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September 16, 2015
The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC 20520
Ambassador Susan Rice
National Security Advisor
The White House
Washington, DC 20270
Dear Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Rice:
In light of the approval of the Compromise Peace Agreement between the opposing parties in the conflict in South Sudan, as Chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and President of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), we write to urge the United States Government to take measures to support and incentivize the implementation of the peace agreement. We also recommend that you continue humanitarian and rehabilitation efforts to reduce the suffering caused by the fighting and to support the initiatives of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) to promote dialogue among political leaders and reconciliation at the grassroots level of society.
This summer with the assistance of CRS, one of us (Bishop Cantú) had the opportunity to travel to South Sudan and meet with many of the SSCC leaders. We discussed the conflict, the impact it has had on society and the efforts of SSCC members to stop the fighting and rebuild society. Church leaders of all denominations were adamant that the war has no reason to continue and must stop. They urged the political leaders in the conflict to sign the peace agreement and since its signing last week, the SSCC has been urging the parties to implement all its measures. We attach a statement made by the SSCC on July 31 that lays out their positions on the agreement.
We also had the opportunity to discuss another important issue, the imposition of an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on parties who block the implementation of the new peace agreement in South Sudan. Although local Catholic leaders understand the reasons behind the proposed sanctions on South Sudan leaders, they believe that sanctions will not work and could in fact be counterproductive. Sanctions would require the cooperation of many stakeholders and would be difficult to impose effectively. In addition, the Church leaders believe that the imposition of sanctions would embolden those parties opposed to the agreement and could lead them to scuttle this fragile chance for peace.
Instead, South Sudan needs to reduce tensions and divisions. We urge the United States to give this fragile peace agreement a chance. Our government, working with regional countries and the international community, should look for ways to strengthen the hand of those leaders who want to implement the agreement and incentivize them for the progress they make. Incentives should be investments in the long term future of South Sudan. Now that the agreement is signed, the country needs to develop a shared sense of a broader, inclusive national identity. South Sudan also needs a government that will operate on the basic principle of deploying all its human and natural resources for the common good of the people. To reach this point, South Sudan has to establish the conditions under which the interim government can take up its duties, build health, educational, and development services, and then set up the structures needed for the free and fair election of a new legitimate government. That government must reflect and represent all the peoples of South Sudan and serve the needs of the common good. The United States should support all of these initiatives.
The United States should also maintain, if not increase, its support for humanitarian assistance and recovery efforts led by agencies like Catholic Relief Services. We urge you to support the SSCC neutral forums designed to promote dialogue among political leaders and their supporters. The SSCC efforts to build reconciliation among people affected by the violence is another initiative that deserves U.S. assistance. You should offer assistance for UNMISS and other peacekeepers, who will separate the belligerent parties, monitor the ceasefire and guarantee humanitarian access to all people in need of life-saving aid. It is also very clear that South Sudan requires a reformed defense force that is divorced from politics and is united around the protection of all South Sudanese in their diversity.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services are ready to work with you in all of these efforts. We are grateful for the leadership shown by President Obama during his recent trip to Africa, especially when he urged regional leaders to resolve the conflict in South Sudan. It is logical to believe that his intervention played a role in convincing the parties to the conflict to lay down their arms and build peace. We welcome your leadership as we look for ways to support peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.
Most Reverend Oscar Cantú
Bishop of Las Cruces
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
Catholic Relief Services
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