Window of Opportunity for South Sudan Meeting Critical Benchmarks Closing, Mission Head Tells Security Council, Calling Peace Agreement Vital
With only eight months remaining until the end of South Sudan’s Transitional Government, Security Council members expressed dismay with the country’s worsening humanitarian crisis and stressed the urgency of preparing for elections and keeping the 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement on track.
Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), told the Council that the window of opportunity for the country to meet its critical benchmarks is closing. In the months ahead, national leadership is needed, along with resources and a visible commitment by South Sudan’s leaders to fulfil their responsibility under the Peace Agreement. The necessary steps must be taken for the country to exit the transitional period. Acknowledging the serious humanitarian crisis permeating the country, he said that he strongly believes that the only viable course of action remains the Revitalized Peace Agreement’s implementation, in letter and in spirit. This includes women’s full and proper participation in all the mechanisms covered by the Peace Agreement. He urged the continued commitment of the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and its member States, the reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission and members of the international community.
Ghada Mudawi, Acting Director, Operations and Advocacy Division, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that, since her last briefing in late 2021, “most humanitarian indicators have deteriorated” in South Sudan. Subnational violence continues and women and girls face serious risks of gender-based violence when fighting breaks out. Along with severe economic challenges, conflict and climate shocks have created a dire humanitarian situation. “When it gets as bad as in South Sudan, the spectre of severe hunger and even famine results,” she pointed out. Climate-related shocks are the primary driver of humanitarian needs and the country now faces its fourth year of above-average rainfall, which has disrupted the agricultural season and constrained food production. Collective action on climate mitigation and adaptation is needed, as are durable solutions for the 2 million people internally displaced, and the 2.3 million refugees.
Lorna Merekeje, South Sudanese human rights defender, civil rights activist and peace advocate, outlined the multiple uncertainties faced by her country’s people: a worsening economic situation that has escalated prices for basic food commodities; shrinking space for civic engagement; and escalating violence and human rights violations. While the country anticipates upcoming elections, as provided by the Revitalized Agreement, the parties do not seem to be sufficiently committed to fully implement them. Since the Agreement’s validity will end in a few months, she underscored the need to urge its guarantors to support the people of South Sudan in designing a concrete road map for the country after such validity ends.
“The country is deeply fragmented and bleeding,” she said, and noted that, after the signing of the Revitalized Agreement, the hope for peace and stability in the country has paradoxically been accompanied by intense intercommunal conflict. She called on the Council to authorize UNMISS to facilitate or host periodic engagements between the Government and civil society to build confidence and support forward thinking for South Sudan.
The representative of Ghana, also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, welcomed the Government’s efforts to implement the Revitalized Agreement, particularly the facets related to creating the Necessary Unified Forces; agreement on the army’s command-and-control structure; opening of humanitarian corridors; and the development of an action plan to begin public consultations on the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing. He urged the parties to carry out an inclusive dialogue and forge consensus on a road map for the rest of the transition period, including the conduct of elections. Turning to the security situation, he expressed concern over the surge in communal violence and urged the Government to address these conflicts, including conducting peace dialogues to address existing grievances.
The representative of France welcomed the April agreement on single joint command of the armed forces. She called on all parties to agree on a date for elections and prepare for them. A legal framework to facilitate elections must be adopted and the authorities must also create favourable conditions for elections by guaranteeing respect for fundamental freedoms. She also was concerned about increased restrictions on the Mission’s freedom of movement and asked authorities to provide increased cooperation. She also noted the significant increase in the European Union’s humanitarian assistance for South Sudan and called on authorities to do more to protect humanitarian workers.
The representative of South Sudan agreed with the Secretary-General that no party should make unilateral decisions that may affect the future of stability the country. Emphasizing that this appeal should also include the international community, he expressed hope that the coming months will be spent in closed consultation by all parties to the Agreement, including the international community.
Also speaking were representatives of the United States, India, Ireland, Mexico, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Norway, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, China and Albania.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:45 a.m.
NICHOLAS HAYSOM, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said the window of opportunity for the country to meet its critical benchmarks, with eight months remaining, is closing. The formation of the reconstituted transitional legislature, at the national and state levels, is now completed, with all speakers sworn in and the heads of specialized committees appointed. Renewed legislative activity and debate is noticeable. The fact that — at least some of the — political differences are fought out in Parliament, rather than outside of it, is a welcome development, he said. In the months ahead, national leadership is needed, along with resources and a visible commitment by South Sudan’s leaders to fulfil their responsibility under the Peace Agreement. They need to take the necessary steps for the country to exit the transitional period, he said, noting that it is expected that all parties to the peace agreement will now agree to the road map. The road map should help recommit the parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement, and it must be accompanied by clear benchmarks and timelines. Regarding elections, technical arrangements and logistics are required, as well as an appropriate political environment. The road map gives the international community an entry point to align targets and support for the priority transitional tasks.
The three-year strategic vision requested by the Council continues to be the framework for the Mission’s integrated efforts. In addition to the multifaceted work related to the protection of civilians, UNMISS has been active in other priority areas, including strengthening the justice chain and promoting accountability. The country is confronting a serious humanitarian crisis and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will provide a comprehensive briefing on the situation.
The only viable course of action remains the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in letter and spirit, he continued, including the full and proper participation of women in all the mechanisms covered by the agreement. He urged the continued commitment of the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and its member States, the reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission and members of the international community.
GHADA MUDAWI, Acting Director, Operations and Advocacy Division, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that, since her last briefing in late 2021, “most humanitarian indicators have deteriorated” in South Sudan. Subnational violence continues; displacement follows such violence and conflict over resources such as cattle; and women and girls are at serious risk of gender‑based violence when fighting breaks out. Along with severe economic challenges, the drivers of conflict and climate shocks have resulted in a dire humanitarian situation. “When it gets as bad as in South Sudan, the spectre of sever hunger and even famine results,” she pointed out. The other primary driver of humanitarian need is climate-related shocks. In that regard, South Sudan now faces a fourth year of above-average rainfall that has disrupted the agricultural season and constrained food production.
Noting that at least 500,000 people will likely be impacted by floods in 2022, she said that flood-mitigation measures over the years “have been insufficient to prevent this annual, predictable and preventable misery”. Collective action on climate mitigation and adaptation is needed, as are durable solutions to the issue of the 2 million people internally displaced and the 2.3 million refugees. For people to return, South Sudan must address the issues keeping people in a holding pattern of displacement. That includes insecurity; presence of explosive hazards; lack of basic services; and unresolved housing, land and property issues. While stressing that “humanitarian partners are committed to stay and deliver”, she underscored that South Sudan remains a dangerous place for such work. Additionally, the $1.7 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for 2022 — which aims to assist 6.8 million people — is only 26 per cent funded.
Emphasizing that the international response requires humanitarian, development and peace-building efforts working together to address the root causes of the crisis, she underscored that sustainability through national ownership of basic services is needed and that efforts should promote localized leadership and solutions when and where possible. The safety of aid workers must be ensured, and action is needed by the Government and all parties to the conflict towards this end. She also stressed that flexible, unearmarked and early funding at scale is urgently required to address South Sudan’s growing humanitarian needs, including preventing a dangerous deterioration in the food security situation.
LORNA MEREKAJE, South Sudanese human rights defender, civil rights activist and peace advocate, highlighted the many uncertainties facing the people of South Sudan: a worsening economic situation characterized by high prices for basic food commodities; shrinking space for civic engagement; and escalating violence and human-rights violations. While the country anticipates the holding of elections as provided by the Revitalized Agreement, there seems to be insufficient commitment by the parties to fully implement the same. Noting that the validity of this Agreement will end in a few months, she underscored the need to urge the Agreement’s guarantors to support the people of South Sudan in designing a concrete road map for the country after such validity ends.
“The country is deeply fragmented and bleeding,” she continued, pointing out that — following the signing of the Revitalized Agreement — the hope for peace and stability in the country has paradoxically been accompanied by intense intercommunal conflict. “There is no doubt that most South Sudanese would wish to be given an opportunity to choose their leaders,” she said. However, this will only be possible if South Sudan is provided with the necessary technical support to strengthen institutional capacity to conduct a credible election, to create a conducive environment for civic engagement without intimidation or reprisal and to strengthen the necessary legal framework. Towards this end, she urged the Council to consider involving the United Nations in the organization and conduct of national elections.
She went on to say that civil society groups have continued to amplify the voice of citizens and marginalized people and communities, contributing globally to nation-building processes. Civil-society groups and organizations complement the neglected roles of the State and, to enhance civil society’s contribution, she recommended the establishment of a periodic forum for civil society to engage with UNMISS leadership to facilitate better in-country interaction and analysis. She also called on the Council to authorize UNMISS to facilitate or host periodic engagements between the Government and civil society to build confidence and support forward thinking for South Sudan.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) said the United States is deeply disturbed by incidents of brutal violence occurring in Unity State and is appalled by the crimes in Leer County. Gender-based violence continues and has increased by 125 per cent, compared to 2021. Those involved in committing violations will be subject to sanctions. He criticized efforts by China and the Russian Federation to continually weaken the Council’s ability to render the sanctions tool. He called on the Government of South Sudan to call on the Unity State to protect its people. Peacekeepers have a critical role to play and the United States commends UNMISS and its work to restore calm in the region. No lasting peace will be possible without a political process. He called on South Sudan to fully comply with the Revitalized Peace Agreement and create a full and open space for elections. South Sudan is experiencing its worst humanitarian situation in its existence. UNMISS peacekeepers need the international community’s support.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) called on the Government to make further progress on the graduation of forces, operationalization of the Necessary Unified Forces and the finalization of an electoral calendar. With regional and international support, progress on holding elections is possible in the coming months. Noting that the economic situation in South Sudan has remained relatively stable — with gross domestic product (GDP) expected to grow positively in 2022 — he expressed concern over the country’s humanitarian and security situation. In that regard, the Mission’s efforts to deliver assistance to those in need — particularly in flood‑affected areas — and to protect civilians and mitigate intercommunal conflict are welcomed. He further added his support for its work to strengthen rule of law through special and mobile courts and develop a framework for victim- and witness-protection programmes. He went on to detail India’s support for South Sudan, also calling on the international community to address the concerns repeatedly raised by South Sudan regarding sanctions.
CÁIT MORAN (Ireland) noted her regret that the timeline for graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces has not been met, adding her support for action to fully implement transitional security arrangements. The security situation remains a key concern, given the continued violence across the country between the Government and opposition-aligned forces. Highlighting the importance of protecting aid workers and assets amid food insecurity, she deplored the recent attacks on humanitarian personnel. “We commend UNMISS efforts in this regard, but they cannot be expected to shoulder this burden alone,” she said. Regarding the stifling of civic space, she also stressed that the freedom of speech, assembly and expression must be protected and encouraged to ensure a legitimate election process. The future of the young State can be better gauged by the participation of women in public life and the welfare of its children and young people, she noted, expressing grave concern on reported violations of human rights and conflict-related sexual violence. The lifting of an arms embargo will not alleviate a lack of such principles, she said, underlining the key role of women’s organizations and peacebuilders in building a lasting peace in South Sudan.
JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico) highlighted the advances made in the Revitalized Peace Agreement, the 3 April agreement that created a single joint command structure and the momentum of the parties in the Commission for Truth Reconciliation and Healing. However, there were delays in the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, he noted, calling on all parties to make progress on outstanding issues and draft a road map for the transition process. It is time to put the people at heart of the peace process, he stressed, underlining the constitutional requirements which call for 35 per cent of women’s participation in institutions be respected. Alongside political issues, he voiced his concern with subnational issues that have increased the severity of the humanitarian situation. The increase in gender-based violence is disturbing. The negative effects of climate change continue to create increased food insecurity in the region and heighten the risk of conflict. The climate-related risks must be integrated into the process of reaching peace. He urged all parties to allow the free movement of peacekeepers throughout the region.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), noting that the Revitalized Agreement “continues to work” and the ceasefire is largely holding, said that the April agreement on the establishment of a single joint command structure for the armed forces contributed significantly to these objectives. She also welcomed Juba’s emphasis on the reconciliation process and intention to hold elections in 2023, urging the relevant parties to agree on an election timeline and clear road map for completing the transitional period. The security situation in South Sudan is challenging, but there has been a general decrease in intercommunal clashes. Stressing that UNMISS’ main objective should be stabilizing this situation and assisting the authorities in implementing the Revitalized Agreement, she said that the primary responsibility for protecting human rights lies with Juba. New realities require adapting the sanctions regime for South Sudan, she added, including easing the arms embargo to assist in the training of the armed forces and security-service personnel.
ALICE JACOBS (United Kingdom) noted that 8.9 million people in South Sudan are now in need of assistance, urging the Government to reduce physical and bureaucratic obstructions and meet its obligations under the Peace Agreement to allow unhindered humanitarian access. Pointing to harrowing reports of violence, killings and widespread sexual violence, including in Leer, where over 25,000 civilians have been displaced, she called on the Government of South Sudan to hold the perpetrators accountable. Overall progress remains too slow and too limited and critical benchmarks have not been met, she said. The South Sudanese people have already waited too long for peace, she added, urging parties to demonstrate leadership and engage in an honest discussion about priorities and timelines and detail the concrete steps to deliver tasks in the Peace Agreement, particularly on constitution-making and elections.
TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway) stressed that the Necessary Unified Force must be graduated, with sufficient resources allocated to their operations. Turning to the Government’s road map that aims at an inclusive constitution-making process and free and fair elections, she called for immediate actions in that regard. The Government must also provide the necessary funds to implement the Peace Agreement, particularly towards security arrangements which is key to the constitutional process and elections. Blaming slow implementation on a lack of resources is not convincing, she said. Eliminating avenues for corruption and increasing transparency and accountability will allow the Government to give a higher priority to implementing the Agreement. Describing the humanitarian situation in South Sudan as having gone “from bad to worse”, she said that depending on humanitarian actors to deliver almost all basic services is not sustainable. Condemning the killing of humanitarian workers and the widespread looting and destruction of humanitarian aid, she also expressed deep concern about the reported levels of conflict-related sexual violence and stressed the ongoing need to implement the Hybrid Court and the Compensation and Reparation Authority.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) voiced concern about the increasing cattle-related violence in Eastern Equatoria, Unity and Jonglei in South Sudan. Expressing regrets about the significant civilian casualties caused by persistent attacks and raids, he acknowledged UNMISS efforts to enhance its mobility and improve its goal of providing protection for civilians. He also voiced concern about the current levels of food insecurity and displacement in the country and reiterated the crucial importance of the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2022. Improved humanitarian access is indispensable to address the urgent needs of millions of South Sudanese people. Welcoming both the agreement on the command structure of the Necessary Unified Forces and the formation of the reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly — in particular, the institutional steps taken to establish the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing — he stressed that the Government should use the proper implementation of the Revitalized Agreement as its most powerful tool to mitigate persistent intercommunal violence.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said she commends the recent positive achievements that have helped advance the Revitalized Peace Agreement and the launch of the consultative process. She commended the signing of an agreement on a single joint command structure in April. She urged South Sudan to build on these hard-won gains. It is important to work with regional organizations, as well as to include women in all phases of the peacebuilding process, she said. Expressing deep concern over the security situation in South Sudan and an increase in incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, she said that is important to address their root causes. The effects of climate change are increasing the competition for natural resources, which is creating additional conflict. UNMISS has been working to help mitigate the impact of floods. South Sudan is facing a severe humanitarian crisis, which has been exacerbated by food insecurity. The international community must address the humanitarian needs of the country’s people, she said, also noting that attacks on humanitarian workers are deeply concerning.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, welcomed the Government’s efforts to implement the Revitalized Agreement, particularly those relating to forming the Necessary Unified Forces; agreement on the army’s command-and-control structure; opening of humanitarian corridors; and the development of an action plan for the commencement of public consultations on the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing. Highlighting the challenges confronting the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement’s remaining benchmarks, he urged the parties to have an inclusive dialogue and forge consensus on a road map for the remainder of the transition period, including the conduct of elections. South Sudan requires international financial support in this regard as its economy has been affected by prolonged flooding and the effects of COVID-19. He called on the African Union, IGAD, United Nations and other bilateral and multilateral partners to extend the necessary assistance.
Turning to the security situation, he expressed concern over the surge in communal violence and called on all parties to these conflicts to desist from any actions that will disturb the peace. He also urged the Government to institute measures to address these intercommunal conflicts — including peace dialogues to address existing grievances. On the humanitarian front, he expressed concern over the World Food Programme (WFP) decision to suspend some of its food aid to South Sudan due to a funding shortage; this suspension will deny such aid to a third of the 6.2 million people due to receive assistance. Beyond the immediate provision of food aid, he underscored that the international community must increase its development assistance for South Sudan, where much-needed reforms to diversify the country’s economy, promote agriculture and food security and develop infrastructure will require significant international support.
BING DAI (China) spotlighted the progress in the Revitalized Peace Agreement and the important developments South Sudan has made towards peace. The transition period will end next year, he said, voicing his hope that it will continue in an orderly manner to achieve reforms. The overall security situation has been stable, although there has been violence within regions. The country is facing many unique challenges and needs the international community’s support. Instead of criticizing and imposing sanctions, all parties should be working in a concerted effort. The United States keeps imposing unilateral sanctions on countries. These sanctions should not be used for political ends. Double standards should be abandoned. Food insecurity is acute in the country. He called for the international community to continue aid and to focus on helping South Sudan people achieve self-reliance. China always stands with the people of South Sudan, he emphasized, also adding that the security of the mission’s peacekeepers must be ensured.
SHERAZ GASRI (France) welcomed the April agreement on single joint command of the armed forces and called on authorities to allocate the necessary resources for its implementation as the peace process — particularly the holding of elections — depends on security arrangements. Calling on all parties to agree on a date for elections and begin preparation for the same, she expressed regret over the lack of progress in adopting a legal framework to facilitate this. This framework is essential for authorizing political parties, and the authorities must also create favourable conditions for elections by guaranteeing respect for fundamental freedoms. Also expressing concern over increased restrictions on UNMISS’ freedom of movement, she called on authorities to provide increased cooperation in this regard. She went on to note the significant increase in the European Union’s humanitarian assistance for South Sudan, calling on the authorities to do more to protect humanitarian workers.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), Council President for June, speaking in her national capacity, voiced her concern about the grave human rights and security situation in South Sudan. The significant increase in gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence incidents, as reflected in the Secretary-General’s report, is particularly shocking. Accountability must be instated, and the judiciary must be strengthened. She called on all leaders, political actors and commanders to make fighting sexual violence a priority. Turning to the humanitarian situation, she said nearly 9 million people — including 2 million women — who make up more than two thirds of South Sudan’s population, face significant humanitarian needs. The South Sudan Government and all other actors and leaders must ensure humanitarian aid can reach people in need. Finally, she said that while some progress has been made on implementing the Revised Peace Agreement, its overall implementation remains slow. She urged all parties to accelerate the implementation of the agreement, particularly regarding points related to transitional security arrangements, as the transitional period ends in February 2023.
AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan), noting that the interim period and Revitalized Agreement will come to an end in eight months, agreed with the Secretary-General that no party should make unilateral decisions that may affect the future of stability the country. Emphasizing that this appeal should also include the international community, he expressed hope that the next eight months will be spent in closed consultation by all parties to the agreement, including the international community. He went on to point out that a list of names of certain senior officials and individuals from South Sudan was recently circulated in social media, purportedly compiled by the Sanctions Committee. While this list raised some concerns in South Sudan, he said “we are thankful that we were assured by some individuals from the Sanctions Committee and UNMISS that this list was fake”.