“COVID-19 has slowed the peace process, but the pandemic is not entirely to blame. The peace agreement is limping along,” says David Shearer. “My concern about the delay is that it risks pushing elections out well beyond the timeline in the agreement.”
Speaking at a press conference in Juba today, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General said that fresh life and momentum needs to be urgently breathed into the peace process so that elections are not delayed.
“Cabinet is meeting irregularly, and people tell me that they want to see the President and Vice Presidents meeting and working closely together more often. The Transitional National Legislative Assembly is yet to be reconstituted, so necessary new laws are not being passed and progress on the constitution has been delayed, said Mr. Shearer, who is also the Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan.
While the international community and regional partners play an important role in supporting the peace process, the parties themselves must step up their efforts to regain lost momentum, he said.
The SRSG acknowledged the huge challenges faced by South Sudan, including falling oil prices, an ongoing lack of financial accountability, delays in paying civil servants, and a doubling of the street exchange rate since March. This is putting a huge burden on ordinary families.
“The role of the state is straightforward. Step one, account for the money coming into the country. Step two, account for how that money is spent,” said David Shearer. “It’s a simple process but it requires transparency and accountability. Every citizen of this country – as with any country – has the right to know what is being earned and what is being is spent on their behalf. That’s not available in South Sudan.”
The SRSG also expressed concern about a recent increase in peacekeepers being obstructed from reaching communities suffering from a surge in subnational conflict to cool the situation and encourage reconciliation. In the past few weeks, due to a change in approach by the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces, these kinds of operations have not been able to take place.
“For years, we have had an agreement to notify the armed forces when our peacekeepers move around the country. We do this out of respect for the sovereignty of South Sudan,” he said. “However, there is no sign of similar respect from the SSPDF for our need to have freedom of movement to protect civilians and build peace.”
As a result, the persistent obstructions have been reported to regional and international partners, including the Security Council and African Union.
The SRSG concluded with an update on the transition of Protection of Civilians sites to more conventional IDP camps. The sites were set up to provide sanctuary to people fleeing violence when civil war erupted in 2013. However, an assessment shows that, seven years on, no external threat to the sites exists.
The peacekeeping mission is gradually withdrawing troops from static duties at the camps and redeploying them areas where people’s lives are in immediate danger.
A Memorandum of Understanding was recently signed with the Jonglei Governor in relation to the Bor protection site where 1900 people live.
“This means the camp is now under the sovereign control and protection of the Government, as with other IDP camps around the country,” said David Shearer. “State authorities have committed to ensuring that no-one is forced to leave and UNMISS police officers are working with their local counterparts to build capacity. Of course, humanitarian assistance will continue.”
The transition process will continue at the remaining four protection sites as the situation permits.