Despite New Road Map Extending South Sudan’s Democratic Transition, Increasing Violence, Food Insecurity Threaten Progress, Briefers Tell Security Council
Despite consensus by key signatories on a road map to complete South Sudan’s democratic transition to elections and a new Government, the country’s humanitarian situation is more dire than ever, with increasing violence and sexual assaults, the Government struggling to fulfil terms of the peace accord, and the entire country facing devastating food insecurity, briefers told the Security Council today.
Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said that, although the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan remains valid, the end of the transitional period was approaching. Because the parties would not be able to conclude implementation of key provisions by February 2023, a road map was agreed upon, envisaging elections in December 2024. While the road map is a welcome development, extension of the transitional period has been met with mixed emotions from many South Sudanese who had hoped that they would be voting by now.
Observing that incidents of conflict-related violence are increasing, along with cycles of cattle raiding, abductions and revenge killing, he stressed they could effectively be addressed if all concerned parties put a stop to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of choice. Also of concern was the deteriorating food security for 8.3 million people. He urged donors to fulfil pledges to the Humanitarian Response Fund, which is only 44.6 per cent funded. South Sudan has tremendous potential, he emphasized, adding the next few months will be a litmus test for the parties in committing to the road map. Commending the recent graduation of the first batch of the Necessary Unified Forces, he also stressed that now is not the time to give up the sense of urgency to implement the peace accord.
Lilian Riziq, President of the South Sudan Women Empowerment Network, marking the four-year anniversary of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, said the power-sharing agreement has neither ended the violence nor delivered the need reforms. “The situation in South Sudan is unsustainable. The whole country is breaking down,” she warned. Pointing to the joint human rights report published by UNMISS and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) she said: “The report documented 131 cases of rape and gang rape, including girls as young as eight years old and a nine-year-old girl who was gang‑raped to death.”
The current Government has failed to carry out its mandate, including implementing the peace accord and protecting civilians, with corruption and misuse of resources, especially oil revenue, remaining prevalent, she told the Council. Extending the current Government’s term will prolong the suffering of ordinary citizens, encourage the holding of fraudulent elections, and lead to outbreak of a full-fledged war and “the total collapse of South Sudan”, she stressed. She urged stakeholders in the region and the international community to support the call for a broad-based process to ensure the inclusivity of South Sudan’s transition to peace, democracy and development.
In the ensuing debate, many speakers voiced concern regarding the situation on the ground, resurgent intercommunal violence, food insecurity, needed humanitarian support and a Government failing its people, while also hailing the graduations of the first batch of 21,000 members in the Necessary Unified Forces.
The representative of Ghana, also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, welcomed progress on the formation of the Necessary Unified Forces, with the graduation of more than 20,000 members of the unified national army, police and other security forces — a key milestone strengthening the capacity to protect civilians and address intercommunal violence. However, more international donor support was needed to help increase the capacity of the World Food Programme (WFP) to deliver food aid for the growing number of internally displaced persons and higher levels of food insecurity.
The United States’ representative, welcoming UNMISS’ efforts to deescalate tensions and provide shelter and critical humanitarian assistance to those displaced by conflict, expressed disappointment that South Sudan’s leaders have extended the transition period and their own time in power. Turning to reports of Government and allied forces using “scorched earth” tactics and systematically committing conflict-related sexual violence as a method of warfare — he urged the Government to investigate all such abuses and hold the perpetrators to account.
Ireland’s delegate, while expressing regret that the peace process in South Sudan has been limited, emphasized that its road map is an important step forward. Progress on the electoral and constitutional processes will be key to a successful transition towards stability and peace, she said, urging the authorities to bring together all the people in the country, including women, in such processes.
Sounding a note of caution there, the representative of China stressed that countries should not blindly regard elections as a panacea to solve all the problems nor ignore political efforts on dialogue and reconciliation among the parties. Further, Council sanctions are not conducive to the country’s access to security equipment needed to carry out its mandate. He called on the Council to lift the arms embargo and other sanctions against South Sudan at an early date to help it improve its security capacity.
South Sudan’s delegate, welcoming the Secretary-General’s understanding on the need for a two-year extension for the transitional period, appealed to those who withdrew much-needed funding to reconsider their decision. The people of South Sudan and the region were relieved that all South Sudanese parties signed the Agreement agreed to the extension peacefully, of their own accord, he reported.
The extension, and associated road map, gives the signatories another chance to implement all the Agreement’s provisions, and the international community another chance to commit themselves politically and financially so that the next two years “are not wasted like the last three”. He also said that the President has again appealed to the holdout parties to join in the peace process, while noting that several Council members “are playing host” to such holdouts. “It’s time to ask them to go home and join the process of peace-making”.
Also speaking were the representatives of Norway, United Arab Emirates, India, Albania, Brazil, Mexico, United Kingdom, Russian Federation and France.
The meeting began at 3 p.m. and ended at 4:27 p.m.
NICHOLAS HAYSOM, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), noted that the fundamentals of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan remain valid and that a ceasefire has largely held. However, with the end of the transitional period approaching, it has become clear that the parties would not be able to conclude implementation of key provisions by February 2023. With that window closing, the signatory parties agreed on a road map envisaging elections in December 2024; it is a welcome development as it represents consensus among the key signatories on the way forward. Nonetheless, the extension of the transitional period has been met with mixed emotions from many South Sudanese who had hoped that they would be voting by now. Peace partners, non-signatory parties and other stakeholders raised concerns about the inclusivity of the process and have called for greater clarity around the Government’s commitment to implement the agreement on time.
The road map is a waypoint, not an endpoint on South Sudan’s journey to democratic transition, he noted, encouraging the parties to display tangible results in driving implementation and bringing on board other stakeholders and the population. Because President Salva Kiir and First Vice‑President Riek Machar have agreed to resolve the parliamentary impasse, which enables the Transitional National Legislature, key bills will enable the creation of electoral, constitution-making and judicial reforms. He commended the recent graduation of the first batch of the Necessary Unified Forces from the Greater Equatoria — a symbol of unity for the people. More immediately, graduation is the first step in a broader process of security sector transformation, requiring budgetary resources to create a unified army. This is not the time to give up on sense of urgency to implement the peace accord, he stressed. Cycles of cattle raiding, abductions and revenge killing continue to devastate communities. In addition, the fighting between the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Sudanese People’s Liberation Army in Opposition and the Kitgwang and Agwelek factions in Upper Nile is concerning, with thousands of people being displaced.
He further condemned recent violence in Mayom, Unity, Rualbet and Warrap States, noting steps taken by the Government extra-judicial killing, establish investigative committees and examine root causes. Incidents of conflict-related violence are increasing but could effectively be addressed if all concerned parties put a stop to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of choice. More broadly, the Mission is strengthening its support to the justice chain in each State, managing a “double pivot” in its focus and operations. It is orienting efforts towards a greater facilitation of the political process. The second pivot is a transition to emphasizing proactive deployment to violent hotspots. He is confident that an expanded protection presence has made a difference, with a modest decrease in the number of civilians affected by violence, he added.
However, food insecurity continues to deteriorate, with 8.3 million people in need, he continued. Access to people in affected locations remains challenging due to impassable roads and flooded airstrips. Humanitarian needs continue to outstrip available funding, and he urged donors to fulfill pledges to the Humanitarian Response Fund, which is only 44.6 per cent funded. South Sudan has tremendous potential, although it may be difficult to imagine it fully blossoming, he noted. The next few months will be a litmus test for the parties in committing to the road map. Still, delays have led to the withdrawal of major donor funding to the monitoring mechanism of Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism and the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission. He called on parties to reconsider their support. Urging the Government to ensure sufficient and transparent allocation of national resources towards the road map, he acknowledged the contribution of the Government to transitional security arrangements, and affirmed that the support of the international community continues to matter to the process.
LILIAN RIZIQ, President of the South Sudan Women Empowerment Network, said that, on 12 September, South Sudan marked the four-year anniversary of the Revitalized Peace Agreement. Yet, the power-sharing agreement has neither ended the violence nor delivered the needed reforms. “The situation in South Sudan is unsustainable. The whole country is breaking down. There is rampant insecurity and forces displacement of civilians,” she said, adding that civil space is severely restricted and women and girls are routinely subjected to sexual violence. A joint human rights report published by UNMISS and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has documented horrific violations and abuses of human rights in South Sudan’s Unity State. “The report documented 131 cases of rape and gang rape, including girls as young as eight years old and a nine-year-old girl who was gang-raped to death,” she said.
The current Government has failed to carry out its mandate, including implementing the peace agreement and protecting civilians, she continued. Instead, corruption and misuse of resources, especially oil revenue, remain prevalent in South Sudan. Extending the current Government’s term, despite its leaders’ failure to engender peace, democracy and development, will prolong the suffering of ordinary citizens. The extension of the Government’s term, without the inclusive participation of civil society and other political and social groups, will entrench the parties to the agreement’s positions. It will also encourage the Government to hold fraudulent elections to remain in power and a post-elections period will lead to violence and the outbreak of a full-fledged war. “The war will lead to the total collapse of South Sudan,” she said.
She called on the region and the international community to support the call for a broad-based process to ensure the inclusivity of South Sudan’s transition to peace, democracy and development. She supported Fordham University’s initiative to convene a broad-based meeting on South Sudan as a follow-up to the round-table discussion held in New York on 3 June. This non-partisan initiative has the potential to influence and push South Sudanese political and social groups to engage in an inclusive political dialogue and agree on a road map for a transitional programme with a specific mandate and timeline for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections. “We believe such a process will help South Sudanese to get out of the vicious cycle of political violence and build a society that will generate good governance, sustainable development and ensure justice and accountability,” she said.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) welcomed UNMISS’ efforts to de‑escalate tensions in certain parts of South Sudan, as well as its work to provide shelter and critical humanitarian assistance to those displaced by conflict. Expressing concern, however, over the heavy rains and flash flooding affecting tens of thousands across South Sudan — he underscored that climate change is having a continuing impact on vulnerable communities. For its part, the United States is supporting the provision of safe drinking water, emergency hygiene kits and other supplies to the most affected communities. He went on to express disappointment that South Sudan’s leaders have extended the transition period — again extending their own time in power — along with regret that the Government did not postpone ratification of the extension to allow it time to demonstrate how things will be different than what occurred over the last two years. Turning to human rights abuses — including reports of Government and allied forces using “scorched earth” tactics and systematically committing conflict-related sexual violence as a method of warfare — he urged the Government to investigate all such abuses and hold the perpetrators to account.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, welcomed the progress on the formation of the Necessary Unified Forces, in particular the recent graduation of more than 20,000 members of the unified national army, police and other security forces. This key milestone strengthens South Sudan security institutions’ capacity to protect civilians and address insecurity, including intercommunal violence, human rights concerns, while guaranteeing territorial integrity. He condemned reported fresh attacks and violence by armed elements, including those targeted at internally displaced persons at the Adidiang Island site in the Upper Nile State, as well as renewed hostilities in Unity State, Upper Nile State and Jonglei State. He urged all armed groups to immediately cease hostilities and observe the permanent ceasefire, and for the Government to intervene to de-escalate the situation.
Citing the dire humanitarian situation, the reported rising number of internally displaced persons and higher levels of food insecurity, he reiterated the call for more international donor support to help increase the capacity of the World Food Programme (WFP) to deliver food aid. Noting economic recovery measures implemented by the Government, he also reiterated a call for additional international donor development assistance for the country. Moving forward, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction remain a critical area of focus in supporting the country. He therefore appealed to the Government to take advantage of the opportunities available, commending UNMISS and the United Nations country team for continuing to provide technical and capacity-building assistance.
DAI BING (China) voiced hope that all parties concerned will continue to work together towards the remaining goals of the transitional period and lay a solid foundation for the February 2025 elections. Some individual countries should understand the practical difficulties faced by South Sudan and take an objective view of the decision on extending the transitional period. They should not blindly regard elections as a panacea to solve all the problems nor ignore political efforts made on dialogue and reconciliation among the parties in South Sudan. He welcomed the successful graduation and deployment of the first cohort of South Sudan’s Necessary Unified Forces, noting it as significant progress in implementation of the revitalized agreement. The Forces can play an important role in safeguarding national security and eliminating violent conflict. However, Council sanctions against South Sudan are not conducive to its access to security equipment needed to carry out its mandate, he stressed, noting that a growing number of Council members have recognized this. He called on the Council to pay attention to South Sudan’s concerns and appeals on the issue of sanctions, lift the arms embargo and other sanctions against South Sudan at an early date and help the country improve its security capacity.
TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway), welcoming the graduation of the first batch of Necessary Unified Forces, stressed that truly unified security forces are key to reducing violence and conflict, and to providing peace and security in South Sudan. While expressing support for the Government’s commitment to a road map, she pointed out that it could have used the road map process to build a greater consensus and domestic support base. With only five months left of the original transitional period, leaders of the country must now deliver the results they have promised — in accordance with the timelines in the road map — and by dedicating sufficient resources. She expressed deep concern over the findings of the joint investigation led by UNMISS and OHCHR into human rights violations and abuses in southern Unity State. Also highlighting the prevalence of violence in Upper Nile, she reiterated that it is the Government’s responsibility to protect civilians, including children.
GHASAQ SHAHEEN (United Arab Emirates) expressed hope that the agreement on a peace road map will contribute to implementation of outstanding elements of the Revitalized Peace Agreement — a key to the security and stability in South Sudan. Protection of civilians must remain a top priority — especially in the context of the alarming rise in sexual and gender-based violence — and perpetrators of these heinous crimes must be held accountable. In addition, all parties must continue efforts to de-escalate tensions and build trust among local communities. Addressing the root causes of the challenges South Sudan faces will help put an end to intercommunal violence — especially given the outbreaks, most notably in the Upper Nile region and Unity State. WFP has reported that more than 8 million people are estimated to be facing acute food insecurity, and most of the country’s population are in serious need of humanitarian assistance — with rising numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons. A proper response requires intensified joint action to address the humanitarian situation and designing humanitarian operations with long-term resilience in mind. Commending the critical work of UNMISS in conflict-prevention, as well as in supporting the Government with technical support and capacity-building, she added that sustained regional and international engagement remains vital to achieving long-term peace and stability.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) said the graduation ceremony of more than 20,000 unified forces was a major development, built on the political developments, including the completion of the formation of the reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly. He welcomed the agreement reached between President Salva Kiir and First Vice‑President Riek Machar, adding that all parties to the peace accord should participate in the governance structures of the administrative areas. “These developments are significant and need to be duly recognized,” he said, also highlighting the transitional period’s extension by another two years until February 2025. Yet, the humanitarian situation remains concerning, including risks related to acute starvation. The international community, including the United Nations, needs to step up its efforts. Also of concern was the safety and security of thousands of civilians caught in recent clashes between rival groups in Upper Nile state. He spotlighted the Mission’s efforts to support the rule of law and the accountability of institutions by supporting special courts, mobile courts and developing a framework for victim and witness protection programmes. The recent creation of the Ministry of Peacebuilding in South Sudan should provide a better understanding of the country’s peacebuilding needs. India has been one of the largest troop-contributing countries to UNMISS since its establishment and now has 2,300 troops serving in the country, he added.
CAÍT MORAN (Ireland), while expressing regret that the peace process in South Sudan has been limited, emphasized that its road map is an important step forward. Progress on the electoral and constitutional processes will be key to a successful transition towards stability and peace, she said, urging the authorities to ensure the full inclusion of civil society and bring together all the people in the country, including women, in such processes. Condemning the continued violence, human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in the country in the “strongest possible terms”, she called on the authorities in South Sudan to urgently take necessary steps to address the issue of impunity, as well as the drivers of conflict and insecurity. Especially concerning are the high levels of violence in southern Unity State. “The survivors, and all of South Sudan, deserve to see accountability for perpetrators and redress for those impacted,” she stressed. Noting that the country faces its worst humanitarian crisis since its independence today, she underscored that the international community cannot stand by while South Sudan experiences extreme levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.
ARIAN SPASSE (Albania), commending the relevant parties in South Sudan for agreeing on a road map which extended the transition period for an additional 24 months, called on the leaders to create the necessary conditions to advance the constitution‑drafting process and create the necessary institutions to prepare the country for free, fair and peaceful elections. Underscoring that “time is of the essence,” he urged the Government to engage meaningfully with civil society and other stakeholders to maintain sustained action in delivering on the road map. However, the increased violence in the country was of great concern. Further, he strongly condemned clashes and cattle raiding in the Unity State and the Upper Nile State, as well as in other regions, and urged all parties to stop the fighting. Noting that 63 per cent of the population is at risk of acute food insecurity, he called on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil), welcoming South Sudan’s roadmap to amend the Revitalized Agreement and extend the transitional period for additional 24 months, stressed that the parties “may lose valuable impetus if they see the road map as simply a delay” to the Agreement’s commitments. Also welcoming the graduation of the first batch of the Necessary Unified Forces, he expressed hope that the graduation will contribute to positive momentum towards peace in the country. However, extrajudicial killings in the Unity State, heavy fighting between armed factions in the Upper Nile State and the disturbing conflict-related sexual violence incidents in many parts of the country are cases that “demand bolder reactions from South Sudanese authorities”. Describing the situation where two thirds of the population, or almost 8 million people, are expected to face extreme food insecurity and malnutrition as “alarming”, he called for additional humanitarian funding and requested particular attention to the safety of humanitarian personnel.
ELENA CURZIO VILA (Mexico) expressed hope that the extend period of transition agreed to by the parties in South Sudan will lead to tangible results in implementing the outstanding benchmarks, which is essential to carry out free, credible and fair elections. She also stressed that the process on the pending draft bills for carrying out such elections should be inclusive, with the participation of the opposition, civil society, as well as groups of women and youth. Voicing concern over the security situation in the country, in particular the high levels of intercommunal violence, she appealed to the authorities to take measures to protect civilians and prevent the escalation of clashes. She also called for those responsible for acts of sexual and gender-based violence to be brought to justice, while reiterating the importance of strengthening the judicial system in the country. Noting that the conditions for the humanitarian community are “increasingly precarious”, she expressed regret over the tariffs and taxes imposed on ships used by UNMISS and called on the Government to cooperate to facilitate the work of the Mission.
CAROLINE QUINN (United Kingdom) said that the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement was the best means to deliver peace and stability in South Sudan. Acknowledging the recent vote by the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission to extend the transitional period, she called on the Government of South Sudan to deliver the commitments set out in their road map. “This will require meaningful engagement with civil society,” she said, voicing regret that the Government did not postpone ratification of the extension to enable greater consultation. “This would have increased the confidence of South Sudan’s citizens in the process after years of inaction.” She urged the South Sudanese Government to dedicate sufficient resources to implement the Revitalised Peace Agreement. Its overall implementation remains too slow. She also encouraged the Government to be clearer on where it requires support, including from UNMISS, to meet critical benchmarks. Deeply concerned by continued reports of violence, including widespread sexual violence and violations and abuses of human rights in South Sudan, she condemned the ongoing violence in Upper Nile State. While commending the efforts of UNMISS to protect civilians, she repeated calls to the Government to shoulder their responsibility to protect their citizens and urged the authorities to enable humanitarian access, address violence against humanitarian personnel and bring perpetrators to justice.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) welcomed the unanimous decision by the parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement to extend the transition period for two years, which is the right course of action under current conditions. She also welcomed the establishment of a single command structure for the Necessary Unified Forces, calling on Juba to continue to prioritize forming a united army. This is essential for subsequent progress in the peace process and for the holding of elections in 2025. She went on to say that, to train the Necessary Unified Forces’ soldiers, the Council should reconsider the current sanctions regime against South Sudan. The Council’s May approval of simplified deliveries of non‑lethal military assets to the country — while important — is insufficient to meet Juba’s wishes. Expressing concern over flashes of violence in Unity State, she called on all those who have yet to sign the Agreement to join the peace process. She added that her country has consistently stated that UNMISS’ main goal is to stabilize the security situation and help the South Sudanese authorities implement the Agreement, emphasizing that dealing with human rights issues and combatting corruption is Juba’s responsibility.
ISIS JARAUD-DARNAULT (France) called for accelerated implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and welcomed the adoption of the road map, which defines clear priorities and deadlines. The integration of 21,000 combatants into the security forces is an important step — efforts that must continue to complete the integration of all combatants from the signatory armed groups and lead to their deployment in the field. However, she voiced concern about restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, the respect of which is fundamental in view of the elections. As such, the work undertaken to define the powers of the security forces must be finalized as soon as possible. The report from UNMISS clearly establishes the facts regarding the atrocities committed between February and May in Unity State, including unspeakable sexual violence, and those responsible for those acts. The perpetrators of this violence must be brought to justice and sanctioned by the Council. Noting that restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNMISS have increased again in recent months, she called on the authorities to resume the cooperation with the Mission, which has produced encouraging results in the past. She further condemned the attacks on humanitarian workers and the administrative harassment of United Nations and non-governmental organizations staff. Faced with the emergency, the European Union has increased its humanitarian assistance, bringing it to €77.2 million in 2022, in addition to the €208 million in aid for the development cooperation planned until 2024.
AKUEI B. MALWAL (South Sudan) welcomed the Secretary-General’s understanding on the need for a two-year extension for the transitional period, along with his appeal to those who withdrew much-needed funding to reconsider their decision. Noting that the extension was inevitable because much of the Revitalized Peace Agreement remains unimplemented, he said that the people of South Sudan and the region were relieved that all South Sudanese parties that signed the Agreement agreed to the extension peacefully, of their own accord. The extension, and associated road map, gives the signatories another chance to implement all the Agreement’s provisions over the next two years. While acknowledging the disappointment and frustration of some partners and stakeholders, he said that the road map gives the international community another chance to commit themselves politically and financially so that the next two years “are not wasted like the last three”.
Pointing out that hoping the signatories will “do the right things” and implement the Agreement “is really not an option”, he said that South Sudan’s President has again appealed to the holdout parties to return home and join in the peace process. “In other words, this is a call for inclusivity,” he emphasized, noting that several Council members “are playing host” to such holdouts and that “it’s time to ask them to go home and join the process of peace-making”. Noting that South Sudan’s international partners have called for things to be different during the extended period, he stressed that the international community must help South Sudan overcome the challenges that hindered the timely implementation of the Agreement over the last three years. He went on to spotlight the devastating floods currently affecting his country — which have aggravated the situation caused by last year’s flood waters — and appealed to the international community to provide urgently needed relief for the suffering victims.