Critical Electoral Questions Remain Unanswered amidst Grim Humanitarian Situation in South Sudan, United Nations Officials Tell Security Council
Country ‘Cannot Afford to Address the Challenges Alone’, Says Representative
While South Sudan anticipates holding its first elections in December 2024, key institutions and legal frameworks are yet to be established and critical questions remain unanswered, the top United Nations official for the country told the Security Council today, as speakers warned that intercommunal violence and a massive influx of returnees and refugees continue to worsen the already dire humanitarian situation in the country.
Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation there (document S/2023/657), stressed the need to determine the type of elections to be held, voter‑registration requirements and the nature of participation by refugees and internally displaced persons. Of particular importance is the stalled Constitution-drafting process, to be carried out in an environment that respects the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly and encourages civic engagement, he added.
Highlighting “modest progress” towards realizing the goals of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, he outlined further steps that should be taken by the country’s political leadership, including the need to pass priority election-related legislation in parliament. For its part, UNMISS currently seeks to support a two-phased approach to assist South Sudan in preparing for elections: in the first phase, it will focus on capacity-building for establishing key institutions and expanding civic and political space; in the second, it will support the electoral process itself.
Edem Wosornu, Director of Operations and Advocacy in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, then painted a grim picture of the dire humanitarian situation in South Sudan. She reported that, at the start of 2023, more than 9.4 million people in the country — 76 per cent of the population — required humanitarian assistance. In addition, more than 260,000 people had arrived in South Sudan seeking protection and safety, most of them South Sudanese nationals fleeing violence in neighbouring Sudan.
Relatedly, South Sudan’s trade and economy have been negatively affected, with food prices increasing between 20 and 75 per cent, she said, adding that worsening food insecurity has increased gender-based violence. While the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for South Sudan — which requires $1.7 billion to support 6.8 million people — is only 46 per cent funded, she emphasized that “the people of South Sudan want to move beyond humanitarian support, to stand on their own two feet, and to thrive and flourish as an independent nation”.
Racheal Juan, Advocacy and Peace Coordinator, South Sudan Council of Churches, speaking via videoconference, said that young people and civil society actors in the country cannot speak openly without fear. Stressing the importance of widening civic space to advance the Revitalized Peace Agreement, she recalled that she has facilitated local peace talks and witnessed peace agreements between communities that facilitate reconciliation and healing. She expressed concern over the exclusion of women and young people from decision-making and nation-building processes, advocating for their engagement with the joint task force on elections.
In the ensuing discussion, numerous Council members emphasized the need for increased humanitarian aid to address South Sudan’s influx of refugees, and urged UNMISS, the Transitional Government and humanitarian partners to strengthen efforts to provide returnees and displaced persons with adequate shelter and medical services. Members also discussed the appropriate manner in which UNMISS, along with the Council, should support the country moving forward.
The representative of the United States said that fighting in Sudan continues to severely impact South Sudan’s resources, humanitarian needs, security and infrastructure as more than 250,000 returnees and refugees seek refuge in camps for the internally displaced, including UNMISS protection-of-civilians sites. He cautioned that rising tensions between new arrivals and residents are contributing to the violence, as evidenced by clashes in such sites and camps.
Similarly, Brazil’s representative pointed out that the unforeseen influx of returnees and refugees from the north and the late arrival of the rainy season have led to an increased need for humanitarian assistance. As violence surges in the Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile and Warrap states, UNMISS’ role has become even more important in improving security across South Sudan. Therefore, the Council’s continued support for UNMISS must be firm and clear.
Mozambique’s delegate, speaking also for Gabon and Ghana, said that UNMISS should continue implementing its mandate to protect civilians, mitigate violence and support peace dialogues, thus ensuring complementarity with the efforts of South Sudanese authorities. “This could be one of the most memorable moments in the history of our sisterly country,” he said, citing the preparation of its first electoral process. He also stressed that the humanitarian response for Sudan must be coordinated with neighbouring countries — particularly South Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic.
China’s delegate, meanwhile, called on the international community to respect the sovereignty and ownership of South Sudan, while providing support for its political process and election preparations. Accordingly, he urged the Council to lift its arms embargo on the country, also emphasizing that the development and management of oil resources should be decided by the South Sudanese Government and people. On pushes to expand the Mission’s mandate — which have impacted trust with the host country — he said that too much emphasis has been placed on the use of force as a priority method to protect civilians.
Rounding out the discussion, the representative of South Sudan attributed the dire humanitarian situation in his country to the conflict in neighbouring Sudan. The considerable influx of refugees and returnees continues to pose a challenge, he said, emphasizing: “South Sudan, with limited capacity, cannot afford to address the challenges alone.” Nevertheless, he said that — despite the slow implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement — the parties remain committed to its logical conclusion “both in letter and spirit”, which will allow for general elections to be held in December 2024.
REPORTS OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON THE SUDAN AND SOUTH SUDAN
NICHOLAS HAYSOM, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said that, with 15 months remaining until elections scheduled to end the transitional period, time is of the essence for South Sudan to realise the goals of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and its road map. The country anticipates holding its first elections in December 2024. However, key institutions and legal frameworks are yet to be established and critical questions remain unanswered, including: the type of elections to be held; voter-registration requirements; how electoral boundaries will be determined; and the nature of participation by refugees and internally displaced persons. Of particular importance is the stalled Constitution-drafting process, to be carried out in an environment that respects the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly and encourages civic engagement. According to the road map, the process is 12 months behind schedule, he observed, stressing the urgent need to recalibrate priorities within the remaining transitional period.
Highlighting “modest progress” since his last briefing, he spotlighted the passage of the National Elections Act to its third reading in parliament; the establishment of a joint taskforce among the transitional Government, African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the United Nations to coordinate support for Constitutional and electoral processes; the commencement of electoral security-planning; the initial election-budget discussion within the Government; and a recent agreement on the deployment of the first batch of the duly graduated Necessary Unified Forces. He also recalled the recent commitment made by the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, that the country will not return to war and that the path forward is elections in December 2024. A level playing field is required for credible, inclusive and peaceful elections, he said, adding that unilateralism and brinkmanship are toxic to the practice of post-conflict coalition governance, which requires compromise and mutual trust.
Outlining further steps that should be taken by the country’s political leadership, he stressed the need to pass priority elections-related legislation in parliament, allocate a national budget for elections, reconstitute and resource key electoral institutions, and complete essential road map benchmarks. Noting “significant popular demand for elections”, he said that civil society organizations across the nation have expressed to UNMISS their desire for elections, but not without reservations about the overall status of implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement. For its part, UNMISS is currently seeking to support a two-phased approach to assist South Sudan in preparing for elections. In the first phase, the UN will focus on capacity-building for establishing key institutions and expanding civic and political space. The second phase — supporting the electoral process itself — will be contingent on Member State support and progress made during the first phase.
Against this backdrop, the ceasefire is largely holding across the country, he said, pointing to a “substantial reduction in a conflict between the signatories since the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in 2018”. However, intercommunal and subnational violence continue to impede peace consolidation. While the Mission’s robust posture has contributed to a limited decrease in violence in South Sudan, the expanded civilian-protection mandate in resolution 2677 (2023) puts its mobility enhancement under strain. Nevertheless, UNMISS continues to strengthen its approach towards this end, including through an enhanced coordination mechanism for whole-of-Mission responses and early warning indicators. He further spotlighted the looming impacts of the crisis in neighbouring Sudan on the country, calling for additional support from international donors.
EDEM WOSORNU, Director of Operations and Advocacy, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that the humanitarian situation in South Sudan continues to encounter major challenges, compounded by the conflict in neighbouring Sudan. At the start of 2023, more than 9.4 million people in South Sudan — 76 per cent of the population — required humanitarian assistance due to factors including subnational violence, physical and other access constraints, and climatic shocks. In addition, as of 5 September, more than 260,000 people had arrived in South Sudan seeking protection and safety, most of them South Sudanese nationals fleeing violence in the bordering State. This massive influx of returnees and refugees occurs against a backdrop of limited funding, she added. The emergency response plan for the Sudan crisis — originally envisaged as $96 million to assist 180,000 people over three months — now requires $356 million to support 600,000 people over the period of May to December.
South Sudan’s trade and economy have also been negatively affected, with food prices increasing between 20 and 75 per cent, she reported. Rising market prices, in turn, have increased the overall cost of humanitarian responses and worsening food insecurity has increased gender-based violence. Further, in July alone, 34 humanitarian-access incidents were reported across the country, she said, calling for unimpeded aid access while noting that physical access continues to present major additional constraints. In Unity State, the gradual deterioration of roads due to rainfall affected the delivery of humanitarian-relief supplies to 900,000 people in need. Pointing out that the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for South Sudan requires $1.7 billion to support 6.8 million people, she emphasized that the plan is only 46 per cent funded.
She went on to state that, despite underfunding, about 4 million people across South Sudan received some humanitarian assistance in the first half of 2023. Nonetheless, she stressed that “the people of South Sudan want to move beyond humanitarian support, to stand on their own two feet, and to thrive and flourish as an independent nation”. Farmers want to farm again, people want to re-establish careers and businesses, and everyone — including displaced women and youth — wants the ability to provide for themselves and their families. Highlighting the front-line emergency life-saving services provided by South Sudanese civil society organizations, she expressed hope that “with the steadfast support and investment of the international community, South Sudan will make the progress it deserves”.
RACHEAL JUAN, Advocacy and Peace Coordinator, South Sudan Council of Churches, speaking via videoconference, said she grew up in a country at war. Along with many other young people — who make up over 70 per cent of South Sudan’s population — she has become all too familiar with an environment of armed, sexual and climate-change-induced violence. Expressing regret that young people and civil society actors cannot speak openly without fear, she underscored the importance of widening civic space to advance the Revitalized Peace Agreement. “Ideas and criticism are both necessary for building our country,” she emphasized.
She went on to note that, in her role, she has facilitated local peace talks and witnessed peace agreements between communities that facilitate reconciliation and healing. Underlining that these efforts must be sustained, she urged the Council to increase funding for peacebuilding initiatives. Inclusion should be prioritized as South Sudan seeks to complete pending road map tasks, she stressed, spotlighting the contributions of that country’s women to uniting the nation. Expressing concern over the exclusion of women and young people from decision‑making and nation-building processes, she emphasized the need for their engagement with the joint task force on elections.
“For us to achieve the sustainable peace we desire as a country, South Sudan needs your support,” she stated. She also recalled that her country hosted the Ecumenical Peace Pilgrimage in 2022 — which included Catholic, Episcopal and Presbyterian leaders — while also reporting that a partnership with the Community of Sant’Egidio facilitated a political dialogue between the Transitional Government and non-signatories of the Revitalized Peace Agreement. Urging Council members to continue supporting humanitarian, peacebuilding and development efforts, she asserted: “I am confident that South Sudan will eventually attain the peace we so deeply long for.”
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) underscored that fighting in Sudan continues to severely impact South Sudan’s resources, humanitarian needs, security and infrastructure due to more than a quarter of a million returnees and refugees seeking refuge in internally displaced persons camps, including UNMISS protection-of-civilians sites. As well, an additional 26,000 Sudanese displaced persons have fled from violence and food insecurity in Ethiopia’s refugee camps. Further, rising tensions between new arrivals and residents are contributing to the violence, as evidenced by clashes in the protection-of-civilians sites and in internally displaced persons camps. He voiced concern about the overcrowding in border towns, as well as the lack of adequate shelter and medical aid for displaced persons. In that regard, he strongly urged UNMISS, the Transitional Government and humanitarian partners to strengthen efforts to provide returnees and displaced persons with adequate shelter and medical services. Turning to the political transition, he expressed disappointment about the lack of progress by the Transitional Government of South Sudan’s implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and the road map.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador), expressing concern over the refugee crisis in South Sudan, the largest in Africa with more than 2.3 million refugees, also deplored the attacks on humanitarian convoys and restrictions on humanitarian personnel. As the delay with elections could lead to grave political instability with possible outbreaks of violence, he voiced support for the meetings held in mid-August under the leadership of UNMISS promoting democratic governance and sustainable peacebuilding. In addition, women must be involved and gender-related commitments within the Revitalized Peace Agreement must be met, he stressed, also calling for more channels to be opened for journalists, human rights defenders and humanitarian personnel. Underlining his country’s support for UNMISS and efforts aimed at reducing violence perpetrated by the military through an appropriate accountability mechanism, he stated: “It is time to silence the guns in South Sudan and pave way to the civilian democratic transition in the country.”
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) welcomed that disputes between South Sudanese parties are now mainly resolved through political dialogue rather than conflict. Nevertheless, five years after the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, “progress is too slow and too limited”. Pointing to the multiple extensions of deadlines, he called on the authorities to create the necessary conditions for free and fair elections. While the recent establishment of an Election Security Committee and the presentation of the National Elections Act are commendable, there are fundamental decisions and logistical preparations that require immediate attention, he emphasized. Further, as the violence in neighbouring Sudan continues, the arrival of 260,000 people has exacerbated the already grievous humanitarian situation. Praising the South Sudanese Government for providing transportation in response to the crisis, he urged the authorities to create an environment more conducive to humanitarian action and to commit themselves to more durable solutions that address the increasing humanitarian need.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), speaking also for Gabon and Ghana, acknowledged that South Sudan has shown significant progress in consolidating its institutions since its independence. This process has been accompanied by substantial reforms in vital areas, including the security sector, the judicial system and public management. UNMISS should continue implementing its mandate to protect civilians, mitigate violence and support peace dialogues, thus ensuring complementarity with the efforts of South Sudanese authorities. “This could be one of the most memorable moments in the history of our sisterly country,” he said, citing the preparation of its first electoral process. Despite the grave challenges, South Sudan should persevere in its commitment to hold free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections in December 2024, and he urged all stakeholders to engage constructively and prioritize the interests of the South Sudanese people.
Turning to the Revitalized Peace Agreement, he urged the parties to implement the same — including outstanding tasks — before the end of the transitional period. He also called for close collaboration between UNMISS, the IGAD and the African Union, as well as other UN missions and entities, to holistically address the complex challenges facing the country. Regrettably, the humanitarian situation there continues to deteriorate. Moreover, climate shocks are leading to insecurity, conflict and displacement, which worsen an already-fragile situation, he warned, appealing for more robust financial support. Further, he stressed that the humanitarian response for Sudan must be coordinated with neighbouring countries — particularly South Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic — also highlighting the need to ensure the safety of humanitarian actors at all times.
DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta), noting that elections — planned for December 2024 — require civic space, also called for the participation of women. Commending the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare on the implementation of the Maputo Protocol, he welcomed the trilateral joint task force addressing voter registration and the inclusion of displaced people. He also underlined the importance of timely deploying the recently graduated Necessary Unified Forces. Expressing concern over extrajudicial executions, along with sexual and gender-based violence, he expressed support for the deployment of mobile courts — facilitated by UNMISS — to ensure transitional justice. While 76 per cent of South Sudan’s population need humanitarian assistance, the European Union has launched a series of projects amounting to €82 million, in addition to €108 million provided in August through its Multiannual Indicative Programme for South Sudan. In addition, he pointed out that climate-induced disasters fuel displacement and farmer-herder tensions in that country.
DAI BING (China) called on the international community to maintain “necessary patience” and respect the sovereignty and ownership of South Sudan, while providing support for its political process and election preparations. Underlining that security capacity-building is a priority, he urged the Council to lift its arms embargo on South Sudan. Further, the development and management of oil resources that bear on the country’s economy and livelihoods should be decided by the South Sudanese Government and people. Countries outside the region should not interfere. While China is ready to make unrelenting efforts as a major troop-contributing country to UNMISS, he noted that several countries in recent years have kept pushing for the mandate’s expansion, some of which clearly goes beyond the Mission’s capacities and has impacted trust with the host country. There has been too much emphasis on the use of force as a priority method to protect civilians, leading to controversies. He called on the Secretariat to comprehensively and objectively review the mandate on protecting civilians in order to set out the right direction for UNMISS.
MITSUKO SHINO (Japan) called for the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in line with the established timelines and expressed concern over the delays and lack of significant progress, impacting the national election scheduled for December 2024. “If the elections were held with inadequate preparation and insufficient credibility, it could become a catalyst for national division,” she said, calling for the Transitional Government to ensure an adequate civic and political space for all citizens. She added that the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan remains at an extremely dangerous level while the repeated extensions of the Revitalized Peace Agreement have led to a decline in the international community’s interest in and assistance to South Sudan. The Transitional Government needs to achieve more results quickly and continuously, while the international community needs to recognize that South Sudan is approaching an extremely critical time, she emphasized.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), noting that South Sudan is experiencing major repercussions from the conflict in Sudan, pointed out that the number of refugees and South Sudanese returnees has already exceeded 250,000. This influx has become a major challenge for the country as a whole. Despite the difficult humanitarian situation, however, the South Sudanese process is moving forward incrementally and the Revitalized Peace Agreement continues to be implemented to a limited extent. On that, she spotlighted efforts made by the South Sudanese authorities to implement provisions related to State-building, draft a Constitution and launch the national human rights council. Despite issues and delays, it is important that the ceasefire holds. However, she noted incoming reports of ongoing violence in numerous peripheral regions of South Sudan — as well as local clashes — condemning any violations of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and acts of violence against civilians, including humanitarian workers.
ALEXANDRE OLMEDO (France) expressed concern over the lack of progress in the drafting of a permanent constitution and the preparation of elections. International support can only materialize if the authorities create the conditions for a credible debate and democratic elections, with the inclusion of civil society, women and youth. In light of the worrying impact of the conflict in Sudan, the European Union will provide €81 million in humanitarian assistance to South Sudan in 2023, he announced, welcoming the country’s reception of refugees. He also urged the parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement to demonstrate the political will to complete the transition, now due in February 2025, and called on the region to retain its focus on South Sudan. Further, in protecting civilians and capacity building, France supports the work of UNMISS and plays a role through projects aimed at reintegration as well as arms stockpile management, he said.
GHASAQ SHAHEEN (United Arab Emirates) encouraged UNMISS to continue local outreach through confidence-building across communities and facilitated dialogue modelled on efforts in Central Equatoria. Reiterating support for the Mission’s efforts to protect civilians, she expressed deep concerns about sexual violence against women and girls and urged the Mission to continue providing safety and support to victims. Further, noting South Sudan as one of the world’s five most climate-vulnerable countries, she praised the growing commitment to address climate change through community-level discussions and Government initiatives to produce more renewable energy and use smart agriculture systems. Enhancing South Sudan’s security requires addressing urgent challenges while also enabling long-term economic recovery and addressing the root causes of conflict, including competition over limited resources. Holding the first National Economic Conference and implementing its recommendations will help reduce humanitarian needs and promote long-term development, she added.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil), voicing concern that the conflict in Sudan has deteriorated the security situation in South Sudan, noted the surge of violence in the Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile and Warrap States. Thus, the role of UNMISS has become even more important in improving security all over South Sudan and the Council’s continued support for UNMISS must be firm and clear. He encouraged South Sudan to prioritize the deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces, and commended the institutional strides South Sudan has made in making peacebuilding a national priority. The unforeseen influxes of returnees and refugees from the north and the late arrival of the rainy season have led to an increased need for humanitarian assistance, he said, strongly deploring attacks against humanitarian personnel. As the world will be following the upcoming elections with close attention, interest and hope, he also commended the establishment of the Government Trilateral Joint Task Force to support the Constitution-drafting and electoral process.
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland) said that South Sudan is in a critical phase of peacebuilding and at a decisive moment in its history, with the first general elections since independence in sight. Despite some progress, key milestones of the political transition remain to be completed, she said, adding that the deadlines set out in the Roadmap Agreement should be met, and the National Constitutional Review Commission should be put in place without delay. In addition, a free political and civic space, guaranteeing freedom of expression, assembly and the press, is fundamental. She encouraged UNMISS to continue to amplify the voices and contributions of women who are heavily involved in the transition process. Further, she voiced concern over the persistence of violence at subnational level, extrajudicial executions, sexual and gender-based violence and the high number of serious violations of children's rights. Turning to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, she condemned the repeated attacks on humanitarian personnel and convoys.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), Council President for September, spoke in her national capacity, commending UNMISS for its electoral assistance to South Sudan. However, the limited progress on the road map implementation is concerning. Many provisions, including a permanent constitution, are still outstanding, she said, encouraging the Transitional Government to focus on advancing the electoral process and reach agreement on key provisions. Warning against the shrinking civic space, she urged the Government to ensure civil and political inclusiveness in holding free, fair and credible elections. South Sudan remains among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Climate-induced shocks, tensions over resources and increased humanitarian needs have led to displacement, with women and girls being the most vulnerable. Recognizing UNMISS support for Juba, including in climate resilience and the rule of law, she stressed that progress toward holding credible polls in 2024 hinges upon a resolute surge in political determination. “The people of South Sudan rightfully deserve the opportunity to express their will at the ballot box,” she declared.
AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan) said that, despite the slow implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, the parties remain committed to its logical conclusion “both in letter and spirit”, which will allow for general elections to be held in December 2024. Pointing to the dire humanitarian situation caused by conditions beyond the Government’s control, he noted that the conflict in Sudan has directly impacted markets in his country’s northern states that conduct cross-border trade and commerce with Sudan. The considerable influx of refugees and returnees — with limited recourses to address their immediate needs — continue to be a challenge, he stressed, emphasizing: “South Sudan, with limited capacity, cannot afford to address the challenges alone.”
He went on to recognize the impact of climate change, recalling that parts of the country have been inundated over the last four years — causing displacement and the loss of property, animals and livelihood. Further, the delayed 2023 rainy season will impact food security, and traditional breadbasket regions — usually spared — have been hit by floods. “Climate change has become a major destabilizing factor,” he added. Spotlighting South Sudan’s partnership with Sudan, demonstrated by close working relations and support provided in implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement, he said his country aims to widen and deepen those relations for the common good and interests of both.