This year marks the fifth anniversary of the world’s newest country, South Sudan. I attended the 2011 independence celebrations in the capital city of Juba. Hopes were high that the long-suffering people of the oil-rich country would finally see the fruits of a peace dividend after a prolonged civil war. Instead, the people of South Sudan now face a more dismal anniversary. This week marks three years since the country plunged into fighting with a terrible and mounting toll.
Tens of thousands have been killed. The social fabric of South Sudan has been shattered. The economy is in ruins. Millions have been displaced from their homes. Hunger and poverty are rampant.
Today, more than 6 million people in South Sudan require life-saving aid. As the conflict intensifies, that number is rapidly growing. Meanwhile, restrictions imposed by the Government of South Sudan on the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and humanitarian organizations continue to tighten.
The people of South Sudan held out hope after independence following decades of war. Yet their leaders bear the primary responsibility of betraying the people’s trust and bringing the country to ruins and more misery.
President Salva Kiir has pursued an ethnically-based strategy to suppress dissent, muzzle the media, exclude significant South Sudanese actors in the peace process and unilaterally implement an agreement to reach elections. Fighting has now spread across the country.
At the same time, actions by South Sudanese leaders including Riek Machar and other armed opposition actors are intensifying the conflict and manipulating ethnicity for political gain.
The risk of these mass atrocities, which include recurring episodes of ethnic cleansing, escalating into possible genocide is all too real.
Yet while the people of South Sudan suffer, the Security Council and the region stand divided. This has merely allowed time to mobilize resources to continue the slaughter.
Given the scale of this disaster, the United Nations Security Council, regional organizations and the international community must step up to their responsibility. Key actors, such as former Malian president Alpha Oumar Konaré—the African Union High Representative for South Sudan—have made significant efforts. But we must all do more to end this crisis.
I have taken a number of decisions to improve the performance of UNMISS itself. Yet simply reinforcing this peacekeeping mission to better perform and protect civilians will not end the conflict. There must be a political solution.
This means there must be a cessation of hostilities, followed by a genuinely inclusive political process. If this does not happen immediately, the Security Council should impose an arms embargo and targeted sanctions to change the calculations of the parties and convince them to choose the path of peace.
In addition, accountability is crucial so that those responsible for these despicable crimes face justice—from the highest levels to the foot soldiers following orders.
Time is running out as the warring parties ready themselves for another vicious cycle of violence after the end of the rainy season. The responsibility for restoring an inclusive dialogue is squarely on all the leaders of the country.
If they fail, the international community, the region, and the Security Council in particular, must impose penalties on the leadership on both sides. We owe this to the people of South Sudan, who have suffered far too much, for far too long.
Ban Ki-moon is the outgoing U.N. Secretary-General. He will step down on December 31 and be replaced by António Guterres