South Sudan

Transcript of a press conference with Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of UNMISS

Welcome to everyone who is tuning in live to Radio Miraya. Let me take the opportunity of introducing my new head of communications Ben Malor.

Last week I briefed the Security Council in New York on developments in South Sudan. It was a good and productive meeting and Council Members engaged on several issues that are of importance to your listeners.

As I told the Security Council, my main concern is that the end of the transitional period is fast approaching, yet progress in implementing the Peace Agreement has been slow. With only eight months remaining, the window of opportunity to implement the key benchmarks is closing.

With that said, I'd like to acknowledge the progress where it has happened. This includes the formation of reconstituted transitional legislatures at national and state level. All speakers have been sworn in and heads of specialised committees appointed.

We've witnessed renewed legislative activity and debate. We do, however note with concern the current impasse in parliament and stalled deliberations. I encourage the parties concerned to resolve the outstanding issues and allow resumption of full parliamentary debates in the advancement of key legislation, including the Political Parties Bill, which importantly will allow for political parties to be registered.

I welcome the conclusion of the consultative process for the Commission of Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing, which was carried out in all 10 states with the support of the UN.

There have been other benchmarks achieved, but now what is required is national leadership, dedicated resources for completing the transition, and a visible commitment by South Sudan’s leaders to fulfil their responsibilities under the Peace Agreement. I call on all parties to demonstrate a collective common purpose, unity of purpose, by working together towards the full implementation of the agreement. I encourage the leaders to take the necessary steps for the country to exit its transitional period through the conduct a free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections.

Let me highlight some key areas that, in my opinion, must be prioritized:

First, I'd like to encourage the legislature to resume its sittings and to pass the Constitution Making Process Bill. This will govern the drafting of South Sudan’s permanent constitution and is critical for tackling the root causes of the protracted crisis in South Sudan by addressing issues of governance as well as federal power and revenue sharing.

Secondly, graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces is long overdue. The country must have a fully functioning, truly national security apparatus to ensure a safe and secure environment, but also as a prerequisite for citizens to vote to express their will at the polls.

Thirdly, the parties must work with the National Constitutional Amendment Committee to review the National Elections Act of 2012. This will provide the legislative framework for launching the electoral process and the formation of the National Elections Commission. We expect the compromises necessary for the Transitional National Legislative Assembly to complete its full legislative agenda, at least as contemplated by the Peace Agreement.

Fourthly, I'm urging the Government and all parties to redouble their efforts to agree on a Roadmap—with clear benchmarks, timelines, and priority tasks. This has been jointly called for by the African Union, IGAD, RJMEC, the UN, and other members of the international community.

It is particularly our hope that the parties will announce a formal election timetable.

It's not only technical arrangements and logistical planning that's necessary for elections to take place. What is also required is a free and open political environment. This means creating the space for a robust and competitive political process to take place: one that fosters nation building, not only division.

I am mindful that the people of South Sudan — particularly the listeners of Radio Miraya — remain hopeful for a kind of peace that means better days ahead. The impact of delays, however, is manifested in growing frustration across the country. Political defections are on the rise. And I am concerned that the scale of subnational violence is surging — it has spread from north to south, from east to west.

And on that note, I condemn in the strongest terms, the violence in Eastern and Central Equatoria, Unity, Warrap and Jonglei States, as well as around the Abyei Administrative Area.

This year, more than 80 per cent of civilian casualties have been attributed to intercommunal violence and community-based militias. This violence stokes divisions and hampers reconciliation efforts.

I'm deeply troubled by reports that sexual and gender-based violence have surged exponentially — on some accounts rising by as much as 500 per cent since the last time we reported. This impacts most severely on the women and girls who are the mothers, daughters, and sisters of this young nation.

UNMISS is supporting accountability and access to justice for survivors through a range of special and mobile courts — this included the first adjudication of rape trials through a General Court Martial process in Yei, Central Equatoria.

As I always do, let me emphasize that the primary responsibility of protecting civilians lies with the Government of South Sudan, and I urge the Government to bring all perpetrators to justice. This is a key to breaking the cycle of impunity. Those responsible for instigating horrific acts of violence must be held accountable And, in this regard, the recent convictions in the Yei General Court Martial process are an important step forward.

More broadly, the Mission continues to take all measures within our capabilities to provide immediate protection for civilians, to de-escalate tensions, to provide sanctuaries of peace for communities in the hope that they can start to rebuild their communities. Our efforts help to build community confidence and to reconcile fighting parties. They are always conducted in partnership with local authorities and local communities.

Our peacekeepers patrol constantly as we seek to keep communities safe by road, by air, and on water. In this regard, the Mission has continued its mobile operations to protect civilians and mitigate violence by establishing temporary operating bases in conflict hotspots. So far this year, our troops have established 35 such bases and these have helped to reduce overall levels of violence.

We are constantly seeking to innovate our peacekeeping responses. For example, our troops are undergoing training with all-terrain vehicles, which will enable us to reach conflict-prone areas more swiftly, irrespective of the weather, season, or road conditions.

Beyond patrolling and establishing bases, UNMISS has also been supporting communities by building dykes to mitigate the damage from floodwaters by maintaining road infrastructure; in establishing police stations, clinics, prisons, and schools; supporting the delivery of food and medicine — all while advising and mentoring our partners as they establish government structures.

Furthermore, we've destroyed some 20,000 items of unexploded ordnance and cleared nearly 2,000 kilometres of roads, making movements safe for community members, peacekeepers, as well as humanitarians. This work has rendered 10 schools alone safe for children to be educated.

I believe these are important interventions, as South Sudan navigates its way from war to lasting peace.

Yet, a stark reality faced by many people is that climate change coupled with conflict and food insecurity has created a humanitarian crisis of giant proportions. Flooding has displaced tens of thousands across the country.

And I personally have witnessed firsthand the effects of the floods on the flood-affected populations of Bentiu — and it is truly heartbreaking.

Our peacekeepers are working overtime in responding to these challenges. We are partnering with humanitarians to facilitate the delivery of aid supplies to conflict-affected communities in Kapoeta and Torit in Eastern Equatoria; Lainya in Central Equatoria; Yambio in Western Equatoria; Pibor, Gadiang, Pajut and Akobo in Jonglei; Leer in Unity, and Maban in Upper Nile.

But as needs grow with competing crises across the world, funds are diminishing. International partners are financially stretched, leading to shortfalls in funding. Less than 30 per cent of the $1.7 billion required for an adequate humanitarian response has been received. Our humanitarian colleagues are having to prioritize or reprioritize the assistance they are providing to the most vulnerable.

All of this means that the gravity of the situation requires South Sudan’s leaders to galvanize their efforts towards peace, development, and prosperity. As ever, the UN stands ready and willing to support — upon the invitation of, and in partnership with the Government.

With that, I thank you for listening today on the occasion of Radio Miraya’s 16th anniversary, I'm now ready to take any questions you may have.

Thank you.

Q & A:

MEDIA: You have said a lot of things and elections are one of the top issues you have highlighted. So it's now six months remaining for elections to take place, but there are no signs of the possibility for these elections to happen. What do you recommend to the parties to the Peace Agreement to do in this period of time?

Do you think, even if there is willingness for parties to commit themselves within the remaining six months, the country is really psychologically prepared for elections?

What is so urgent that the country needs to focus on regarding the elections?

SRSG: Let me take that question and then it may generate more answers.

I think elections are important; in part because this is what South Sudanese themselves agreed to when they signed the Peace Agreement. They agreed to hold elections, and as I understand it, they were putting an emphasis on the establishment of a legitimate, popularly supported government which had the support of the people of South Sudan and would be accountable to the people of South Sudan eventually.

Of course, that doesn't answer the question as to whether elections have to take place within the next six months, but we note that was what was originally contemplated by South Sudanese when they drafted the Peace Agreement.

In my view, and I think — as you correctly suggest and as the time continues to run — the possibility for those elections becomes less and less feasible. So, in my view, there is still the possibility if the parties were to work together to create both the technical conditions which are required for an election, in other words, to agree on the laws, and if there was common purpose and a common will, that could be done relatively expeditiously.

If, on the other hand, there's no common will, it's going to be more and more difficult to meet the finishing line in time. And as I mentioned in my opening remarks, I am conscious that it's not only technical preparations. This would be a difficult country to hold elections from a perspective of logistics: delivery of ballot papers, collection of ballot papers, tallying your ballot papers, the provision of all the civic and other education, which is required, the proper monitoring of the elections, so it wouldn't be easy in South Sudan. But it could be done if everyone wanted to go ahead and do it. And if I wanted to compare or show an example, I could think of the referendum when South Sudanese pulled together to make sure that the referendum took place.

Can they replicate the same level of common purpose to hold the elections? Well, that is up to the political parties and the leaders of South Sudan, and precisely why I'm making the call that I make today.

Are the elections urgent? They are as urgent as the South Sudanese want them to be. To be sure, if the parties were to agree to extend the period for the elections, they could do that as well. But that is not a decision that I think can be taken by outsiders or by the UN. And we really will take our lead from the South Sudanese as to how urgent and what priority they want to give to the elections.

Of course, there are some important processes which have to take place before elections can be held, at least as contemplated by the Peace Agreement. The new constitution, which will set out the arrangements by which South Sudanese live together, and this is a country in which people have divided violently twice in the last decade, it would be important at the end of the day for South Sudanese to come together and agree how you will live together and that takes place in the constitution-making — that difficult process has barely been started.

South Sudanese would also be required to compile some basis upon which the identification of voters could take place in the assurance that those who are voting haven't voted somewhere else, or voting twice or 3 or 4 times, and there are many ways of trying to establish that kind of machinery, but at least one way contemplates the census or registration of voters and that would be a difficult process as well. So, a start needs to be made and it needs to be made urgently on those issues.

MEDIA: My question will actually be related to what has been asked; however, there's clarification that I may also need. You are urging the parties to announce the formal elections. What are some of the elements that you will expect in the announcement of the formal elections?

SRSG: I think what is expected by the South Sudanese who will vote is some understanding of when the elections will take place, and an assessment as to whether the country is ready for elections. In my previous answer, what I neglected to mention, is that we place a great premium, not only on the technical conditions and preparations, but also on the political conditions where I think what my first question referred to as the right psychology in the country for holding elections. We think that also it has to be created and acceptable, and the political environment has to be of such a nature that South Sudanese people can engage in robust debate around their future, and of course, hopefully common agreement. The time of elections also is an opportunity for the country to celebrate its common values.

In my own country, South Africa, we had really important elections at our birth in 1994. They helped bring the country together and they were a nation-building moment. We would want elections in South Sudan to also be a nation-building moment and not a divisive one which triggers conflict.

I think the international community, which will be required to support the elections, also needs to know when the elections are likely to be held so that we can align and prioritize our support. But if we don't have a date, then nobody will really commit to supporting the elections and the South Sudanese will not get into the frame of mind which is necessary for elections to be.

**MEDIA: **I’ve never heard your voice over the shrinking space of the media and of civil society. The last time the parliamentarians had issues with themselves, and the media was invited; nine journalists were detained and that was not the first time that happened. And I never heard you trying to add your voice to this because before we talked election, we need to talk of freedom of expression first and trust before we talk of the election.

So, what is your call to the Government so that they can actually look at freedom of expression before anything?

SRSG: I have addressed this topic many times and in fact, I never speak without talking about the importance of creating the political and civic space for political competition and the competition of ideas to take place. And I think obviously for that to take place, there has to be a measure of respect for freedom of expression. It's unthinkable that you can have a free election if there is no freedom of expression. So, let me be clear on that.

MEDIA: In regard to intercommunal or tribal violence, do you have statistics of how many people were killed since January and up to June and how did it affect the Peace Agreement? How did the trouble of violence or conflict affect the Peace Agreement?

SRSG: I don't have those figures with me, but we have collected those figures, so we will supply those two you afterwards; we can get your details. We tend to produce those figures in three-month quarterly reports, and we have very precise calculations that, based on our reporting, we've been able to compile. I can share with you that there has been approximately an 11 per cent drop in the overall casualties since this time last year. But there's been a 500 per cent increase in reports of gender-based violence, so it's not all happy news around a steady decline.

We are very concerned about the current levels of intercommunal violence, sometimes called subnational violence or militia-based violence, but we noticed that the causes are very different in different parts of South Sudan. There's not a single cause of intercommunal violence. What's happening around the fringes of the Abeyei is not the same as what's happening in Central Equatoria or Western Bahr-El Ghazal or in Western Equatoria; but, we do know there's been a surge more recently, simply the extent of the areas which have been affected by intercommunal violence, and we would want to hope that is not a signal that with elections and competition, there will be increased intercommunal violence. We think that all both political leaders, national leaders and local leaders have to work together to mitigate the levels of intercommunal violence that we now see.

MEDIA: What will be the impact of low oil production, increases in commodity prices in the market, and food assistance cuts announced recently by WFP, on peace and security?

In regard to the transitional period, with six months remaining to the end of the transitional period, in case that South Sudanese parties decided to extend the transitional period, what's going to be the stand of UN or the international community?

You were talking about ways to mitigate the intercommunal or subnational violence. How can this be addressed when we have firearms in the hands of unauthorized people in the country? The UN, in other countries, has been supporting the government in other African countries in order to collect the firearms from unauthorized people. What are you going to do in this regard?

SRSG: The first question was generally to address the question of food insecurity and its impact on the country and on subnational violence. I think South Sudan is a very clear case where we see the connection between climate change and violence, and we see it mostly in the form of competition over scarce resources, diminution of grazing land caused by floods and other natural disasters. Not only does it generally render the population subject to a horrible humanitarian crisis, but it also sets communities against communities as they compete for less and less resources, including water and land. So, I think it requires all of us who want to help South Sudan as well as the South Sudanese to address the question of climate change, but also at the community level to address the question of how best to share resources in these difficult times. Is there a relationship between food insecurity and violence? Absolutely, and we see it more generally in the levels of anxiety among communities and people at the grassroots level as they worry about the survival of their children, and they worry about where they're going to get their next meal. It also has an impact on rising levels of crime as people start to take the law into their own hands in order to get the wherewithal to survive.

Regarding the extension of the peace agreement — the time period of the peace agreement — we would acknowledge that if there is a postponement of the election which will require an extension of the peace agreement which will require, in turn, an amendment to the Peace Agreement. Now, the Peace Agreement itself makes provisions for the agreement to be amended. It is quite a complicated process. It goes to all the parties to sign the agreement first, then it goes to the cabinet, then it goes to RJMEC and then to the National Assembly for endorsement. That is quite a high set of requirements, and it requires the country to be more or less in concert and agreement, or for there to be a broad consensus on the need to extend the agreement.

In my view, I think the South Sudanese would be able to come together to make that decision to decide: no, we're not going to extend, we will rather conduct elections in this environment; or to say this environment is not conducive for elections, we need to extend the period. Of course, it may give rise to debate as to how long the agreement must be extended, but that is why we precisely are asking for a Roadmap. Give us an idea as to how long and think about how long it will be necessary to extend the Peace Agreement so that we will have a clearer idea of the extension.

The final question really addressed the issue of subnational violence from the perspective of the imperative of disarmament. Disarmament, together with some other critical questions like demobilization and integration of former combatants is a complex question which has to be taken up through the politicians and agreed by South Sudanese as to how they would go about it. Disarmament requires a level of community support before it can be effective, and that requires consultation with communities. It requires politicians to engage with the communities to establish that support. It can be a fraught process if it doesn't have that support, but I must say for myself — and I travelled to all 10 provinces in the course of my period here — it is a one demand which I've seen almost every community echo which is a need to reduce the level of armament, or the level of weapons present in society outside the hands of the state security structures. How you undertake that process is always going to be an important but critical question, and there are different ways of going about it. There is cash for guns which is known as the Liberian model. There is reduction of community violence, which is the model most of the international community would support. There is a demand by many South Sudanese that before there can be a successful disarmament process, we need to answer the question as to what happens to the demobilized soldiers. All of these questions require a proper and full public debate.

Is there support for it? I believe there is. But what we do know is that Community A does not want to give up its arms unless Community B also gives up its arms. So, it has to be a process which implicates everybody at the same time together.

MEDIA: I think all the questions are exhausted, but it is also good to wish Radio Miraya a happy birthday and it's also good to welcome my former BBC colleague. Thank you, Ben, for being here. The question of election is a key question. I would like you to give us your own assessment of the implementation of the peace. Are you happy, as UNMISS, with the way how the peace process is going? If you are happy, what makes you happy about it; if not, why?

Secondly, with regards to elections, I've been reading that there are talks going on for the extension of the transitional period and you have already said South Sudanese can decide. In your opinion, as a peacekeeping mission, if elections were to be conducted, would it truly be free, fair and credible elections in this short period of time?

MEDIA: What are some of the arrangements or some of the preparations that you have done so far for this election coming after six months?

Then the second question is: we are now approaching the time of election and in some parts of the country many citizens are losing their lives. How possible is it for these innocent civilians who are dying to feel comfortable to participate in an election? And yet the political leaders are sometimes still complicating things in the other parts of the country. What is the UN saying about it?

SRSG: Let me take the last question. It's not our job to prepare the elections. It's the job of South Sudanese. We stand ready to assist and we've made it clear that if an invitation is extended to us to assist, we will assist. But I think it's important to point out to South Sudanese that it is not for the foreigners to organize an election. There has to be national ownership of your own electoral process.

Let me deal with some of the other questions: am I happy with the peace implementation and the way it's been undertaken? Quite frankly, we've made it clear we believe that the rate of implementation has been slow, and it now poses challenges to the adequate achievement to the benchmarks which are set out in the Peace Agreement and required to take place before the elections. We've made that clear and we've shared that view with the Government, and we've shared it with opposition parties that there needs to be a level of serious intent if they want to make the finishing line in time.

Should they decide to extend that period, that is not something which I want to comment on. That will have to be a decision taken by South Sudanese with the full knowledge of what they're capable of, but I think also with a sense of responsibility for the decisions they take. Which is to say that we don't want to fix a date for South Sudanese because they will say, “that’s the UN date”. We want the South Sudanese to say we've looked at what the process requires; we have developed a roadmap which contemplates the following benchmarks and timelines; we will be responsible for ensuring that those timelines are met, and not outsiders. That's generally our approach on the question of who should be responsible for determining the roadmap.

We are more than willing to engage in the debates on the basis of comparative examples and our experiences to the time that's required, but, at the end of the day, it must follow the process contemplated by the Peace Agreement itself for extending the period.

And then I was asked: is it possible for elections to be free and fair? As a general question, as an abstract question, it is certainly possible for elections to be free and fair in South Sudan. Do those conditions currently exist? That I am not sure of, and I believe that South Sudanese need to come together to establish what the political conditions would be for elections to take place.

I am aware that a number of parties believe that those conditions do not yet exist. That may be true as of June 2022. Is it possible to create those conditions? I believe it would be if there was goodwill and serious intent to do so.