Beyond Deadlock: Recommendations for Obama’s Plan B on South Sudan

 

South Sudan’s warring factions have one last chance to end their country’s 20-month civil war and sign a compromise agreement proposed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediators, who are leading negotiations. The U.S. government has promised serious consequences if the parties fail to meet the August 17 deadline set by the international community. During his recent visit to East Africa, President Obama convened a roundtable on South Sudan with the presidents of Kenya and Uganda, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Sudan’s foreign minister, and the African Union Commission’s chairperson to build consensus on the need to collectively pressure South Sudan’s warring parties toward peace. In no uncertain terms, President Obama warned that the United States is prepared to move forward with additional available tools to apply greater pressure on the parties. When speaking to the African Union, he said that if the two sides miss the deadline, “the international community must raise the costs of intransigence.” At a press conference in the region with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, President Obama explained, “we also think that [the United States] can be a mechanism for additional leverage on the parties, who, up until this point, have proven very stubborn and have not yet risen to the point where they are looking out for the interests of their nation as opposed to their particular self-interests. And that transition has to take place, and it has to take place now.”

Beyond Deadlock
Executive Summary and Recommendations
 
South Sudan’s warring factions have one last chance to end their country’s 20-month civil war and sign a compromise agreement1 proposed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediators, who are leading negotiations. The U.S. government has promised serious consequences if the parties fail to meet the August 17 deadline set by the international community. During his recent visit to East Africa, President Obama convened a roundtable on South Sudan with the presidents of Kenya and Uganda, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Sudan’s foreign minister, and the African Union Commission’s chairperson to build consensus on the need to collectively pressure South Sudan’s warring parties toward peace. In no uncertain terms, President Obama warned that the United States is prepared to move forward with additional available tools to apply greater pressure on the parties. When speaking to the African Union, he said that if the two sides miss the deadline, “the international community must raise the costs of intransigence.” At a press conference in the region with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, President Obama explained, “we also think that [the United States] can be a mechanism for additional leverage on the parties, who, up until this point, have proven very stubborn and have not yet risen to the point where they are looking out for the interests of their nation as opposed to their particular self-interests. And that transition has to take place, and it has to take place now.”
 
Back in Washington, on August 4, President Obama warned, “If they miss [the August 17 deadline] then I think it’s our view that it’s going to be necessary for us to move forward with a different plan and recognize that those leaders are incapable of creating the peace that is required.” In order to maximize the impact of an alternate plan (being called “Plan B” by many), the U.S. should urgently cultivate the strongest possible support for such a proposal. Such a Plan B should include high-level asset freezes and travel bans, a global arms embargo, and the prosecution of grand corruption and atrocity crimes, including natural resource pillage as a war crime. Pressure from President Obama and other world leaders at such a pivotal moment in negotiations has already set in motion the most serious peace deliberations to date. The United States must be prepared to take swift action on the promised Plan B should the parties once again fail to agree to and implement peace. The United States must follow through on the president’s strong words with equally strong action, both unilaterally and at the U.N. Security Council, where so far only six ground commanders—who hold little in the way of personal wealth or assets outside of South Sudan—have been designated for sanctions.
 
The most critical elements of an effective Plan B for South Sudan should include:
 
1. Implementation of high-level asset freezes, travel bans, and an arms embargo. President Obama should request that the U.S. Department of the Treasury prepare dossiers to present to the U.N. Security Council on high-level targets and their financial backers and enablers. If the two parties fail to sign the proposed compromise agreement by the August 17 deadline, the Security Council should be prepared to impose additional designations immediately. Because many of the targets’ assets are in the region, the United States should urge Kenya and Ethiopia to ensure U.N. sanctions designations are enforced. The United States should also support a global arms embargo on South Sudan. Should these measures fail to gain the support of the Security Council, the United States should be prepared to build a coalition of countries that are willing to ratchet up the pressure on high-level officials from both sides, who undermine peace and are responsible for ongoing atrocities.
 
2. Measures to end impunity for economic and atrocity crimes. The United States should fully support IGAD’s proposed Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS), including its mandate to investigate and prosecute pillage as a war crime and other serious crimes, including grand corruption. The United States should offer technical and legal assistance to the court and South Sudan’s existing Anti-Corruption Commission, including specific expertise on asset tracing and financial crimes investigations. The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and others should also take steps to prosecute pillage cases involving South Sudan within their own legal jurisdictions to ensure that corporations do not benefit from the pillage of South Sudan’s natural resource wealth.
 
3. Strengthened regional capacity to enforce U.N. sanctions. Building on efforts to tackle corruption and money laundering in the region, the United States should offer additional legal and technical support to improve regional sanctions enforcement. The U.S. should prioritize programs that enhance the operational capacity of regional financial intelligence units to identify and freeze the assets of designated individuals. The United States should also urge Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda to submit reports on their efforts to enforce U.N. sanctions as required by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2206.
 
4. A connection of regional infrastructure projects to peace. The U.S. and Chinese governments should jointly review bilateral and multilateral funds earmarked for regional infrastructure projects in East Africa to assess the feasibility of additional investments given the risks presented by ongoing conflict in South Sudan. This review should make clear that active regional sanctions enforcement will be considered a key risk mitigation factor.
 
5. Measures to return the proceeds of corruption back to South Sudan. President Obama should direct the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI to provide inter-agency support to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative and focus on investigating instances of grand corruption in South Sudan. The U.S. should also encourage Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda to actively contribute to global efforts to trace, seize, freeze, and return the proceeds of corruption to the people of South Sudan by sharing intelligence through the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network for Eastern Africa.
 
6. Amplification of civil society advocacy to increase beneficial ownership transparency. Donors should support efforts by South Sudanese civil society groups to advocate for the full implementation of existing beneficial ownership transparency rules and other public disclosure provisions laid out in the 2012 Petroleum Act and the Transitional Constitution of 2011. Donors should also support civil society efforts in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda to demand increased transparency about the real owners of corporate assets and trusts, as well as information about payments made to governments for mining and oil concessions. At the same time, the U.S. Treasury should revise its own proposed rule on beneficial ownership to include a look-back provision before the final rule’s publication later in August 2015.
 
7. Greater resources for civil society groups to fight corruption. Donors should use South Sudan’s ratification of the U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) as an entry point for supporting efforts by grassroots organizations to hold their own leaders to account for the misuse and misappropriation of government funds. Ensuring the provision of space for civil society participation during the transition, including protections for local journalists and news outlets, should be made a precondition for the resumption of donor assistance to the government of South Sudan.