By Anders Breidlid, professor, Oslo Metropolitan University and Tomm Kristiansen, journalist and former Africa correspondent for NRK
Today it is ten years since South Sudan became an independent country. Norway has provided NOK 5 billion in aid to the young country since its founding. But the country is poorer than ever. It therefore ought to be a simple celebration since there is not much to dance about. South Sudan faces war, famine, no fraternization and a huge government debt.
400,000 South Sudanese have lost their lives since the last war started in 2013. 2.4 million have fled the country. Aid organizations warn of an extreme famine situation in 2021 where 7.5 million need humanitarian aid. The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan stated in 2020 that hunger has been deliberately used as a weapon in the civil war in South Sudan. The UN has reported serious human rights violations against civilians on all sides of the conflict, indicating war crimes and crimes against humanity in South Sudan. But the world does not seem to care.
South Sudan's leadership is not watched by a critical world community. There is little indication that the responsible leaders, President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, intend to give up their positions.
In January 2021, the South Sudanese government succumbed to pressure from the UN Commission on Human Rights and approved the establishment of a hybrid court under the African Union. It will investigate and bring to justice individuals responsible for violations of international and South Sudanese law. It took six years before it was approved by the South Sudanese government. The court has not yet begun to function.
It was therefore not without reason that the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2021 expressed concern about developments in the country. It emphasized that none of the provisions of the peace agreements - not even the hybrid court - had been implemented. Internally, there is also unrest. In December 2020, a report from the South Sudan National Dialogue Committee was published. It states that the dysfunctional government cannot deliver the peace, security and stability that the country desperately needs, and that the president and vice president must resign. An anonymous letter from a number of generals in March 2021 accused the president of having destroyed the country. They threatened: "If the people rise up in protest, we will not raise a hand to hold them back."
Norway has long had a large involvement in South Sudan, also as a member of the troika, which consists of the United States, Great Britain and Norway. It is important that the Norwegian government continues its involvement in South Sudan by advancing the matter in the Security Council. It's more important than ever. For now, hunger is being used as a weapon in the conflict in South Sudan, and the solution to the conflict must be found outside the country.
The Norwegian Minister of Development Aid, Dag-Inge Ulstein stated in the Security Council in March 2021 that those who use hunger as a weapon must be punished, but he did not mention South Sudan explicitly. Norway must make it clear that hunger used as a weapon in conflict is a war crime.
This is a type of war crime that all the permanent members of the Security Council are very concerned about. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted in 2018 Resolution 2417 which condemns the use of hunger as a weapon in war. In Russia and China, hunger has a very special historical and political significance. There is therefore reason to hope that none of the permanent members of the Security Council will veto a resolution on South Sudan. Such a resolution against the South Sudanese leadership could send a clear signal to future leaders: Using hunger as a weapon will have consequences. The International Criminal Court, ICC, is normally the proper court to adjudicate this type of crime that Salva Kiir and Riek Machar and the entire South Sudanese government have committed and are committing, but citizens of non-member states such as South Sudan cannot be brought before the ICC. However, the Security Council has an opportunity to bring people from non-ICC states into the ICC. The Security Council must then adopt a resolution under Chapter 7, which requires South Sudan to cooperate with the ICC, and which authorizes South Sudan war criminals to be brought before this International Criminal Court.
When South Sudan became an independent country on July 9, 2011, the world was filled with hope. The world came to South Sudan to celebrate. Among the congratulatory guests was the Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon. The Crown Prince presented the gift from Norway: the financing of a national archive in South Sudan. Since then, hope has subsided. The archive may be built one day, and work is being done on the content. The National Archives will contain unique letters from historical figures such as Queen Victoria and Ed Madhi, the Muslim ruler who was defeated during the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. There will also be several shelves of international commission reports on human rights violations that have taken place in the country. Hopefully, there will also be a document showing that Norway in the UN Security Council insisted that war criminals be convicted, including those from South Sudan.