Influx of Returnees, Escalating Violence Thwarting Progress in Implementing South Sudan’s Peace Accord, Special Representative Tells Security Council
The United Nations top official for South Sudan today warned the Security Council of a series of challenges impeding progress of the country’s Revitalized Peace Agreement, chief among them an influx of returnees from Sudan, escalating violence in Malakal and the need to establish civic and political space before conducting credible elections.
Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), warned that South Sudan's absorption capacity is under significant strain. Since mid-April, more than 117,000 individuals have migrated from Sudan to South Sudan, exacerbating the latter’s already fragile economic situation. And while humanitarian workers are adapting their response plans to address the needs of these individuals, there is pressing urgency for additional funding and resources to meet the spike in demand.
The recent escalation of violence in the city of Malakal adds to the broader network of intercommunal conflicts that UNMISS is grappling with, he said. Attacks on humanitarian actors are unacceptable. “Now is not the time to take our eyes off the ball in South Sudan," he told the Council. Acknowledging that South Sudan is not yet prepared to initiate an electoral process, he recognized the urgency to address pressing issues. Without adequate civic and political space, no electoral process can be deemed credible, he said.
Also briefing the Council, Interim Chairperson of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission Major General Charles Tai Gituai said the main challenges slowing progress of the 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement include a trust deficit among the parties, lack of adequate resources, persistent levels of intercommunal violence and natural calamities, such as floods. Several benchmarks are needed so that elections, scheduled to be held in December 2024, are free and credible, including completion of the unification and redeployment of forces, in order to provide election-related security and the reconstitution of institutions tasked with preparing and carrying out elections.
Rounding out the briefers, Marc Impagliazzo, President of the Community of Sant’Egidio, said that the Community’s initiative in South Sudan, called the Rome Initiative, has a full mandate from South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit to negotiate with non-signatories to the Revitalized Peace Agreement. This dialogue has reduced violence in the country and created hope for peace, he said.
In the ensuing discussion, numerous Council members emphasized the urgent need for increased allocation of humanitarian aid to effectively address South Sudan’s influx of refugees, severe economic conditions and historic flooding. Many also voiced deep concern regarding the escalation of violence in Malakal.
The representative of the United States expressed worry that UNMISS had not adopted measures in advance to address potential violence in Malakal despite early signs of tension. He voiced grave concern for the welfare of civilians in and around the Malakal camp and urged UNMISS to restore calm and security there. South Sudan’s transitional leaders must deliver the results they committed to in the Revitalized Peace Agreement and address the ongoing violence in the Upper Nile State, he added.
Mozambique’s delegate, also speaking on behalf of Gabon and Ghana, said that all parties in South Sudan must work collectively to honor their commitments in the Revitalized Peace Agreement. UNMISS should continue to focus on measures that protect civilians. The influx of refugees, combined with a reduction in the flow of goods and fuel from Sudan, has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation in South Sudan.
The speaker for Ecuador voiced concerns regarding the slow progress in implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement and the failure to meet the agreed targets. “We call for there to be no more political deadlocks that could be perceived as a violation of the Revitalized Agreement,” he stressed.
Several Member States expressed their backing for strengthening the 35 per cent quota for women, as outlined in the South Sudan’s Peace Agreement, with Malta’s delegate stressing the importance of ensuring women's participation in all processes, including the drafting of the South Sudan Constitution.
In conclusion, South Sudan's representative emphasized the challenging humanitarian situation in his country and acknowledged the limited financial resources available to address the recent influx of refugees and returnees stemming from the conflict in neighbouring Sudan. “The revitalized Government is committed to seeing that South Sudan is in total peace and a life of a common citizen returns to normalcy,” he pledged, raising concerns about the detrimental impact of persistent floods on the work of peacekeepers.
In light of these pressing issues, he urged the international community and UNMISS to collaborate with South Sudan on initiatives aimed at prioritizing conflict prevention. Specifically, he called for the implementation of measures such as early warning systems, mitigation strategies, and adaptation efforts to address the root causes of conflicts and foster sustainable peace.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:43 p.m.
NICHOLAS HAYSOM, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), noted that the crisis in Sudan has had major implications for the implementation of South Sudan’s Revitalized Peace Agreement. Since mid-April, over 117,000 people have crossed over to South Sudan from Sudan. South Sudan’s absorption capacity is under strain, he warned. The economic impact of the conflict in Sudan has cast a shadow on an already fragile situation. Exports of vital commodities and resources have been interrupted. Turning to a move specific issue, he noted that the absence of local agreements governing the movement of cattle has heightened the risk of clashes between northern pastoralists and South Sudanese agrarian communities. Humanitarian workers are also adapting their response plans to meet the needs of communities inside and outside of the protection-of-civilians site in Malakal. Moreover, the flare up of tensions in Malakal only adds to the much wider patchwork of the intercommunal and subnational conflicts that the mission is grappling with.
“Our intention is to extend the force’s footprint across the country while still retaining reserves for addressing intercommunal and subnational and pre-electoral contingencies,” he said. Despite geographical constraints, there is still support and trust of the South Sudanese in UNMISS. Attacks on humanitarian actors are unacceptable, he said, stressing that “now is not the time to take our eyes off the ball in South Sudan”. South Sudan is not yet ready to roll out an electoral process, he continued, recognizing a new urgency to deal with these issues. No electoral process can be credible without adequate civic and political space. “The challenges are many, but I am hopeful that with cooperation, partnership and sustained leadership a positive change in the lives of the South Sudanese can be achieved,” he said.
Major General CHARLES TAI GITUAI, Interim Chairperson of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, said the Commission is the official oversight body responsible for overseeing, monitoring and evaluating the status of the implementation of the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan. The key achievements of the Agreement, which was extended from February 2023 to February 2025, include the establishment of executive and legislative arms of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity at the national and state levels. The dispute over the number of states was resolved and the Revitalized Agreement was incorporated into the Transitional Constitution. Also, some crucial legal, judicial and institutional reforms are ongoing.
He stressed that, under the Agreement, elections will be held at the end of the transitional period under a new permanent constitution. The main challenges slowing progress in the Agreement’s implementation include a trust deficit among the parties, lack of adequate resources, capacity gaps, persistent levels of intercommunal violence in the states, the negative activities of the holdout groups, and natural calamities, such as floods. Additional strain has been placed on humanitarian and other resources in South Sudan by the influx of refugees and returnees from the conflict in Sudan.
He outlined several benchmarks needed so that elections, scheduled to be held in December 2024 are free, fair and credible. These benchmarks include the completion of the unification and redeployment of forces, in order to provide election-related security, and the reconstitution of institutions tasked with preparing and carrying out elections, and the making of a people-led and people-owned Permanent Constitution to guide the conduct of elections.
He said at this critical juncture, the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity requires more support from the Council and the international community. Without predictable and adequate funding, the Commission believes that South Sudan will continue to struggle to implement the Agreement. The international community can support the South Sudanese efforts with direct funding of the constitution-making process, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration as well as in the elections. He urged the Council to remain engaged with the peace process in South Sudan, help expedite the Agreement’s implementation and help carry out scheduled elections.
MARC IMPAGLIAZZO, President of the Community of Sant’Egidio, said that, for more than 50 years, the Community has been an unusual international actor. It works closely with vulnerable people and is dedicated to peace, interreligious dialogue and humanitarian aid. It also carries out international mediations and facilitation in different parts of the world. Regarding the crisis in South Sudan, he said the Community has been following the situation since the 1990s before the country’s independence.
Its initiative in South Sudan, called the Rome Initiative, was created after the Revitalized Peace Agreement’s signing as the Government of National Unity was being created, he said. The Initiative has a full mandate from South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit to negotiate with non-signatories to the Revitalized Peace Agreement. The Rome Initiative has led to mutual recognition between the Government and non-signatory opposition groups and created a negotiating framework for political engagement. Despite forced interruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, this dialogue has reduced the level of violence in the country and created new hope for peace. He recognized the important contributions being made by civil society and various religious groups to the situation in South Sudan.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) expressed concern that UNMISS had not adopted measures in advance to address potential violence in Malakal despite early signs of tension. The United States also remains gravely concerned for the welfare of civilians and internally displaced residents in and around the Malakal camp. He urged UNMISS, within its mandate, to restore calm and security inside and outside the camp. The influx of civilians from continued fighting in Sudan has further deteriorated South Sudan’s already declining humanitarian situation. Consecutive years of flash floods have placed a further strain on social cohesion. Despite the challenges, South Sudanese officials need to make progress on implementing the road map and political transition to a permanent Government. South Sudan’s transitional leaders must deliver the results they committed to in the peace agreement and address the ongoing violence in the Upper Nile State, as well as the dire humanitarian situation across South Sudan.
DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta) expressed concern about the implications from the ongoing political impasse and encouraged parties to continue honouring their commitments as envisaged in the Revitalized Agreement. “It is only through an inclusive civic space that the electoral and constitutional processes can be achieved by the end of 2024,” he said. Malta supports calls for the reinforcement of the 35 per cent quota for women as prescribed by the peace agreement and urges their equal and meaningful participation in all processes, including the constitution’s drafting. He commended the role of President Kiir in helping mediate a ceasefire in Sudan. Turing to the flare up of violence in Malakal, he called for calm and underlined the role of local leaders in encouraging their communities to stop the hostilities. With 76 per cent of South Sudan’s population in need of humanitarian assistance, climate shocks and floodings continue to precipitate instability, he added.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), speaking also on behalf of Gabon and Ghana, said South Sudan has consolidated the State and the rule of law, particularly regarding the constitutional and electoral processes. The inaugural meeting of the Joint Task Force for Advancing the Constitution-making and electoral process, held on 1 June, is an example. All parties must work collectively to overcome their political differences and sustain progress. He called on all parties to honour their commitments and expedite the Revitalized Peace Agreement, including completing the outstanding tasks required before the transitional period’s end. A firm commitment by all parties will create political stability and then forge a lasting peace and sustainable development for the South Sudanese, he said.
He encouraged UNMISS to continue measures to protect civilians, mitigate violence and support peace dialogues, within the scope of its mandate, and to engage with local and traditional leaders to de-escalate tensions and resolve conflicts. He also encouraged UNMISS to expand its technical assistance and support to the accountability mechanisms and strengthen the criminal justice chain. This support should be aligned with dialogue and reconciliation processes across South Sudan. The spill-over effects of the current military confrontations in Sudan remain concerning. The influx of South Sudanese returnees, Sudanese refugees and third-country nationals, combined with a reduction in the flow of goods and fuel from Sudan, places further pressure on vulnerable communities and exacerbates an already dire humanitarian situation, he said. He encouraged UNMISS to keep supporting South Sudanese authorities as they create conditions to provide humanitarian assistance.
DAI BING (China) said his delegation recognizes the progress South Sudan has made in its efforts to work under the Revitalized Peace Agreement, including steps taken towards greater national security. He encouraged all parties to work with greater urgency and in line with the Agreement and the roadmap to ensure the country’s long-term stability. He stressed that all countries should promote the use of dialogue and consultations to create unity. South Sudan is the youngest country in world and countries should be more patient with its political process and respect its sovereignty and ownership, he said. Foreign interference should be avoided. He welcomed the help of the United Nations and regional groups to create a task force. South Sudan has stressed that the Council’s arms embargo has had a negative impact on its security, he said, urging the Council to listen to the voices of Sudan and others to lift the embargo.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) condemned the attacks on humanitarian convoys and stressed the need to enable humanitarian workers to provide aid to people most in need. In terms of political aspects, he expressed concern over the sluggish implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and delays in meeting the targets agreed to. “We call for there to be no more political deadlocks that could be perceived as a violation of the Revitalized Agreement,” he added. Women’s participation is fundamental in the electoral process and in the transition to peace. He encouraged the government to step up its efforts in that regard and highlighted the role of UNMISS in training women toward this goal. It is critical to also preserve civic space where dialogue prevails. “It’s important to open more avenues for journalists [and] humanitarian workers,” he said. Ecuador is deeply committed to preventing child recruitment and protecting children and young people in conflict settings, he said.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania) expressed concern about the challenging situation in South Sudan which is further exacerbated by the ongoing fighting in Sudan – leading to an influx of weapons, refugees, and interruptions of cross-border trade. Commending advancements on the constitution-making and electoral processes, she emphasized that further efforts are required to expedite the progress and facilitate the transition to a permanent Government. Accordingly, she called on the Transitional Government to focus on advancing outstanding reforms, including passing and enacting the National Elections Act, and to work with UNMISS in preparation for peaceful and inclusive elections. Further, the protection of civilians remains hampered by ongoing subnational violence across South Sudan. Regions like Upper Nile and Jonglei have witnessed significant violence, mass displacement and high levels of sexual violence. The influx of refugees from Sudan, including South Sudanese returnees, raises concerns about the risk of further intercommunal violence and ethnic clashes, she observed.
ALEXANDRE OLMEDO (France) expressed concern over delays in implementing the road map, as preparing for the elections scheduled for the end of 2024 requires a legislative and constitutional framework, establishment of institutions and the earmarking of budgetary resources. The conflict in Sudan threatens the stability of South Sudan, worsening the humanitarian situation with more than 100,000 refugees returning to that country. He cited European Union humanitarian assistance of €81 million in South Sudan in 2023, while France has mobilized €41.3 million to deal with the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Sudan — also recognizing South Sudan’s mediation efforts, while expressing regret over Sudan’s attempt to undermine peace efforts in the region. The regional context must not distract attention from South Sudan and its political transition, he stressed, noting that, on 24 May, the European Union approved €5.8 million for Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) monitoring mechanisms, and also supports the work of UNMISS. He called on South Sudanese authorities to fully harness the assistance of the United Nations, the region and the international community to accelerate the political transition.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said that the number of refugees and returning South Sudanese is approaching 90,000, placing an additional burden on the country. She highlighted the work of the South Sudanese authorities on the formation of the unified armed forces as a guarantor of further advancing the peace process and the successful holding of general elections. There are continued outbreaks of violence in numerous regions of South Sudan, local clashes and intercommunal armed conflicts, which provoke new flows of refugees and displaced civilians. Clashes between various opposition factions are also worrisome. She strongly condemned any violations of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, acts of violence against civilians, including humanitarian workers in the country. The sanctions regime imposed on South Sudan has noticeably complicated the deployment of unified armed forces units and the strengthening of Government’s security entities, she said, categorically rejecting the use of sanctions as a means of exerting pressure.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) stated that it remains crucial to implement the Revitalized Peace Agreement in line with the timelines established in the adopted road map as the basis for sustained peace in South Sudan. While commending progress such as the approval of the National Elections Act and ongoing preparations for the deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces, she voiced concern that the implementation of other aspects of the Agreement have been delayed. Noting a reduction in incidents of intercommunal violence at the subnational level, she nonetheless warned that the situation can be aggravated by the influx of returnees and refugees from Sudan. Welcoming President Kiir’s engagement with regional leaders to resolve the conflict, she stated it is further necessary to arrange for early deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces, and unify the command structure and develop weapons and armament management, among other important tasks. She further expressed concern about undue restrictions and taxation by the South Sudanese Government.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) said fighting across the border in Sudan has exacerbated the critical humanitarian situation in South Sudan, with over 119,000 people crossing the border, aggravating political and intercommunal tensions. He welcomed the South Sudanese Government’s provision of transportation for people returning home. He voiced concern over the recent intercommunal fighting in the Malakal protection of civilian camp, resulting in the reported killing of 13 people and burning of 4,000 homes. He reiterated his call on the South Sudanese Government to do all it can to stop subnational violence, provide basic services for its people, and deliver meaningful progress on its peace agreement. While welcoming the establishment of a Joint Electoral and Constitution-making Taskforce, he noted that electoral and constitution-making processes are now 10 and 12 months behind schedule, stressing: “Legislation alone will not deliver sustainable peace in South Sudan.” Laws need to be enacted, and the institutions they create need to be financed, he said, adding: “There needs to be a peace dividend.”
NORBERTO MORETTI (Brazil) expressed deep regret that heavy fighting north of the border has led thousands of people to leave their homes and flee Sudan. Brazil is concerned about the pressure on scarce resources in South Sudan, particularly in the Upper Nile State and Renk County. The influx of refugees and returnees that had fled South Sudan underlines the magnitude of the crisis in Sudan, he said, expressing concern over parts of the country that lack food and clean water. “We should bear in mind how concerning the humanitarian context was in South Sudan months before the military clashes north of the border started,” he continued, urging the international community to provide additional funds that the United Nations recently appealed for. He condemned attacks that have killed humanitarian actors and called on South Sudan to redouble its efforts to provide safety for essential workers and make sure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland), noting the challenges posed by the conflict to social cohesion and humanitarian needs, highlighted the pledge of additional funding at the high-level event to support the humanitarian response in Sudan and the region, held yesterday in Geneva. Commending solidarity shown by South Sudan towards those fleeing the devastating conflict in Sudan, she strongly encouraged the parties to adhere to the deadlines set out in the road map and to establish the institutions it provides for without delay, while taking note of steps such as the approval of the electoral law. She voiced concern over the marked increase in human rights violations and violent incidents, including at the civilian protection site in Malakal, and that only 30 per cent of the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan has been funded. Attacks on humanitarian personnel are unacceptable and must cease, she said, calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and to allow the safe and unhindered passage of humanitarian aid.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates), Council President for June, speaking in her national capacity, underscored that intercommunal dialogue must be strengthened to end the cyclical nature of violence and to establish the culture of peace at the grass-roots level. The efforts of UNMISS are essential when engaging with local leaders, deescalating tensions and renewing commitment of communities to the values of peaceful coexistence. The positive trajectory needs to continue, she asserted, underlining the need to address the security challenges in South Sudan, especially in light of recent events, particularly in the city of Malakal. The country continues to witness targeting and killing of civilians and humanitarian workers, as well as attacks against humanitarian and commercial convoys, which hinder humanitarian assistance. Against this backdrop, she highlighted the role of UNMISS in strengthening the Government’s capacity to protect civilians and to facilitate humanitarian access.
AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan), taking note of the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in his country, said that, over the reporting period, South Sudan has experienced relative peace and security. “The revitalized Government is committed to seeing that South Sudan is in total peace and a life of a common citizen returns to normalcy,” he said. Accordingly, his Government is committed to making meaningful progress towards the successful implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement. Voicing concern over the devastating impact of floods on the work of peacekeepers, he said that, this year, poor rainfall in some parts of the country is expected to lead to a poor harvest and — as a result — starvation, displacement and migration. This will create instability and tension, he predicted, urging the international community and UNMISS to join South Sudan through initiatives that would prioritize conflict prevention, early warning, mitigation and adaptation. Since the inception of conflict in Sudan, South Sudan has experienced an influx of refugees and returnees. Given its already difficult humanitarian situation, South Sudan does not have the immediate financial capacity to be able to rescue the dire situation, he stressed, strongly calling on the international community “not to give up on South Sudan”.