South Sudan President and Members of the UN Security Council pose for a group photo shortly after their meeting in Juba on 20 October 2019. Security Council members were in Juba to help progress the country's peace process.
Touching down in South Sudan, a high-powered delegation of 15 members of the United Nations Security Council described their flying visit as an opportunity to secure lasting peace in the conflict-affected country.
“There is an opportunity for the leaders of South Sudan to make political compromise and move forward to the next phase of the peace process in a credible, transparent and accountable manner,” said Ambassador Kelly Craft, the Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN.
“There is an opportunity for the people of South Sudan to live free of political violence and secure an economic future for their children. There is an opportunity to look forward to a new generation of South Sudan that does not depend on humanitarian assistance to foster human dignity,” she noted.
With just three weeks until a unified transitional government is due to be formed, the Security Council’s visit came at a critical and precarious stage in the peace process.
The delegation acknowledged that progress had been made since a peace deal was signed in September 2018, including a significant improvement in the security situation due to a ceasefire.
“We noted the reduction of political violence which has contributed to the return of 594,000 displaced people, increased food production, enhanced humanitarian access, and increased commerce among communities,” said Ambassaor Jerry Matthews Matjila, the Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations.
However, during lengthy meetings with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and other signatories to the peace agreement, including Opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar, the Security Council urged the leaders to expedite the implementation of the peace agreement and meet the November 12 deadline for forming a unified transitional government.
“We understand there are a lot of difficulties in this country. But your country is at a critical juncture and it is time for all of you to take responsibility and set aside differences to work together for the future,” Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy from the Russian Federation told the parties.
Key outstanding issues are proving to be a barrier to the progression of the peace process, including decisions on states and boundaries, and the reunification of security forces. The pre-transitional period of the peace agreement was extended for six months in May so that these could be resolved.
However, progress has been slow. Several Parties today indicated they preferred the option of a further extension while others said that the government could be formed on time as long as fresh benchmarks were set to ensure full implementation of the agreement. This was necessary to avoid inflicting further suffering on the citizens of South Sudan, they said.
“Women don’t declare war, but they are the victims of war,” said Josephine Lagu Yanga, speaking on behalf of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance. “They want the opportunity to restore their lives and their children’s lives. We must look to the future for the people rather than expressing ourselves in political positions.
Opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar expressed concern about the failure to reunify security forces and stated that his party would not join the government until that issue was resolved.
“Yes, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development stated that by the 12th of November there should be a new government… but the aspects that are needed for establishing the government are not there,” he said. “Suppose we force it on the 12th, we know what will happen, the ceasefire that we have been enjoying will be in jeopardy.”
The Security Council expressed its disappointment at that statement. It urged the Parties to compromise and show strong leadership to chart a way forward.
Deng Alor, a leader of the Former Detainees Party, expressed his commitment to progressing peace for the sake of the people who have suffered immense harm from the five-year conflict.
“We have become a liability to our own people as leaders because our people do not see us as sensitive enough to their problems and to be able to solve them. We need to show that we can move forward together to resolve our differences.”