, 14 January, 2020 / 4:28 AM
The Rome-based lay Catholic association dedicated to the provision of social services and arbitrating conflicts, Sant’Egidio Community has, in a two-day meeting at its headquarters with representatives of government and various opposition parties in South Sudan, facilitated an agreement to end hostilities and to allow “continued and uninterrupted humanitarian access” as the country prepares to form a unity government next month.
“We, the Government of the Republic of South Sudan and the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA), with representatives of SPLM/A-IO and NDM as witnesses and IGAD as observer, held the first official engagement under the auspices of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome, Italy on 11th and 12th January, 2020,” the leaders stated in their Sunday, January 12 statement.
Titled “Rome Declaration on the Peace Process in South Sudan,” the four-page statement is signed by 10 leaders among them, representatives of the government of South Sudan, opposition leaders including non-signatories to the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), IGAD, and Sant’Egidio Community’s Secretary General.
In the statement, the representatives of various groups at the meeting “solemnly declare to commit/recommit and adhere to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) of December 2017 to avoid any further armed confrontation across the country by the signatories and non-signatories.”
The solemn declaration, the 10 signatories stated, is aimed “to create a conducive environment for dialogue to resolve the conflict” and that the cessation of hostilities across the world’s newest nation “shall come into effect on the 15th of January 2020 00:00 hours.”
At the two-day meeting that concluded Sunday, January 12, South Sudan Presidential Advisor and Envoy, Barnaba Marial Benjamin headed the government delegation. Other South Sudanese political leaders in attendance and who signed the Rome Declaration include SSOMA officials among them, Pa’gan Amum, Thomas Cirillo Swaka, Amanuel Yoanes Yor, Paul Malong Awan, David Tut Kuiy, and Vakindi Unvu.
The Declaration is also signed by the Deputy Chair of SPLM-IO, Henry Dilah Odwar as a witness, IGAD’s South Sudan Office representative, Samuel Tessema as an observer, and Sant’Egidio Community’s Secretary General, Paolo Impagliazzo.
Considering the imminent deadline of the cessation of hostilities, the signatories to the January 12 Rome Declaration have requested “the Community of Sant’Egidio to convene a meeting with IGAD as soon as possible, to discuss issues related to monitoring and verification.”
The South Sudanese leaders also collectively reaffirm their “readiness to allow continued and uninterrupted humanitarian access to local and international organizations, including non-governmental organizations, to alleviate the suffering of the population, as consequences of years of conflict and natural disasters.”
The leaders express their consensus about the need for “a comprehensive political engagement in order to achieve inclusivity and sustainable peace with the non-signatories to the R-ARCSS” and also collectively resolve to continue the dialogue about such engagement “under the auspices of Sant’Egidio in consultation with IGAD and with the support of regional organizations and the international community.”
In the Rome Declaration, the signatories acknowledge efforts made by global leaders of Christians churches as well as church leaders in their country saying they are “humbled by the relentless spiritual and moral appeal for peace, reconciliation and fraternity.”
Specifically, the leaders express their appreciation for “Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Former Moderator of Presbyterian Church of Scotland as well as the South Sudanese religious leaders for reconciliation, peace and fraternity.”
The signatories to the Rome Declaration convened a press conference Monday, January 13 at Sant’Egidio Community headquarters in Rome to explain the details of their agreement.
The head of South Sudan government, Barnaba Marial acknowledged the role of the global church leaders in the peace process of their country and particularly recalled Pope Francis’ April 2019 symbolic gesture to the South Sudanese main political leaders saying, “His Holiness the Pope for, his love for the people of South Sudan, knelt and kissed the feet of our leaders.”
“I think that is a great example of peace a great example of love for the people. Even our Lord Jesus in his earlier days only washed the feet of the disciples. He didn't kiss them but he washed them,” Mr. Marial told members of the Press at the Vatican January 13.
He continued, “So, we have come here. We have come to Rome. We have come to SantEdigio a Christian community committed to peace in order to resolve the differences we have as brothers and sisters in the Republic of South Sudan. We would like to assure the members of the press. We have agreed on the cessation of hostilities. We have agreed on an inclusive South Sudan where all of us should be ready to build our country.”
At the Monday Press Conference, the interim Chairman of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (Real-SPLM) Pa’gan Amum reiterated Marial’s appreciation for the global Christian leaders and also highlighted the various agreements during their two-day meeting.
“Here we have agreed in the Declaration of Rome first to recommit ourselves to a cessation of hostilities to create a conducive environment for dialogue so that we are able to address the root causes of the problem in our country, the causes that led to the war,” Mr. Amum told members of the Press.
He emphasized, “We have agreed that it is time for us to address those problems, accept, appreciate and learn from the mistakes we have committed in our process of the state and nation building.”
“To reach comprehensive solutions to the crisis and this process we have also agreed to make it inclusive of all,” Amum said and expressed his joy about the participation of SPLM-IO as a witness to “our discussions and our agreement and as well as the NDM from the Soar Alliance whom we're signatories to the agreement known as a revitalized peace agreement.”
The Rome Declaration also expresses the South Sudanese leaders’ gratitude “to the tireless efforts conducted by the international community, with special regard to IGAD, AU, EU, UN and the Troika Members as well as other international and regional partners, in particular China and Japan” and appeal that these entities “continue to be actively engaged in the (peace) process.”
The South Sudanese leaders have also thanked Sant’Egidio Community for its engagement “with our people and our country” for decades.
“Mindful of the unprecedented suffering of the people of South Sudan caused by the devastating civil war and the urgent need to cease hostilities,” the 10 signatories of the Rome Declaration reaffirmed “their will to foster political dialogue in order to facilitate further reconciliation and stabilization by addressing the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan.”
The Rome Declaration is an essential step in the peace process in South Sudan as it brings together key stakeholders including non-signatories to September 2018 the R-ARCSS, something Catholic Bishops in the country have underscored as a necessary prerequisite for sustainable peace. If respected by all parties in the conflict, the Declaration can significantly contribute to the formation of a unity government, which has been postponed three times, the latest deadline following the 100-day extension being February 22.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa