Fresh momentum must be injected into South Sudan’s peace process to stop citizens from becoming disillusioned by delays and to hold elections on time, the UN’s top envoy to South Sudan told the Security Council on Wednesday.
During the briefing to the Security Council, David Shearer, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, said that COVID-19 had slowed implementation of the peace agreement but is not entirely to blame for delays.
“We are seeing a reversion to a ‘business as usual’ approach where progress on the peace agreement itself is put on hold,” said Shearer, who is also the Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan.
“The continuing delays risk pushing elections out well beyond the timeline prescribed in the agreement,” said the UN envoy. “That will add to growing disillusionment among communities about whether the political will exists to give South Sudanese citizens the opportunity to choose their own leaders.”
Shearer urged the international community to use its influence to inject fresh momentum into the process to maintain confidence among signatories to the agreement.
On the positive side, he went on to say, the transitional government is operating with activities in ministries well underway and with the appointment of state governors dampening tensions in the regions.
But he said there has been little movement on security sector reform, with the Transitional National Legislative Assembly yet to be reconstituted and constitutional work deferred.
Shearer highlighted the humanitarian plight of communities across the country, with the combination of COVID-19, devastating floods, economic crisis, and subnational violence worsening an already dire situation.
From January to July, UNMISS documented 575 incidents of intercommunal conflict involving 3854 victims – an increase of more than 300 per cent compared to the same period last year.
Shearer described how the sharp upturn in subnational conflict stems from splintering between and within groups. “The difference this year is that external political actors are also fuelling these local conflicts with heavier weaponry and advanced military tactics,” he said.
The envoy raised concern about local security forces blocking UN peacekeepers from reaching civilians in need as a result of what he called a “serious deterioration” in coordination mechanisms used for UNMISS movements.
“COVID-19 can be partly blamed, but the influence of hardliners in the security forces is the principal obstacle,” he said. “We continue to work cooperatively with the SSPDF, but we are impressing on the government that the current restrictions on our ability to carry out our mandate are unacceptable. To avoid future confrontation, it is critical this issue is resolved quickly.”
One year after providing a comprehensive report to the Security Council on the future of UN Protection of Civilians sites, the SRSG provided an update on the transition of the sites to conventional Internally Displaced Persons camps.
Shearer described how the UN had courageously opened its gates to people fleeing violence in 2013. But seven years on, he said, there is no longer an external threat to POC sites, and noted that people are staying mostly to access humanitarian services.
In response, he said, troops and police are gradually being withdrawn from static duties at POC sites and redeployed to hotspots where people’s lives are in immediate danger.
Following the gradual withdrawal of peacekeepers, the POC sites will be re-designated and sovereign control of them will lie with the South Sudanese government, not the UN.
“Let me be clear,” the UN envoy stressed. “Nobody will be pushed out or asked to leave when this transition occurs. Humanitarian services will continue. Our belief is that it’s no longer necessary for those 168,000 living in a PoC to have any special status compared to 1.6 million other displaced people living in other camps across the country.