In late November, the CGHR Student Group launched the first of its 'Day in the Life' events, which aim to connect students with human rights practitioners in their places of work. The group brought seven students to the UK Parliament to attend a panel discussion developed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan. The meeting explored the concerning trend of increased violence in South Sudan in recent months and discussed potential solutions to the country's desperate human rights situation.
An enlightening and engaging discussion, the panel was comprised of three individuals, offering three traditional frames of the human rights narrative: former British Ambassador to Sudan, Rosalind Marsden, representing the diplomatic-bureaucratic lens; Emma Fanning, an Oxfam official who offered insight from the development perspective; and Anna Oosterlinck, a UN Panel of Experts adviser, representing the security lens. Hearing these views first-hand was particularly intriguing for students of Cambridge's graduate Politics of Africa course, who had recently explored the unspoken assumptions associated with transnational justice, as raised in Kamari Clarke's Fictions of Justice.
There was unanimous agreement amongst panellists that the human rights situation in South Sudan is deteriorating rapidly, and that international alarm has not translated into an effective response on the ground. The rise in hate speech, the risk of genocide, and the growing disillusionment towards a power-sharing political solution involving both President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar was shared by all parties.
Despite this alignment on the panel, however, the panellists offered different solutions for mitigating the conflict. The former UK Ambassador emphasised the need to engage with trusted institutions on the ground, including churches, to distribute aid. She also recommended a 'national conversation' to promote dialogue amongst conflicting parties. By contrast, the expert adviser urged for decisive action from the Security Council, and a need to learn from earlier mistakes, particularly the inadequacy of a power-sharing solution. The effectiveness of arms embargos also prompted debate, with the conclusion reached that whilst the arms embargo could prevent the import of high-tech weapons, the embargo would have little effect on the wealth of small arms already in the country.
These disagreements spoke to the notion that although the international community has launched rhetoric to avert the further escalation of violence and to promote the cessation of hostilities, it has fallen short of creating ideas to implement these goals. Indeed, the real challenge over the coming months will be how to establish a framework for conciliatory dialogue, for as one South Sudanese audience member commented, how can the world tackle this crisis, “when there is no peace to be kept”? It is only by addressing this challenge that a more inclusive and peaceful future for South Sudan can emerge.
David Orr works on the CGHR Student Group as an MPhil candidate in International Relations and Politics. Sign up for future CGHR talks.