South Sudan

Briefing to the UN Security Council by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom - 15 September 2021

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Mr. President,

Thank you for the opportunity to brief the Security Council on the situation in South Sudan.

On 12 September, South Sudan marked the three-year anniversary of the revitalized peace agreement. This agreement provides the only broadly agreed framework through which long-term stability and durable peace can be achieved in South Sudan. I am pleased to report some positive developments registered since my briefing in June.

The 30th of August saw the inauguration of the reconstituted Parliament, members of which were sworn in on the 2nd of August. South Sudan made a historic appointment of the country’s first female Speaker of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and female Deputy Speaker of the Council of States, indicating a commitment to increasing the number of women in leadership positions. These positive steps must now be complemented by the reconstitution of the sub-national state legislatures.

This development paves the way for a much-delayed charge on the legislative programme envisaged by the Peace Agreement. The legislative agenda is extensive. It includes the passage of priority bills already prepared by the National Constitution Amendment Committee, on the reform of security, financial, judicial, constitutional, and electoral institutions. Certainly, the reconstitution of the national parliament presents an opportunity to inject urgency in the implementation of the peace process.

A ministerial task force has now presented a bill on the constitution-making process to the Minister of Justice and Intergovernmental Authority on Development. The constitution making process is an important peace process benchmark. But it is in its own right a critical step forward. It should signify a social contract between all South Sudanese on the arrangements by which they can live together in peace and harmony. UNMISS and the UN Country Team are working with local organisations to ensure that constitutional consultations are inclusive and voices outside the political elites, particularly at grassroots levels, are heard.

As provided by the peace agreement, electoral preparations should be conducted in parallel to constitution-making. The recommendations outlined in the report of the Needs Assessment Mission showcase an opportunity for UNMISS to provide technical support that will enhance the likelihood of a free and fair electoral process that will be acceptable to all. President Kiir has, himself, recently acknowledged an open and fair election is critical for South Sudan to proceed along its transition. He has emphasized that its preparation needs an early start.

There is no consensus on the exact timelines. Relying on the two extensions to the transitional period, the most generous interpretation would see elections in early 2023. This would require the completion of a voters roll by mid-to-late next year. Unless there are adequate technical and political preparations, this event could be a catastrophe instead of a national turning point. For these reasons, we believe the Council should issue every encouragement for those involved, including the international community, to focus their attention on this task.

The launch of the consultative process for the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing is another important development. This will allow for public acknowledgement of past human rights violations and lay the basis for support to the victims of conflict. This is an essential element for healing and subsequent stability.

In my last briefing, I briefed on the establishment of a high-level coordination committee composed of senior representatives from the Government and UNMISS. This arrangement has improved the freedom of movement of UNMISS patrols. Consequently, our support for the delivery of humanitarian goods and services, our ability to move freely to hotspots, and the resupply of our temporary operating bases has improved.

We acknowledge the unity government’s progress on implementation of Chapter Four of the Agreement. The contemplated economic reforms are intended to improve macroeconomic stability and the transparency of public finances. One of the first tasks of the new parliament will be to pass the budget. Efforts in public finance management, with the support of the World Bank, the IMF and UNDP, have enabled South Sudan to address salary arrears and harmonize exchange rates. It is critical to encourage the Government to sustain these efforts, ensuring economic benefits filter down to all South Sudanese people.

Mr. President,

While we commend these positive developments, we are mindful of the significant challenges that still face the peace process.

The realisation of the transitional security arrangements is pivotal to almost every aspect of the agreement. For example, the electoral process can only be guaranteed by an impartial, unified security apparatus. The lack of progress in the implementation of the transitional security arrangements is now a major challenge. We commend the efforts of IGAD and the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (R-JMEC( to encourage the parties to reach consensus on the unified command-and-control structures of the new national security institutions. President Kiir has, himself, assured that this will be agreed imminently, as will the graduation of uniformed personnel currently stationed in training centers. We encourage the parties to compromise in the interest of achieving this vital benchmark without further delay.

An unfortunate result of the slow pace in the implementation of the transitional security arrangements is the fractures within the SPLM/A-IO. The desertions by forces led by Generals Gatwech, Olony and Thomas Dhul, and the conflicts between these groups and the forces loyal to Riek Machar will undermine the peace process. At the political level, this has exacerbated the imbalance between the main parties to the revitalized peace agreement. It is imperative that the parties put aside adversarial politics to work as a unity government in support of peace. For this reason, I joined the IGAD Council of Ministers and the South Sudan Presidency in calling on both factions to resolve their differences peacefully and politically. UNMISS will, in any event, be closely monitoring the evolution of the divisions within the SPLM/A IO, given that they could ignite violence within IDP camps.

Monitoring bodies report a decline in fighting between parties to the agreement. While this is positive, the increase in sub-national violence, as seen in Greater Tonj, Tambura and elsewhere is of great concern. The situation is aggravated by the proliferation of small arms, and, outside Juba, under-resourced state governance and security structures. There have been efforts to address some of this violence, including by UNMISS. While reiterating government’s primary responsibility to do more to protect civilians, we are increasing our grassroots engagements to promote community harmony and making available alternative rule-of-law institutions.

The re-designation of all the Protection of Civilians (POC) sites to IDP camps has been largely successful save for Malakal which remains a POC site. One of the positive results of this process has been greater flexibility on how we utilise our peacekeepers. Increasing the number of temporary operating bases and more long-range patrols, has allowed the Force to provide a security presence and create space for political reconciliation in hotspots such as Tambura, Tonj and Koch. We are also extending our reach, our transport technologies, and the periods that we are present in areas of intercommunal conflict during the rainy season, so as to extend our peacekeeping force from a six-month a year operation to a full 12 months a year.

Both the Government and South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance have blamed each other for insecurity on the Juba-Nimule road, the arterial road linking South Sudan to its southern neighbours. The Government has recently paused its participation in the Sant’Egidio- led talks, accusing the SSOMA of responsibility for the attacks on civilians on this road, and accordingly of engaging in talks in bad faith. For our part, we are committed to supporting the work of the Community of Sant’Egidio in bringing the hold-out parties within the framework of the peace agreement.

Mr. President,

We are concerned about the increasingly restricted civic space, the detention of journalists and leaders of civil society groups and the shutting down of internet service providers following the calls for non-violent protests by the People’s Coalition for Civic Action. We urge all participants in the peace process to continue to work together in a respectful and inclusive manner so as to expand civic and political space for an intra South Sudanese dialogue. Concomitantly, the restriction of this space is not auspicious for the creation of an environment in which elections can take place.

Mr. President,

I have text here on the dire humanitarian situation but in view of the imminent briefing by Reena Ghelani (OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Division), it is only necessary for me to say we witness these developments with considerable trepidation. We are particularly concerned following the recent announcement by the World Food Programme that they have exhausted their resources for the current year and will not be distributing rations and food to a number of IDP and POC camps until 2022. For as many as 100,000, this will push those dependent on such food aid into famine, as well as exacerbate tension between IDPs and humanitarian agencies.

Mr. President,

In conclusion, I would like to assure the Council that UNMISS is committed to continuously interrogating and improving the impact of our interventions, and more broadly to supporting the South Sudanese people in their search for a sustainable and overdue peace.

I thank the members of this Council for the support we have received from the Council.

Contact: UNMISS Chief of Communication and Public Information, Francesca Mold at mold2@un.org or unmiss-spokesperson@un.org