February 12, 2014 (JUBA) – A leading US human right activist visiting South Sudan has reiterated the need for inclusive dialogue in order to halt the nearly two-month-old conflict in the world’s youngest nation, which erupted in mid-December.
- US activist John Prendergast of the Enough Project speaks in Washington at the National Press Club studios on 13 October 2013 (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, an advocacy group aimed at ending genocide and crimes against humanity, made the remark at a meeting with cabinet affairs minister Martin Elia on Tuesday.
Prendergast also travelled to Jonglei capital Bor, where he held extensive discussions with key government officials, activists and members of the media.
Lieutenant General, Malual Ayom, who commands government troops fighting an insurgency in Jonglei, was among those who met with the US activist, with discussions focused on the progress of the recent peace deal between the government and rebel leader David Yau Yau, as well as the ongoing presence of Ugandan troops, who were deployed to South Sudan following the December outbreak of violence.
Conflict erupted in the capital, Juba, on 15 December following clashes between rival members of the presidential guards, quickly spreading throughout the country as troops loyal to South Sudan president Salva Kiir battled rebel forces aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar for control of strategic areas.
Prendergast also visited Bor’s Anglican church, where he was given a general briefing by pastors on the situation in the town.
Among the issues Prendergast discussed with leaders was the need for inclusive dialogue between warring parties in order to address the root causes of the conflict.
He called for the establishment of a platform for discussions, involving a broad cross-section of society, including religious groups, local and state actors, civil society and displaced populations, in order to expedite the reconciliation and healing process.
“I have come to meet with the authorities and the people of South Sudan so that I hear from them how they plan this conflict can be resolved. We are pained and heartbroken, because here is a young nation that wanted its independence after spending decades [at war] in which million lives were lost”, Prendergast told reporters after meeting Elia on Tuesday, referring to the South’s protracted civil war with the north.
Prendergast said Enough remained committed to highlighting the plight of those affected by the conflict, as well as the dynamics that lead to what is South Sudan’s worst post-secession outbreak of violence.
“We are very much concerned about this conflict, which we don’t want to cascade into a more violent repetition of the past. That’s why we are very concerned and remain deeply committed and personally engaged in efforts to try to help the people of this country define their own future in peace and prosperity”, he said.
Minister Elia, who described discussions with Prendergast as “fruitful”, said topics covered included government efforts to resolve the conflict, as well as how to identify those responsible for committing atrocities.
Pendergast also discussed the current peace process and political developments in the country which with various leaders in relation to the positions taken by the government and rebel forces.
Discussions with the civil society organisations and the media also explored ways that groups could work together with the stakeholders and partners, including the African Union Commission of inquiry, which is expected to make key recommendations on the way forward for reconciliation and healing in South Sudan, as well as how to hold those found to have committed human rights abuses accountable.
A best-selling author and former special advisor to the US government, Prendergast has been campaigning for peace in Africa for nearly 30 years. In 2010, he established the Satellite Sentinel Project in collaboration with Hollywood actor George Clooney, which aims to provide an early warning system through the use of satellite imagery to deter mass atrocities.