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South Sudan’s Peace Process ‘Linked to Strength of International Engagement’, Special Representative Tells Security Council

After much progress in the peace process in South Sudan earlier in 2020, implementation is now lagging and needs urgent attention from the international community, the United Nations top official in that country told the Security Council today.

“Momentum in South Sudan’s peace process is linked to the strength of international engagement,” David Shearer, Special Representative for the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said in a briefing on developments since September.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report (document S/2020/1180) on the newly independent and conflict-steeped country, he said that 2020 saw the formation of a transitional Government, created through compromise by the parties and led by President Salva Kiir with First Vice-President Riek Machar. In addition, 9 of 10 Governors appointed in the last quarter have resumed their functions, although all other state and county executive and legislative positions remain vacant.  As well, the Council of Ministers is meeting and most national institutions are functioning, at least at a basic level.

“These achievements are to be commended.  But progress is lagging,” he said.  Arrangements to unify security forces are stalled and a dispute over governorship in the Upper Nile, which is also halting the appointment of country commissioners.  This hold-up leaves a local vacuum of power and makes it difficult to nip in the bud brewing intercommunal violence.  It is understandable, he added, that international attention in the Horn of Africa has been drawn elsewhere, but focus must be renewed on South Sudan to avert a resurgence of volatility.  At the same time, he urged the parties to take concrete steps to breathe fresh life into the   peace process.

So far in 2020, he said, more than 2,000 civilians have died in local-level conflict which is being “weaponized and turbocharged” by external actors acting in their own economic or political interests.  Given a “perfect storm” of humanitarian threats, he said that historically, the dry season exacerbates these problems, with competition for scarce resources like grazing land and water raising tensions between farmers and cattle herders.

Anticipating this, UNMISS has established five new temporary bases in conflict hotspots in line with its “proactive, robust and nimble” approach.  Integrated military and civilian teams are in place right now, to deter violence, de-escalate conflict and support reconciliation between parties.  The Government’s refusal to enable Mission access to many areas has hampered this work, although restrictions have recently eased.

The addition of a multi-donor trust fund to bring reconciliation, stabilization and resilience together will target the underlying causes of violence through a wide partnership.  UNMISS’s engineering contingents have also undertaken a major roadbuilding programme that will build peace through interregional trade and communications.  Meanwhile, at the national level, the Mission is promoting inclusive dialogue on vital aspects of the peace process.

He said that the transition of the protection of civilians sites to conventional displacement camps has started, due to the wind-down in intense conflict and continued need for humanitarian access.  In the past three months, Bor, Wau and Juba sites have transitioned smoothly, through consultation with all stakeholders.  Planning is under way at other sites as well, but transitions only take place when the conditions are right, he added.  At all sites, the Mission remains engaged in support of the displaced communities.  In addition, United Nations police officers are collocated with their national counterparts, providing them with training for community policing as the Government assumes ownership of the sites with UNMISS technical support.

The changes, he said, followed the recently completed independent strategic review of UNMISS.  Heeding the review, the strategy going forward will have as its central goal political progress in a regional context, while providing protection to those who need it most through a nimble profile that will allow for a gradual downsizing of overall force numbers.  It will also focus on strengthening the South Sudan National Police Service and addressing impunity through increased support to the justice system, building on the success of the mobile courts.  Preparations must also begin for elections and focus must intensify on security sector reform and, ultimately, disarmament and reintegration, he added.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said people in parts of South Sudan are on the brink of famine today.  The global Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) real-time quality review identified five counties in Jonglei, Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal States — Akobo, Aweil South, Tonj East, Tonj North and Tonj South — where 5 to 10 per cent of the population is living in IPC 5.  That means they face “catastrophe”, or famine, levels of food insecurity.  In some places, the number of people in IPC 5 is set to increase between now and July 2021.  While the analysis at the country level is being finalized, the IPC Famine Classification Review Committee presented a “famine likely” situation in western Pibor County last week.  “I think it would be fair to say that our fears from September have now materialized in these six counties,” he said.

Violence remains one of the main drivers of severe food insecurity in South Sudan, he said.  In the first half of 2020, four successive waves of major violence in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area displaced nearly 160,000 people.  In Warrap State, where three counties with IPC 5 classification are located, nearly 100,000 people were displaced due to violence between May and June.  Two consecutive years of intense flooding have worsened the situation.  More than half a million people in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, and close to 400,000 people in Warrap State, have been affected by the compounded effects of flooding and fighting.  COVID-19 and its socioeconomic impact has made life even harder as South Sudan’s economy keeps contracting, driven by the drop in oil prices.  Essential commodity and food prices are spiking as the exchange rate depreciates and inflation takes hold.

To stave off famine, the Central Emergency Response Fund and South Sudan Humanitarian Fund are critical tools in the international community’s response.  South Sudan received $39 million from the Response Fund in 2020 and a substantial proportion towards food insecurity.  Humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations in the country are scaling up a multisectoral response in all six counties.  Yet, the international community needs more funding to ensure food and livelihoods, health services and other life-saving programmes are supported in the six counties and across the country.  The South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020 is the largest ever, with nearly $2 billion needed.  Yet, only two thirds is funded as of December.  He credited humanitarian colleagues in South Sudan, most of them South Sudanese.  The humanitarian response in the country has kept millions of people from sliding into famine.  Aid agencies have assisted more than 6 million people across the country in 2020.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and partners have already treated nearly 600,000 children affected by severe or moderate acute malnutrition, with a 94 per cent recovery rate.  “This shows how effective support can be, if people get the help they need and aid workers are able to do their job,” he said.

Three key actions are necessary to prevent famine in the country, he said, adding “the time to avert looming famine in South Sudan is now”.  First and foremost, efforts to find political solutions to end the violence must continue.  Humanitarian partners are concerned that a spike in violence in early 2021 is likely as the dry season starts in Pibor and other parts of the country.  Secondly, humanitarians need sustained support from the Government of South Sudan for safe and unhindered access to people in desperate need.  Finally, humanitarian partners need to urgently scale up assistance, including protection efforts, on a “no-regrets basis”, in areas facing severe food insecurity.

Dang Dinh Quy (Viet Nam), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015) concerning South Sudan, said that, since the beginning of 2020, it received three exemption requests to the arms embargo, two of which were granted.  Also, four exemptions requests were received concerning the travel ban and asset freeze measures, all of which were granted, he reported, encouraging Member States to continue strengthening their cooperation with the Committee and the Panel of Experts.

The members of the Panel of Experts have been unable to travel to that country since the outset of this mandate due to the coronavirus pandemic, he continued.  The Committee’s work has equally been affected by COVID-19, with most of its meetings held via videoconferencing.  However, the Committee has continued to work efficiently to fulfil its mandate.  To date, it has met on one occasion in person, and on four occasions in closed videoconferencing.  On 7 February, the Committee heard a presentation by the Coordinator of the Panel of Experts in a meeting open to all Member States, concerning the Panel’s interim report (document S/2019/897).

In April, the Committee received a presentation by the Panel of Experts concerning the Panel’s final report (document S/2020/342) and discussed the recommendations contained in it through a written format.  In a closed videoconference on 25 June, the Committee heard a presentation by the Panel of Experts in a meeting open to South Sudan’s neighbouring countries, concerning the Panel’s final report and heard a briefing by the Permanent Representative of the Sudan in his capacity as Chair of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on the group’s most recent efforts to support the implementation of the 2018 peace agreement in South Sudan.

In a closed videoconference on 7 August, the Committee heard a presentation by the Coordinator of the Panel of Experts on its work plan, he continued.  On 16 October, again in a closed videoconference, the Committee received a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.  Finally, in the closed video conference held on 20 November, the Committee heard a presentation by the Panel on its interim report and discussed the recommendations contained in it.

Following those briefings, Security Council members took the floor, commending the advances made in South Sudan and calling for accelerated progress in implementing the revitalized peace agreement.  Many, welcoming the engagement of regional actors, including the African Union and IGAD, urged non-signatories to accede to the agreement.  Expressing concern over sexual violence and other human rights violations, several speakers called for operationalization of special courts that had been proposed to combat impunity.  Council members also stressed the need to ensure the participation of women and youth in the country’s efforts.  Some, in addition, urged review of the sanctions regime with a view towards lifting the measures, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, while others stressed the need to keep weapons out of the hands of armed groups, endangering civilians and the peace process.

France’s representative expressed regret that the formation of the National Assembly transitional legislative process and the appointment of the Governor of the Upper Nile are delayed, and progress is lacking in the participation of women and young people.  To fight against impunity, the formation of unified forces and the establishment of the hybrid court must be expedited.  The increase in kidnappings of civilians in the Equatoria region by armed groups is also worrying.  In this regard, France welcomes mediation efforts by the Sant’Egidio community to engage armed groups who have not signed the 2018 peace agreement.  Protecting civilians and facilitating humanitarian access will remain at the core of the UNMISS mandate.  South Sudanese authorities must gain expertise in this area, with the Mission’s support.  Her Government supports keeping the sanctions regime put in place by resolution 2206 (2015), including the arms embargo, the implementation of which must be improved by South Sudan and States in the region.

The representative of China welcomed progress in South Sudan, but stressed that the political process must be pushed forward.  He hoped that all parties will engage in dialogue to resolve differences over Upper Nile.  The international community, he said, should respect the independence of the country, as well as the involvement of IGAD in advancing the revitalized peace process.  Noting humanitarian and economic challenges in the country, he said that international partners should increase assistance and explore means for South Sudan to pursue sustainable development.  His country will continue assisting Juba in its quest for peace and development in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, he pledged.  In that context, he called for support to the African Union initiative for lifting sanctions on the country.  He welcomed the Mission’s work in protection, support to the revitalized agreement and addressing other challenges in South Sudan.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking also on behalf of Niger, South Africa and Tunisia — the A3+1 — welcomed positive developments in the South Sudan peace process, calling the country a maturing democracy that is determined to confront the trials of these unpredictable times.  In that context, he looked forward to the national conference on the Upper Nile State to address outstanding issues there.  He also stressed the importance of meeting the 35 per cent minimum quota for women in institutions of the transitional Government.  Noting that inclusivity is key to the peace process, he called on the non‑signatories to the Revitalized Agreement to join.

Welcoming, in addition, the maintenance of the ceasefire, he noted, however, a lag in security sector reform that he called critical to tackling intercommunal violence.  He called for further international support in that regard, especially to facilitate the full operationalization of the unified forces.  He also expressed concern over a humanitarian situation worsened by the pandemic, the economic crisis and climate change, as well as violations of human rights and humanitarian law and the status-of-forces agreement with UNMISS.  Stressing the paramount importance of protection of civilians, especially women, children and other vulnerable persons, he applauded the start of operations of South Sudan’s Gender‑Based Violence and Juvenile Court.  He also expressed appreciation for the contributions of humanitarian partners in the country, encouraging donors to meet the Response Plan target.  He called, in addition, for the lifting of unilateral coercive measures considering the COVID-19 pandemic.  The A3+1 stands in solidarity with the people of South Sudan and its regional and international partners, he affirmed.

The representative of the United Kingdom said it is a sad and profound reality that, more than two years since the peace agreement and one year since the Council visited Juba, millions of South Sudanese have yet to feel any real peace dividends.  Food insecurity and famine have increased and the food security analysis, released on 11 December, shows there is likely to be a famine in western Pibor with thousands more people living in famine-like conditions in five other counties.  Resolution 2417 (2018) places the onus on the Council to act when it sees a clear link between conflict and food insecurity.  “This is unmistakably the case in South Sudan.  The situation will only worsen if we do not act,” he said.  The United Kingdom is a major humanitarian donor in South Sudan and committed an additional $10 million in assistance in October.  That is in addition to its annual humanitarian aid spending, which totalled $218 million in the last financial year.  Yet international support and humanitarian aid cannot solve the problems alone.  The ultimate responsibility lies with South Sudan’s Government, which should support the release of the full food security analysis and give humanitarian partners unfettered access.  Stability can only be achieved through a fully inclusive process.  It is vital that UNMISS can carry out its mandate unhindered.  South Sudan’s Government needs to see the donor community and the United Nations as partners in helping them solve this crisis.

The representative of Estonia said the reports by the Panel of Experts and the Secretary-General make for grim reading.  Implementation of the revitalized agreement has mostly stalled while deadlines for military unification and Government institutions are not taken seriously enough.  Economic reforms and the establishment of key transitional justice institutions, like the hybrid courts, have not been carried out.  The Upper Nile still has no Governor, which would make local mediation efforts easier.  Estonia is very disturbed about the continued, extensive involvement of heavily armed civil defence groups in subnational violence and its impact on civilians.  Given the horrendous human rights violations in South Sudan, Estonia remains supportive of sanctions and the territorial arms embargo.  Allegations on how the arms embargo damages the equipping of a unitary army, and therefore the prospects of peace, are misleading since there are provisions for exceptions.  Estonia encourages the South Sudanese authorities to promote local accountability initiatives that comply with international humanitarian law standards.  It is sad that humanitarian access has deteriorated, primarily with the ongoing hostilities against humanitarian workers. He called on the South Sudan Government to help the international community deliver humanitarian aid.  UNMISS has experienced an exponential increase in access denials for its patrols.  He called on the South Sudanese authorities not to obstruct the peace process, but to help achieve it.

Indonesia’s representative, noting that more than 1.6 million people remain internally displaced and over 1 million people affected by heavy rains and floods, emphasized the critical importance of humanitarian assistance and urged the Government of South Sudan to enhance its cooperation with UNMISS to ensure an effective provision of aid for all in need.  The increase in intercommunal clashes is closely linked to the stalled political process, especially the implementation of the Transitional Security Arrangement, he said, urging all stakeholders, especially UNMISS, IGAD and the African Union, to step up its effort in supporting the Government in broadening dialogue and championing compromises to progress this stalled process.  Jakarta believes the sanctions regime must never exist as a punitive measure but should facilitate the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement.  That should remain the primary element of benchmarks.

The Russian Federation’s representative emphasized that the revitalized peace agreement is working.  Despite some problems in implementation, it is important to note that the South Sudanese parties have demonstrated political will to find common ground.  Citing a steady increase in the return of South Sudanese refugees and internally displaced persons to places of their permanent residence, she said this is the result of confidence-building measures by the parties.  Emphasizing the importance of finding African solutions to African problems, she said progress on South Sudan’s peace was achieved thanks to the political will of the parties and the efforts of regional mediators, rather than sanctions pressure and unilateral restrictions.  Her delegation expects that in accordance with resolution 2521 (2020) benchmarks for lifting sanctions must be reviewed and adapted to the realities on the ground.

The Dominican Republic’s representative, stressing the importance of women’s participation in all decision-making processes, welcomed the announcement of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that the quota of 35 per cent of women would be applied in the remaining seats assigned to the party and that the two main parties in the country are now led by females.  It is essential that, through political will, the gender provisions of the peace agreement are fully implemented at all levels of appointments.  She also welcomed the initiative of the Ministry of Youth to create the business development fund for youth.  Developing the capacities of youth is an essential piece in the peace process in South Sudan.  More attention must be paid to the pending transition tasks in governance, security, economy, humanitarian assistance and transitional justice.  When these provisions are effectively applied, they will pave the way for State-building in South Sudan.

The representative of Belgium expressed concern over a stalemate in security arrangements in South Sudan and voiced hoped that the upcoming conference on Upper Nile could lead to progress in that regard.  She said it is also worrisome that mechanisms to ensure accountability for violations of human rights have not been set up.  She called on all parties to pursue full implementation of the revitalized peace agreement.  In that context, UNMISS must maintain its protection work, she stressed.  Calling on the Government to allow unhindered access for UNMISS to fulfil its mandate, she termed “unacceptable” any obstacles that hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid.  Noting also the high risk of illegal exploitation of natural resources by armed groups, she called on all stakeholders to address that issue with urgency.

The representative of the United States, welcoming political progress in South Sudan, looked forward to seeing further progress as soon as possible.  Given the dire situation of the population due to persistent instability, floods and food insecurity, he said that now is the time for the leadership to ensure purposeful implementation of the peace agreement, particularly in the areas of governance, security arrangements and transitional justice, with meaningful participation of women in all spheres.  Creation of the hybrid tribunal is critical, he stressed, as is the engagement of regional partners.  Noting his country’s top role in humanitarian assistance to the country, including for the pandemic, he said that all donors must work to meet the increased needs.  Noting also his country’s support for UNMISS, he affirmed the continued importance of civilian protection.  His country, he added, continued to assess the arms embargo in light of changing conditions, but he noted that the embargo already includes exemption for security forces, and other armed groups must not have access to weapons that could be turned against civilians or endanger the peace process.  He pledged his country’s commitment to continue to work with all partners for a better future for the people of South Sudan.

The representative of Germany said there has been some progress in the country with some implementation of the peace agreement, less violence and the transitional Government partially in place.  It is important to recognize the progress.  Unfortunately, there are still many deficiencies and negative developments.  The critical task of the revitalized peace agreement remains outstanding and traditional security arrangements have not been implemented.  There are no unified security forces or traditional parliament.  Accountability is crucial to peace and reconciliation in the country.  The humanitarian situation is being aggravated by flooding, which is a repercussion of climate change.  Similar to the situation in Yemen, large numbers of people are now facing famine, which is unacceptable.  Nine humanitarian workers have been killed.  Those responsible must be brought to justice.  He regretted that the Ambassador to South Sudan is not present.  It is disrespectful to the Council, the countries that engage their Blue Helmets and the large donors of humanitarian aid.  He would like to ask the Ambassador to have the Government stop placing impediments to the Mission’s movements in the country.  “It is unacceptable that UNMISS doesn’t have free access to all parts of the country,” he said.  He would also ask South Sudan’s Ambassador to convey to Juba that more financial transparency is needed.  It is incomprehensible that a potentially rich country is facing a famine.  He said he cannot follow the argument that sanctions and the arms embargo should be lifted.  There is no unified security force and fragmentation exists in the chain of command.  To lift the arms embargo is to ask for more conflict.  He did not think COVID-19 was a reason for lifting the embargo.  He asked all parties desperate to send arms to instead send increased deliveries of humanitarian goods to the country.  The lifting of sanctions would promote impunity.  Sanctions are very important in the present situation.

The representative of Viet Nam, speaking in his national capacity, said that South Sudan has achieved important progress on the political and security fronts even as it faces challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, heavy floods and other natural hazards in recent months.  Yet despite the developments, progress in implementing the 2018 peace agreement remains slow and intercommunal violence remains concerning.  Viet Nam calls on the South Sudanese parties to fully implement the peace agreement, particularly reconstituting the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and forming the necessary unified forces.  The permanent ceasefire needs to be upheld.  He encouraged UNMISS to strengthen its support to improve South Sudan’s capacity to protect civilians.  Viet Nam will keep contributing to the Mission’s work and promote its deployment of female peacekeepers.  The country’s economic and humanitarian challenges must be addressed, including the high level of food insecurity.  Finally, Viet Nam reiterates its consistent position that sanctions shall only be a tool, applied by the Council in a temporary and case-by-case manner, to help maintain international peace and security.  These measures and their implementation should not adversely affect the livelihood of people, the Government’s essential functioning, or the legitimate development of the country concerned.  The measures should be subject to review, in accordance with developments on the ground, and be removed when the conditions are met.  In this regard, Viet Nam looks forward to the timely establishment of the benchmarks on the arms embargo, with the aim of facilitating the review and subsequent lifting of its measures.

For information media. Not an official record.