attacked, assaulted, harassed, detained, intimidated and threatened,” the experts added.

The 15-nation Security Council warned Kiir on Tuesday that he had better sign the deal or face the prospects of new sanctions. Following a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu, who is serving as the council’s president for August, said the council was ready to impose measures against South Sudan if Kiir failed to act immediately.

But on Wednesday, Ogwu said the council had no immediate plans to act. “He has room to play. There is room to play,” she told reporters, referring to Kiir. “We are yet to convene [a meeting] on that.”

One day before Kiir signed the deal, the United States threatened to introduce a resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan and threatened to impose sanctions on senior leaders of the government.

On Wednesday, a Security Council diplomat told FP that the U.S. threats of sanctions or an arms embargo have been taken off the table for now, but could come back into play if the deal falls through later. A copy of a U.S. draft resolution, dated Aug. 21, details a series of measures that the United States has been weighing.

The draft resolution, which was obtained by FP, deplored South Sudan’s failure to reach a peace agreement with Machar by an Aug. 17 deadline and demanded that the government and the rebels “immediately implement” a peace deal. If adopted, the draft resolution would have imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan and would have subjected an unspecified number of individuals threatening the country’s peace with a travel ban and asset freeze on Sept. 6. It also would have threatened that a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee would “expeditiously designate additional individuals, including the senior political leaders of the government of South Sudan, for the travel ban and asset freeze measures.”

The U.S. draft resolution includes an exemption from the arms embargo that would have allowed the Ugandan armed forces, which entered the war on the side of the government, to continue to receive arms and other material as long as they were used only for troops “conducting purely defensive operations designed to provide security for civilian populations and protect critical infrastructure in the area of, and to the south of, Bor.” But the draft resolution also reminds Uganda that under the terms of the peace agreement, it will have to ultimately withdraw most of its troops from most of South Sudan.

Russia, meanwhile, has expressed some reservations about the timing of imposing sanctions, according to Security Council diplomats. The three African countries on the council — Angola, Chad, and Nigeria — have expressed some reluctance to support a resolution that would automatically impose new sanctions on South Sudan if the government failed to embrace peace. They prefer pursuing further debate within the council on when, and whether, to enforce the sanctions.