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The events of 15 December 2013 and beyond, which pushed South Sudan into armed conflict only two and a half years after independence, have drastically changed the prospects for the world’s newest country. While we are marking the one-year anniversary of this disastrous conflict, there is little reason for optimism. Despite a year of negotiations under IGAD, the warring parties have failed to conclude any meaningful political agreement while civilians continue to live in a situation of extreme insecurity, which threatens to worsen in the coming weeks.
This devastating conflict is causing immense human suffering and has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, the displacement of two million people and appalling violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. A famine among the most vulnerable population was avoided in 2014 – thanks to international assistance - but the humanitarian situation remains dire. At least 2.5 million people will face severe food shortages in the coming months and this man-made situation has become one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Beyond the suffering it causes, this conflict risks affecting a region already prone to instability. With the end of the rainy season, there is growing fear that the warring parties are preparing for major offensives. The European Union (EU) remains strongly committed to supporting international efforts to end the violence, and calls for tougher measures from the International Community to press South Sudan’s leaders to resolve their differences peacefully and democratically.
EU response to the crisis
Guided by the EU Strategy for the Horn of Africa, the EU has been working since the independence of South Sudan in 2011 towards stabilising the state. Our response to the crisis has been consistent with this approach, and the crisis has shown all the more the importance to build a stable, pluralist, and democratic state. From the onset, the EU, through the EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa and together with the international community, has been actively engaged in trying to prevent the crisis escalating into a full-scale ethnic-based civil war.
The EU's main objectives have been to avoid neighbouring countries from being drawn into the conflict, or even brought into conflict with each other, to bring an immediate end to the fighting and initiate a political transition. We have engaged and pursued a comprehensive strategy to support the restoration of peace in South Sudan, which includes:
- Politically and financially supporting the IGAD led process and the mechanism to monitor compliance with the cessation of hostilities;
- Imposing targeted measures (visa ban and asset freeze) against (two) military leaders that are spoilers to the peace process and that have committed human rights violations;
- Working with our Member States to strengthen and refocus UNMISS mandate with a priority on Protection of Civilians;
- Supporting accountability and reconciliation through the AU Commission of Inquiry and actions by the UN Human Rights Council;
- And reshuffling our development portfolio, adopting a stabilisation package while increasing humanitarian assistance (see below).
It is frustrating that all efforts have so far proven unsuccessful at resolving this situation. The EU Foreign Affairs Ministers met today to demonstrate their unwavering resolve and commitment to South Sudan and its people and to "call for tougher action by the international community as a whole to press all sides in the conflict to pursue the path of peaceful negotiation in the primary interest of the South Sudanese population."
The EU Ministers further called on the parties to bring the conflict to an immediate end and swiftly reach a political settlement. Both sides have undermined the process by failing to honour their commitments and excluding others from negotiations, while continuing their hostilities on the ground. It stressed that it was essential that the parties respect their commitments and desist from planned offensive.
Given this alarming lack of progress, the EU foreign Affairs Ministers called for the adoption of restrictive measures by IGAD and the AU, in coordination with the UN Security Council. The EU has imposed an arms embargo and invited all key international partners to consider this step. It called for measures to ensure that the wealth of the country is being used for the benefit of the South Sudanese people rather than to stockpile weapons of war. The EU has also expressed its readiness to consider further targeted restrictive measures against those individuals obstructing peace in South Sudan.
Leaders on both sides have a responsibility for the conflict and the power to stop it in the interest of their people. It is high time that they live up to this responsibility and usher in a new period of peace and prosperity. The EU will continue to stand beside those acting for peace.
EU Humanitarian Aid
The humanitarian situation in South Sudan remains critical with nearly two million people forced to flee their homes, including some 470 000 South Sudanese seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. An estimated 3.8 million people need humanitarian assistance by the end of this year. The country faces a food security crisis with 1.5 million people at immediate risk. The UN has declared South Sudan a Level 3 emergency, the most serious humanitarian crisis designation based on criteria such as its scale, urgency, complexity and the global response capacity needed to address it. South Sudan ranks second in the European Commission's Global Vulnerability and Crisis Assessment index (after the Central African Republic).
The main humanitarian needs are food, clean water, healthcare, shelter, sanitation, hygiene and protection, as well as response to epidemics. In addition, the country suffers regularly from seasonal floods and other natural disasters. Unhindered access to people in need, irrespective of their political affiliation or ethnic group, continues to be problematic. Harassment of aid workers, commandeering of assets and diversion of aid continue in parts of the country despite the warring parties' obligation to allow free and unhindered movement of all humanitarian aid and personnel.
At the same time, the crisis in South Sudan has a destabilising effect on the region. The humanitarian resource situation remains critical in the countries hosting South Sudanese refugees (principally Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan).
The European Commission has provided more than €110 million in 2014 to respond to the unfolding and intensifying humanitarian crisis in the country and an additional €20 million to address the urgent needs of South Sudanese refugees in the region.
As part of our ongoing commitment to the people of South Sudan, the EU (including its Member States) has so far provided more than €267 million in humanitarian assistance in 2014.
EU Development Assistance
In 2011 and 2013, the EU adopted a number of projects worth €85 and €185 million respectively in the sectors of agriculture, education, health and the rule of law. The EU has continued its development assistance to avoid a further deterioration of the lives of an already suffering population and undermine delivery of basic social services. However, in response to the conflict, upheaval and violence, the EU has had to change the way in which it works and developed a comprehensive approach to the crisis by:
1. Supporting IGAD in its efforts to mediate between the warring parties and broker a peaceful solution to the conflict. €1.1 million have been mobilised from the EU's African Peace Facility to allow IGAD to set up a platform for peace talks and provide initial funding to a monitoring and verification mechanism. The EU is about to increase this support by another €1.1 million and plans to financially support the mechanism in charge of monitoring and verifying the ceasefire agreement signed between the parties.
2. Mobilising an additional €45 million from the European Development Fund (EDF): to strengthen the EU response to the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan (€30 million) and support the needs of people who fled South Sudan and are now hosted in neighbouring countries (€15 million).
3. Adjusting development programmes to the new context following a set of agreed principles, including:
The focus should be on the immediate term to strengthen resilience while ensuring the sustainability of the EU's action.
As a result of this approach, the EU has (since January 2014):
(a) suspended a 'State Building Contract' initially foreseen as budget support (€80 million);
(b) started re-programming this budget support to address education and health needs in partnership with EU Member States, NGOs and international organisations;
(c) contracted a total of €68 million with the aim of supporting
(d) Shifted the priorities of a number of development programmes in the rule of law sector to redirect them towards direct support to the population to increase their access to justice and carry out reconciliation processes.
(e) Started support to local authorities country-wide, helping them deliver services by strengthening their capacity to implement their budgets in an efficient and effective manner.
In addition, a significant package funded under the 2014 Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) short-term (crisis response) will be implemented in both South Sudan and Sudan with a total budget €23.5 million.