How can the US enforce the (non) ceasefire in South Sudan?

A burnt and destroyed operating table in a Medecins Sans Frontieres-supported hospital in Leer, South Sudan. Some aid organizations have already pulled out of the area due to the grave security situation. Photo by: MSF

The United States is working closely with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-country trading bloc based in East Africa, to deploy a monitoring and verification team in South Sudan in an effort to oversee how the ceasefire agreement inked last month in Addis Ababa is holding.

But the mandate of the team — which is expected to be on the ground this week —does not cover enforcing the agreement, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth admitted in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations on Wednesday.

It’s not only that the ceasefire is not being respected by both parties on the ground — indeed the situation in the country just seems to be getting worse and worse.

Also on Wednesday, international medical group Medecins Sans Frontieres denounced the devastating situation of medical care in Malakal where several patients in a teaching hospital compound were shot dead and others raped, according to the aid group.

The whole county, emergency coordinator Carlos Francisco said in a situation update MSF shared with Devex, is “deserted, with houses burned throughout and countless dead bodies strewn in the streets.”

A number of aid organizations, such as Oxfam, have already pulled out of the area due to the grave security situation.

Medical care ‘under fire’

The scenario a few miles away in another local healthcare facility in Leer was similar. When staff from the international organization went to check on the hospital — which they were forced to abandon weeks ago due to insecurity — they found nothing but burned buildings, “smashed” drug vials, broken surgical equipment. Drugs and other medical supplies, even patient beds, were nowhere to be found.

MSF’s over 200 local staff in Leer remain in the bush, lacking sufficient medical supplies, and many displaced patients who fled with them are now “drinking dirty river water” and “eating water lilies for lack of food.”

“Medical care has come under fire in South Sudan. Rather than safe havens for treatment, hospitals are now targets of attack and brutality. They are places to fear rather than trust, a complete inversion of their purpose and role. Hundreds of thousands of people are in desperate need of shelter, food, water, and health care in South Sudan. How can effective, neutral aid be provided in a climate of utter disrespect and fear?” said MSF Head of Mission in South Sudan Raphael Gorgeu.

Diplomatic surge

John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, which aims to to end genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, proposed in his testimony launching a “diplomatic surge” in South Sudan.

“One special envoy, no matter how capable Ambassador Don Booth is, pales in comparison to the current diplomatic requirements,” he said.

This plan, according to Amnesty International USA Managing Director Adotei Akwei, would be extremely powerful for civil society organizations which have been struggling to provide humanitarian assistance across the country, but have so far been left out of the negotiating table.

“It would send a statement to the ‘leaders of the major armed forces’ that these groups matter, these groups have to be listened to, these groups have a legitimate stake in the future of the country,” Akwei said.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) suggested involving former President George W. Bush, whom he said had formed good relations with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, while Subcommittee Chair Chris Smith (R-NJ) repeatedly asked whether it’s time for President Barack Obama to step in and make direct contact to both warring parties’ leaders.

It remains to be seen however how far these proposals would go, and how fast can they address the atrocities that are continuously shrinking the movement of humanitarian actors on the ground.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.