Former U.S. Diplomats Lobby to Stop South Sudan War Crimes

Former U.S. Diplomats Lobby to Stop South Sudan War Crimes Court
The move sparked anger among experts, who see the court as critical to peace.

 Personnel in the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, formerly named the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, take part in a drill at their barracks south of Juba, South Sudan, on April 26. (Alex McBride/AFP/Getty Images)

(foreignpolicy)—Former senior U.S. diplomats are now lobbying on behalf of South Sudan to block the creation of a war crimes court, even though the government in Juba agreed to the tribunal as part of a U.S.-backed peace deal, according to public lobbying disclosure filings.

The South Sudanese government hired Gainful Solutions Inc., a California-based lobbying group, for a two-year contract worth $3.7 million to boost ties between South Sudan and Trump administration. As one part of the overall contract between the South Sudanese government and the lobbying group, Gainful Solutions will push to “Delay and ultimately block establishment of the hybrid court envisaged” under a 2018 peace deal between the government, led by President Salva Kiir, and his longtime rival, opposition figure Riek Machar.

The U.S. government, which backs the peace agreement, provided $4.8 million in 2016 through the African Union to set up the court, a State Department spokesman confirmed to Foreign Policy in email. “The project is ongoing,” the spokesman said.

The lobbying contract provides an unusually candid glimpse into the South Sudanese government’s aims to undercut a peace deal it has committed to. Some current and former U.S. officials are outraged at the former diplomats involved in the contract for accepting millions of dollars from Kiir, whose government is accused of widespread human rights violations during the country’s five-year-long civil war.

Gainful Solutions is run by Michael Ranneberger, a former career U.S. diplomat who served as ambassador to Kenya from 2006 to 2011, and the lobbyist Soheil Nazari-Kangarlou. Constance Berry Newman, a former senior State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development official under the George W. Bush administration, is also named a consultant on the project for a $5,000 fee, according to public disclosure filings from the Department of Justice.

The filings, dated April 18, indicate that the South Sudanese government is dismissing its pledges to address war crimes and hold perpetrators accountable, according to current and former officials who spoke to Foreign Policy. While some foreign governments, such as Sudan, hire lobbyists to try and wind down existing U.S. sanctions, the South Sudanese government in its filing is asking Gainful Solutions to reverse current sanctions and also “further block potential sanctions.”

Newman “does not the support dismantling of the hybrid courts and would never take part in any effort to dismantle them,” according to a statement issued by Newman and the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank where she is a senior fellow, after Foreign Policy‘s story was published. The statement said Newman’s role in the project is “strictly limited in scope,” stressing she is not an officer of Gainful Solutions and pointing to her disclosure filing.

“It is almost unheard of—they’re charged with helping to undermine a peace agreement the government is a signatory to, and in which the U.S. is in some ways a guarantor of,” said Cameron Hudson, a former U.S. diplomat and National Security Council staffer who worked on South Sudan issues.

“These two were well aware of the atrocities that have occurred in [South Sudan],” said one expert on the region in the U.S. government, referring to Newman and Ranneberger. “How do you take a job where your task is to make sure people responsible for war crimes aren’t held accountable?”

The new lobbying contract comes weeks before the next major deadline in a shaky 2018 peace deal, when Machar is set to return to South Sudan and become deputy head of a unity government with Kiir. The opposition is pushing for a six-month delay to the deadline until more security conditions are met to guarantee Machar’s safety, which the South Sudanese government has rejected. Experts fear the delay could derail the peace deal, plunging the country back into conflict and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.