US, South Sudan must stand together for peace

US, South Sudan must stand together for peace
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The biblical story of Jeremiah tells how a prophet is saved from certain death by a man named Ebed Melek. Ebed Melek hails from Kush, the ancient land many scholars believe is present day Sudan or South Sudan. Jeremiah is saved by simple objects: rags, worn out clothes and ropes. But Ebed Melek does not save Jeremiah by himself — he is assisted by 30 others.

The United States gave our people in South Sudan some of the ropes to achieve freedom from years of repression from Sudan. With the generosity of the American people, much more than metaphorical rags and worn clothes have been provided: since the outbreak of a horrific civil war in December 2013, millions have been kept alive with vital food and humanitarian assistance. Now we ask the United States to step up its role in helping South Sudanese find peace, much as the 30 assisted Ebed Melek and Jeremiah.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyHaley: 'Open question' if US athletes will attend Olympics amid North Korea tensions Haley: Trump isn't deciding who controls east Jerusalem Emergency UN Security Council meeting called after Trump's Jerusalem announcement: report MORE visited our country in October. We thank her for bearing witness and for her prayers. We hope that one day, in a time of peace, she will return to our land. 

Haley seems to understand the gravity of the situation in our country, as well as in the region, where millions of South Sudanese have fled as refugees. Speaking to the U.N. Security Council on Nov. 28, she decried “a population that is unacceptably vulnerable to further violence,” and noted “maybe the most disturbing thing I saw was the seed of hate being planted in future generations. … If we don’t do something about the way South Sudanese kids are being raised, we will be dealing with them as adults on the battlefield.”

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The ambassador is correct to attribute the primary responsibility for the situation in our country to the direct, willful failures of our leaders, those who purport to govern us. 

 

However, attributions of responsibility are insufficient to solve the crisis. The United States can do more to address the conflict in South Sudan.

The United States should continuously ask South Sudanese leaders, in both the government and opposition, to take defined, incremental steps to demonstrate they are ready to change. For example, the United States could indicate its expectation that combatants devise and implement a schedule to return to civilian control schools and hospitals occupied by armed groups. Or, demand a certain level of troop redeployment and withdrawal from civilian areas and meaningfully verify that progress, rather than hope for the best in vague promises of a ceasefire.

We ask the United States to recall the injunction of 2 Samuel 23, “where evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns,” and tell our leaders responsible for such suffering that such behavior is a stain on humanity and has consequences. We ask the United States ensure commitments to reconciliation and meaningful accountability, such as the hybrid court called for in the 2015 peace agreement, are protected and expedited.

With peace talks set to resume later this month, the United States can work with South Sudan’s immediate neighbors — especially Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda — to set clear, specific expectations for the peace process. After more than three years of talks, a symbolic commitment to merely holding more talks is not enough.

The United States should use its bilateral relationships with our neighbors to clearly communicate that they should not act to further the conflict, and that they should use their influence with leaders in South Sudan to persuade them to participate in genuine dialogue.

The United States should communicate to the facilitators of the peace talks specific expectations: that the process will result in well designed, durable security arrangements to end conflict, rather than allow for further flare-ups; that the process will offer a clear plan toward reforming the institutions that have so sadly failed our people since independence in 2011, and not entrench actions that could make things worse, like premature national elections held in an environment of crisis and mass displacement.

The United States should do all it can to end the vile, damaging effects of the arms trade in our country — we do not need more arms and ammunition. 

We ask the United States, a nation of faith, to stand with us in our common humanity, during our suffering, for as long as it takes our nation to find peace.

Moses Deng Bol is archbishop of the internal province of Northern Bahr El Ghazal, and John Jok Chol is bishop of the diocese of Akobo, both of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan.