South Sudan

Press Conference - Opening Remarks and Q&A, Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Juba, 2 June 2021

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Good morning everybody. Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to those who are tuning in live on Radio Miraya.

As you know, I arrived in Juba to take up the role of SRSG about six weeks ago. Although I’ve spent almost 20 years working in greater Sudan, and much of that on South Sudan itself, I recognized it was important for me to prioritize getting out of the Juba bubble and visiting all 10 states to understand how UNMISS could best support the peacebuilding process.

During my many meetings with local authorities, their messages were pretty consistent. They need help to prevent subnational conflict, they need improved infrastructure, and support in grassroots efforts towards reconciliation and peace.

Without peace, meaningful infrastructural development cannot take place. Without peace, displaced families cannot return home. Without real and lasting peace, progress in almost every aspect of South Sudan’s social, economic, and political life is impossible. Real peace will give South Sudan’s citizens the ability to determine their future.

When renewing our mandate, the Security Council recognized the imperative of peacebuilding and directed UNMISS to advance a three-year strategic vision to prevent a return to civil war; to build durable peace at the local and national levels; and to support inclusive and accountable governance and free and fair peaceful elections.

While it is first and foremost the responsibility of the Government and its security forces to protect citizens from violence, the UN is doing everything it can to help create a more secure environment. We are rebalancing our military peacekeepers to take a more nimble, robust, and proactive approach to the protection of civilians. We are deploying troops to conflict hotspots, setting up temporary bases, and intensifying patrols to deter conflict.

We are doing everything we can to protect humanitarian workers and supplies, and to secure access to those services, including rebuilding 3,500 kilometres of roads. This work is vital to improving trade and access to basic services, and to enable communities to connect.

We are also supporting broader protection activities to enable and encourage displaced people to return home through quick-impact projects, such as building medical clinics, schools, police posts and courthouses.

We are actively working with political and traditional leaders, as well as civil society, to push the peace process forward. Our priority is to provide technical assistance to build the capacity of local institutions, reform the security and justice sectors, and to progress important elements of the broader peace deal, such as constitution-making and, ultimately, free and fair elections.

In terms of election preparation, the Security Council recently asked for a needs assessment to look at security, procedural, and logistical requirements to enable elections to be held. We are working closely with that needs-assessment mission, which will shortly be reporting to the Security Council itself. We will keep you updated.

We are firmly committed to supporting the peace process. But I must emphasize it is not something that we can do alone. Our work must be in support of South Sudanese stakeholders and in partnership with the international community. The peace process must be led and owned by the people of South Sudan to ensure that the peace that is achieved is sustainable.

Last week, I had the pleasure to be with President Kiir and other leaders at the workshop that launched the permanent constitution-making process as part of the Revitalised Peace Agreement. The stakes could not be higher. Drafting a national constitution is a quintessential act of sovereignty.

It is the basis for the organization of the state. It expresses the highest aspirations of a nation and its most cherished values. Constitutions have come to be regarded as a social contract between the citizens of a particular country. As such, the permanent constitution of South Sudan will reflect a series of promises between the parties to the peace agreement and the people. These promises will set the rules for South Sudan’s future of peace, stability, and prosperity.

It’s important that the constitution-making process is inclusive and enables a national conversation. If solutions to conflict and divisions come from the people, then a durable peace is likely to have a surviving chance. This requires the constitution-makers to build trust with the public, a trust based on transparency and democratic practice.

If values of social equality and harmony, reconciliation, are to be absorbed into the political culture, then it is critical that they are embraced by all the citizens. UNMISS is actively assisting parties and in supporting their public engagement in this endeavour.

This week, I joined a delegation of representatives from the African Union, IGAD, R-JMEC, and the African diplomatic community based here in Juba on a visit to Pibor. We all share deep concern over the violence between community-based militias that has escalated in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area.

While recognizing that there has lately been some improvements in security in Pibor, it’s important that the Government of South Sudan takes concrete steps to address the root causes of the conflict.

For our part, we are working closely with local authorities and communities in Jonglei to promote reconciliation; to secure the release of abducted women and children; and we have assisted with protection of humanitarian workers and supplies, established temporary bases, and increased patrols in the conflict hotspots there.

South Sudan is entering a new phase of its transition and people’s expectations are high. There is hope for progress in the implementation of the peace agreement. As partners in that process, we will continue to work with South Sudanese and international partners to provide stability and prosperity for its citizens.

In closing, I’d like to look forward to the coming commemoration of a decade of independence on the 9th of July. It’s important that we use this occasion to look back at that historic and important achievement when South Sudan became the world’s newest nation. It is also a chance to look to the horizon and what needs to be done to secure the peace and development that people have fought so hard for.

Throughout the journey from independence to today, the UN has been working and walking alongside the people of South Sudan as a partner for peace. Last week, we commemorated the contribution of our peacekeepers to this country on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. We recognized the effort and sacrifice made by peacekeepers from around the world who are dedicated to improving the lives of communities across the country. We also remembered 83 of our colleagues who have lost their lives in the service of the UN and South Sudan.

Too many people have died and suffered because of conflict in this country. We now have the chance to honour that loss by securing durable peace for future generations.

While some important progress has been made, peace remains fragile and there is much to be done in the interest of advancing that peace. Courageous decisions need to be made, including the unification of security forces. I urge the people and leaders of South Sudan to breathe fresh life into the peace process and fully implement the agreement, including by finalizing the constitution and eventually holding elections.

Lastly, it is important to mention that, like all peacekeeping missions, UNMISS continues to face the great challenge of delivering on our mandate while supporting the national-led response to COVID-19.

The UN family is helping educate communities about prevention measures and supporting the work of health authorities, most recently with the vaccination programme. As new and more virulent strains continue to emerge, vaccinations are our best defence against this virus. They work best when full populations embrace them. I’m fortunate to have been vaccinated, and I urge everyone who is able to do so as well, in consultation with their doctors.

COVID-19 continues to pose a significant threat to us all. But it will not deter us from supporting South Sudan in its quest for peace.

On that note, I’d like to thank you for being here. I’m happy to take your questions.