- - Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Since the civil war began in South Sudan in December of 2013, the news from one of the world’s newest countries has been consistently gruesome — targeted ethnic killings, rape, kidnappings and disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, recruitment and use of child soldiers, massive social upheaval, millions of hungry people and an economy on the brink of total collapse.

As one of the members of Congress who has supported the people in what is now South Sudan for more than three decades, I traveled to that country in late August to deliver a stark message: The United States and international community have lost patience with the pervasive violence and mismanagement, and things must immediately change for the better.

South Sudan is now at the pivot point in its short five-year history as an independent nation.

President Salva Kiir and Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk and the other government leaders with whom I spoke in the capital city of Juba acknowledged the serious problems they face.

I received a promise from Mr. Kiir to promulgate a zero-tolerance policy for all armed forces against rape, sexual violence and human trafficking. If faithfully implemented, such a declaration would demonstrate the determination to end these vile practices by sending a strong message that such violations will carry immediate consequences — arrest and jail — whether committed by government soldiers or security forces, armed opposition fighters, militias allied to the government or opposition or rival ethnic forces.

There must be an end to impunity for war crimes in South Sudan. The government has begun an investigation of the July 11 attack at the Terrain hotel compound in which as many as 100 South Sudanese soldiers raped, sexually assaulted, beat and robbed American and international aid workers. U.N. peacekeepers were minutes away but refused to intervene despite being asked and having a robust legal mandate to do so. A contingent of the South Sudanese military ultimately rescued the victims from other rampaging troops. The investigation by the South Sudanese government is scheduled to be completed within days, and there must be consequences for those found guilty.

One of my constituents — who asked not to be named — was among the victims of sexual assault and torture.

Humanitarian access must be assured to the estimated 4.8 million people in South Sudan facing severe food shortages. Several weeks ago, humanitarian access was restricted in areas of the country and while those restrictions have been lifted, access continues to be problematic due to ongoing conflict and poor roads. The looting of a World Food Program warehouse saw the loss of 4,500 metric tons of much-needed food — enough to feed 220,000 people.

There are about 20,000 humanitarian aid workers in South Sudan — 2,000 of whom are from the United States and other foreign countries. If there is not greater security for these humanitarian personnel and supplies, vital assistance will diminish at the time it is needed most.

A Sept. 7 House hearing of the Africa and global human rights subcommittee will take a hard look at the South Sudan crisis, with testimony from the State Department, human rights advocates and an American victim of the July 11 attacks.

Additionally, the exploitation of children as child soldiers must stop. According to UNICEF, 16,000 child soldiers have been recruited by all sides since civil war began in December 2013. Moreover, this year’s U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report gave South Sudan a failing grade — Tier 3 — in part because of child soldiers.

South Sudan faces the possibility of a U.N. arms embargo and other sanctions. A new 4,000 Regional Protection Force — designed to augment the more than 13,000 U.N. uniformed peacekeepers — has already been approved by the U.N. Security Council.

There is yet time for South Sudan to make its pivot to peace and good governance by faithfully implementing the comprehensive peace accord signed one year ago but time is running out.

Further delay in making necessary reforms and serious accountability will only bring sanctions and doom possibilities for sustainable security, justice and the investment needed to turn South Sudan’s economy around.

Chris Smith is a Republican member of the House of Representatives from New Jersey.

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