United Nations Mission in South Sudan to suspend current activities, re-focus priorities, peacekeeping chief tells Security Council

Report
from UN Security Council
Published on 18 Mar 2014 View Original

Security Council
SC/11323
7141st Meeting (PM)

He Tells of Protests against United Nations As Members Hear from UN-Women Head, South Sudan Permanent Representative

Amid extreme violence and a national political crisis now entering its fourth month, the raison d’être of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) no longer applied, the head of peacekeeping operations told the Security Council today, saying it would suspend its current activities and re-focus on five priority areas.

Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous said in his briefing this afternoon that the Mission’s new focus would be protecting civilians, facilitating humanitarian assistance, monitoring and reporting on human rights, preventing further inter-communal violence and supporting the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) [mediation] process as and when requested, and within available capabilities.

He said the Mission would concentrate on protecting the internally displaced people sheltering within United Nations compounds and other locations, and that would expand once conditions were created for their safe return home. The new posture of UNMISS would be in place until the two sides to the conflict finalized a political agreement.

“The situation is grave,” he said, pointing out that World Food Programme (WFP) operations were almost at a standstill. As such, the Secretary-General requested the Council to augment the military and police components of UNMISS for one year beyond the inter-mission cooperation framework. The ceiling would be raised from 7,000 to 12,500 soldiers, and to four mobile police units.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), recounted her visit to Juba, South Sudan’s capital, a month ago, saying she had met with displaced women living in appalling conditions that were a source of health and security risks. The international response had been vastly insufficient, and to improve the situation, UN-Women would provide safe spaces and psychosocial support within Juba’s UNMISS protection sites.

She said UN-Women had also offered a gender adviser to the IGAD mediation team, and was ready to support any effort to bolster the numbers of women involved in monitoring and verification efforts. The Security Council’s commitment to women’s participation, outlined in its resolution 2122 (2013), was now being tested in South Sudan. “We can demonstrate to the women of South Sudan, who continue on in the most desperate of circumstances, that our courage and determination will match theirs,” she declared.

Francis Deng ( South Sudan), offering the national perspective, said his Government did not take the anti-UNMISS protests across the country lightly, emphasizing: “This is not the policy of the Government of South Sudan.” At the same time, he encouraged delegates to appreciate the anger of those behind the demonstrations, especially when certain actions gave the impression — however mistaken — that those representing the United Nations might be supportive of “the other side of the conflict”. While the Mission’s mandate would understandably focus on civilian protection, human rights and security sector reform, it should continue with other elements that were crucial to stabilizing the country, he said, stressing that the Government would work to end the violence as soon as possible and return the three-year-old nation to the path of sustainable peace, development and prosperity.

The meeting began at 3:07 p.m. and ended at 3:50 p.m.

Background

Meeting this afternoon to hear updates on the situation in South Sudan, members of the Security Council had before them the report of the Secretary-General on South Sudan (document S/2014/158). Expected to brief them were the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and the Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).

Briefings

HERVÉ LADSOUS, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said extreme violence in South Sudan had displaced some 800,000 people. The crisis was now a national political crisis, the conflict having expanded throughout the country, he said, emphasizing that not a single region had been spared. Mediation by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) had resulted in a 23 January agreement to cease hostilities, and another on detainees, signed by the Government of South Sudan and its opponents within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) supporting former Vice-President Riek Machar.

He said that, during the second round of negotiations, the parties had agreed to resolve the political conflict rooted in internal party dynamics. They would hold a meeting among eight members of the SPLM Politburo — four of whom were allies and four opponents of President Salva Kiir — who would seek a solution to the crisis within the party. The talks would be led jointly by the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Revolutionary Front and the African National Congress of South Africa. A key demand of the opposition was the release of all 11 political detainees, he said, noting that seven had been released on 29 January, while trial proceedings against the remaining four had begun on 11 March.

More broadly, the security and humanitarian situation would continue to deteriorate, he said, until the sides engaged fully in political talks, respected the cessation of hostilities and allowed freedom of movement for the United Nations and its partners. Both sides persisted in prioritizing the pursuit of military gains over negotiations on a political settlement, and the longer it continued, the greater the chances for further regional intervention would grow. In that regard, the immediate establishment of a monitoring and verification mechanism was essential, he said, noting that a joint technical committee had been formed with its headquarters in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. Monitoring and verification teams were being trained for deployment to six sites in conflict areas, while IGAD had decided to deploy a robust force by mid-April to provide security for the monitors.

Under such conditions, the raison d’être of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) no longer applied, he said, highlighting the need for a strategic shift in the Mission’s posture. UNMISS would suspend activities dedicated to extending State authority and focus on five priorities: protecting civilians; facilitating humanitarian assistance; monitoring and reporting on human rights; preventing further inter-communal violence; and supporting the IGAD process as and when requested, and within available capabilities. The protection priority would be for displaced people sheltering in United Nations compounds and other locations, and would expand once conditions were created for their safe return home, he said, adding that the new posture of UNMISS would be in place until the two sides to the conflict finalized a political agreement.

He then described a systematic and organized negative campaign against UNMISS, saying that some local and national officials had vilified the United Nations. Under such conditions, the Organization would need to consider drawing down staff and limiting its activities to the “absolute minimum” relating to protection, human rights monitoring and providing support for humanitarian assistance. “The situation is grave,” he said, pointing out that World Food Programme (WFP) operations had been brought almost to a standstill. As such, the Secretary-General requested the Council to augment the military and police components of UNMISS for one year, beyond the inter-mission cooperation framework, he said. The ceiling would be raised from 7,000 to 12,500 soldiers, and to four mobile police units.

The deployment of additional military troops would occur in three phases, the second of which would be completed at the end of June with 2,800 soldiers and three police units on the ground, he said. The third phase would include the deployment of the two final infantry battalions. The South Sudanese people have suffered too much and for too long, he said, underlining the duty of political leaders to end the violence immediately. They should order their forces to cease military operations, participate meaningfully in the talks taking place in Addis Ababa and work to build a State that would exercise its functions through democratic institutions and transparent processes.

PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Women, said the violence in South Sudan had caused a serious humanitarian crisis with a disproportionate impact on women and girls. She said that, visiting Juba a month ago, she had met with President Kiir, Cabinet Ministers, donors, United Nations agencies, the Speaker of Parliament, Members of the National Legislative Assembly and displaced women living within UNMISS protection sites, in appalling conditions that were sources of health and security risks to women and girls.

Data from one site indicated that 58 per cent of households were headed by females, she said. Some women did not know where their children were, while the husbands of others had gone missing or had been killed. Many had themselves experienced violence and all were struggling to survive, she said, pointing out that South Sudanese women experienced the world’s highest levels of maternal mortality, and that more than 8 in 10 were illiterate. “This is a matter of extreme emergency, of life and death,” she stressed.

Describing the international response as vastly insufficient, she said only 24 per cent had been funded, adding that during her visit, she had committed to initiating UN-Women humanitarian efforts in Juba’s UNMISS civilian protection sites, which would provide safe spaces, psychosocial support, ways to generate income and skills training. The women in the protection sites demanded inclusion, and their desire for peace was overwhelming. They had built inclusive coalitions and were demanding a voice in the decisions being made to resolve the national crisis.

Noting that UN-Women had offered a gender adviser to the IGAD mediation team, she said it was also ready to offer any support necessary to IGAD efforts to bolster the numbers of women in monitoring and verification efforts, to link to civil society efforts, and to provide expertise on the monitoring of sexual violence. The Council’s commitment to women’s participation, outlined in resolution 2122 (2013), were now being tested in South Sudan, she said. “We can demonstrate to the women of South Sudan, who continue on in the most desperate of circumstances, that our courage and determination will match theirs.”

FRANCIS DENG (South Sudan) said it was undeniable that had UNMISS not opened its camps, thousands more people would have lost their lives. The country had much to lose by alienating the United Nations, he said, expressing appreciation also to non-governmental groups for having helped to save lives. The Government was doing its best to prove to its people — and to the international community — that it hoped for a speedy end to the conflict, and the President was strongly committed to peace, unity and national reconciliation.

As such, the Government would work to end the violence as soon as possible, he said, adding that it would then conduct in-depth discussions to determine how mistakes could be corrected and how to take the nation back to the path of sustainable peace, development and prosperity. South Sudan did not take the anti-UNMISS protests taking place across the country lightly, and wished to assure the Council that “this is not the policy of the Government of South Sudan”, which would exert all efforts to contain hostile publicity.

At the same time, he encouraged the international community to appreciate the anger of those behind the demonstrations, especially when certain actions gave the impression — however mistaken — that those representing the United Nations might be supportive of “the other side of the conflict”. Such misunderstandings could generate hostility. While it was understandable that the Council would look to focus the Mission’s mandate on civilian protection, human rights and security-sector reform, it should also continue with other elements that were crucial to stabilizing the country.