South Sudan

UNMISS SRSG David Shearer press briefing transcription (near- verbatim), 22 February 2017

News and Press Release
Originally published

UNMISS Spokesperson Daniel Dickinson - We are welcoming Radio Miraya listeners live to this press conference and you can also follow us live on twitter. The SRSG will make a few introductory remarks and then we will take some questions. And when you ask the question, can you please identify yourself and the media that you work for. Thanks very much. SRSG over to you.

SRSG Shearer -Thank you Daniel and good morning everybody. It’s good to be here. I’ve met some of you at various times over the past few weeks, when we we’ve been doing impromptu press statements but this is the first official one that I have done, and I am suggesting that we do this regularly, and if the situation or an event permits we will put on a special one in addition to that.

As Daniel said, it’s a great pleasure to have Radio Miraya tuned in on this live. I think that’s excellent and the fact that we have so much coverage with Radio Miraya across the country is a real asset for people to be able to hear this as well. I will just make couple of brief points and then I’m happy to take questions from people here

First of all I have been here just a little over a month now, it’s been a time as you can imagine when I have been trying to get an understanding of what is happening in the country; I have been meeting with many people within the government, some within the opposition and most importantly travelling around the country. So I have been to Rumbek, visited Wau, Bentiu, Malakal and today straight after this conference I will be going down to Yambio, and I am intending to travel, at least one day, probably two days every week. For the simple reason that while here in Juba, there’s 500,000 people; there’s 11,000,000 people out there in the rest of the country, and I want to be able to have a good look, and see the situation and context; both the political, humanitarian and the economic context, in which people are living. Being able to get around and talk to people, ordinary South Sudanese citizens where ever I meet them, has been a priority for me and I will continue to do that during my course of being the SRSG here.

That has been; I have to say just a comment on that, it’s been a really interesting time for me to able to understand what is going, both in terms of understanding the very complicated and often very different contexts in every place that I have been.

Rumbek; the tensions in Rumbek are very different from the tensions that I saw in Malakal for example, because of the politics, the ethnic makeup etc. so it’s important that I understand that context. But also from the point of view of understanding what the UN is doing out in the field, and a lot of what we are doing is unreported; some of the Civil Affairs work for example, that we are doing, bringing groups together, people together, working alongside the governors to be able to encourage dialogue, and reconciliation for example, is one thing that is very rarely reported and yet is very important to the work that the UN is doing.

So as I say I will continue to do that. Just a couple of mentions I think of the big news of this week, and that is yesterday, as you all know the president gave his address to the parliament, I was there and present and just couple of comments on that. First of all, I thought that his remarks about the national dialogue, basically expanding on what he had mentioned already in December were welcome. The fact that this is going to be something that will be led by the South Sudanese, we anticipated and expected that, which is good. And secondly and I think for the United Nations, our issue about that is, we have had a considerable amount of experience with national dialogues across the world. We had a couple of experts in here over the past week or so, on how to, in terms of running national dialogues what we have learned from other places, and we are ready to provide that support to the government as they progress forward.

I think the most important thing for us is to make sure that any national dialogue is inclusive, that means we are looking at the widest range of actors coming into that. If we are going to be genuine about seeking peace and ultimately there is reconciliation involved in that, then we have to spread the dialogue wide. But I was, I certainly welcomed the president’s attention to the national dialogue and the way that he laid it out.

Also in his speech he mentioned the issue of access, this is something that the international community certainly the United Nations, many humanitarian organizations have struggled with; gaining access. There is obviously logistical problems in the state of roads but more importantly is being able to get through check points and get permissions, to be able to travel from one place to another, and the fact that he mentioned, made mention of this things in his speech, and that he would ensure that we were able to get to particular areas was very welcome, as well, and we will certainly follow up on that as well.

So I thought the speech certainly touched on a number of issues which were of interest to us and we will continue that on, and it’s good to get that sort of interest at the highest level within the country

The other thing that I just wanted to touch on was the report of the FAO, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN that came out on Monday and this was about the famine situation in some parts of Unity State and the food deficits in other parts of the country as well.

I visited Unity state and several of those areas around Leer just two weeks ago, so I can confirm that the situation there is indeed serious, in terms of food shortages, and I guess that the two or three issues that I wanted just want to point out is that; first of all, there is nothing about these food shortages which is about a drought or climatic problems. It is all about man made problems, which is conflict, which has displaced people, it is meant that people are not able to partake in their ordinary livelihoods; they have been displaced and as a result they find themselves short of coping mechanisms and have to rely outside food aid. This is not a situation that we would like to see, we want to see people on their own, in their own homes, on their land and being able to cope for themselves.

Secondly the issue is obviously of trying to address some of those shortfalls, and that’s what the United Nations will try and do obviously with the support of donors. There’s’ going to be a need to be a very big donor mobilization in terms of being able to raise, attract money, to fund the shortfalls and we are looking at 1.6 billion dollar humanitarian appeal this year. It’s an enormous amount of money and it’s particularly tragic, as I say, because most of the problems are brought about because there isn’t peace in the country and people are leaving, and fleeing their homes. So obviously peace, ceasefire and getting back onto the track of the peace process is, we believe, is a priority not just for the future of the country but obviously for the people who are suffering most, which as always are, women and children in many of the places which can’t be accessed.

And so let me leave it there, and I am happy to take further questions; I just wanted to touch on those three points, obviously my introductory remarks about being here for one month, the national dialogue and the results of the FAO food survey that came out recently. Thank you

Spokesperson: Okay thank you. So questions please, do we have a microphone. Oh great Taban thanks

Reuters: My question is a bit different from what you have just mentioned, given the recent high level resignation by the military officers in charge of the SPLA court. What does the UN think about whether soldiers are accountable, for abuses and is UNMISS following up on the case of Kubi gang rape case for example? Thank you.

SRSG Shearer -Just in terms of the resignations of staff, I don’t have a comment on that. That is something that it’s really about the government to address rather than who is in the government and who is not in the government. I mean they’ve stated their reasons for leaving, I have no ability to verify one way or the other about that. But coming to your point on the…look when it comes to trying and holding soldiers to account for possible atrocities that they have committed yes, absolutely, we are, we believe that it is the position of the government that these soldiers should be held to account, and that they should be put in front of a proper tribunal or a court, and their case be heard.

I was pleased to see that there was change in direction, in terms of ensuring that people are given a trial, before any punishment might be meted out. The UN does not sanction executions, but we definitely believe that any sort of climate of impunity only encourages more atrocities to take place, so it’s important that we, that the government stamps down firmly on any abuses that might occur, in the course of operations and makes sure that, that that goes before proper judicial process.

Radio Miraya -Recently we had a situation in Wau Shilluk; I just read a release yesterday by CTSAMM that they were denied access into the area. Now I am wondering what does the mission know about the situation in Wau Shilluk, did the mission have access there? Can you just shed a little bit of light about Wau Shilluk?

Answer: Yes I was in Malakal last week, we had discussions with the SPLA, with the governor there, and we have wanted to get into Wau Shilluk for the last few days, so far we have been denied access by the SPLA. The reason we want to get access into the area is simply is because we want to see the plight of the civilians and what needs are there so that we can mobilize potential humanitarian assistance to assist those people. We are continuing to try to get into Wau Shilluk and also to Kodok, further north along the Nile River, where we understand many people have fled to. But at the moment, we lack the ability to understand exactly, what the situation for people is, and that’s our sole concern; which is about making sure we are able to address, we think about 20,000 people, which have fled Wau Shilluk and are likely to be heading North on the West Bank of the Nile and what their situation might be.

Al Jazeera: So the UN has been calling for a return to the peace process since July, may be even before that but all we have seen since then is more people fleeing, more fighting, lack of access, for humanitarian actors and now we’ve got the declaration of famine. Isn’t it time you tried something else besides calling the government to return to the peace process, or is it that you are out of options?

SRSG Shearer - Well I think the peace process is, has been set down, it’s well established, there have been significant discussions by regional partners, which at the end of the day, I guess are the parents of the peace process; in terms of IGAD and JMEC, that are here on the ground. They have the particular role of monitoring and ensuring that the various phases of the peace process are undertaken. And there has been some; certainly I was in Addis about three weeks ago where there was certainly an agreement amongst the IGAD countries and the AU, about providing a greater degree of focus from President Konare and from President Mogae here on the ground, to move things forward. But ultimately when it comes to peace, that peace is in the heads of the government and the opposition group here in the country. I mean it has to be on the basis of a negotiated settlement and so having those players involved is a positive thing, but ultimately it lies in the hands of those people who are fighting, that are where peace ultimately rests with

DPA News Agency: You mentioned that the famine that was declared two days ago was man made, can you elaborate more on that, second what will be the intervention or the role played by UN or UNMISS since there is food deficit in the country, How would you fill that gap?

SRSG – Shearer - In contrast to other parts of the region and the East Africa region where for example in Ethiopia they are suffering from drought and that is being the reason for their short fall, here in South Sudan, with the exception of the area around kapiweto and the very extreme sort of South East, there hasn’t been any climatic issues around food deficit. What’s happening instead is with the fighting in the Equatorias which is traditionally food basket of South Sudan, we've had many hundreds and thousands of people fleeing that area which means they are not producing food which means there's a ,just in that area there is a 100,000 metric ton deficit in the food as a result of production that will not go ahead because people are simply not there. So they are fleeing because of conflict, they are fleeing because they fear for their lives and as a result of that we have a food deficit. On top of that the conflict has exacerbated the economic situation so the inflation rate means that peoples' ability to buy food with the South Sudanese Pounds has been eroded and that has also created major problems and particularly for people up in Western Bahr el Ghazal and that area which relied on trade and food being able to get up there. We’ve seen livestock prices falling and cereal prices rising and that's creating problems for families in those areas as well. So that's what I mean by man-made situation. In terms of intervention , the WFP who leads this operation has been doing so very successfully and very professionally over the last few years- will continue its plan for the distribution of food and where there's food , obviously what we would like to is to be able to move food by road because we can move most by road or in some cases by barge, we are having problems with access with the rainy season coming , the roads for example from Juba to Wau , through the Bentui and around that arc around the western part of the country will become more difficult with rains , but we are also seeing multiplying of the number of small check points which are along that road as well . And there are now several dozen check points which stop our vehicles for various reasons and that is why I was pleased that the President mentioned in his speech that they would facilitate access , because that message has to go right down to not just from the Generals but right down to the unlisted people on checkpoints . So they will roll out a very large program and where we can reach areas by road or by barge, we will have to consider air drops but they are hugely expensive and they don't deliver the amount of food that is needed in those particular areas, particularly in Unity State which is the most severe. I have to say I mean the world hasn’t declared famine for five years in any area of the world. This is the first that happened in five years. We will certainly do our best to reach those people, the citizens of South Sudan who are not getting enough food.

This Day News Paper - As you did mention in your briefing that you welcome the national dialogue that the president put clearly yesterday at the national assembly and in your own opinion you have seen the political situation, the senior members of the government are resigning and they are also some analysts from across the country and outside the country are criticizing the National dialogue that it is not going to be inclusive In your opinion how is it going to be in terms of peace building ?

SRSG – Shearer - I think that's a very important question. We have said from the very beginning when the National dialogue was first announced, the UN would support an inclusive national dialogue. So it has to be inclusive. The second point is we haven't seen the details of the national dialogue yet, only seen the broad kind of layout of how it might go ahead. So we are waiting to see how those details might emerge. but I think the third thing is as you said it has to be inclusive and therefore we will offer the support that we can provide to make sure that happens and we have been involved in national dialogues in Yemen, Tunisia, Mali, just to name a few where the UN has supported national efforts on the ground to bring the various parties together. We have offered that support and we will provide that support so that it does meet what we would like to consider the conditions to make sure that the national dialogue is in fact inclusive.

VOA - You did say peace agreement is well established deal. Are you convinced on the full implementation of the peace deal so far? My second question is on the issue of access; yes you did mention the several blockages, is this across the country or is this in the Wau Shilluk area? Can you shed a bit of light how serious is the issue of accessibility especially UNMISS is facing in attempts to reach several areas that are in need of humanitarian aid?

SRSG shearer -Just on your first point I think I touched on that before to say that there is a peace agreement that was established and I think after the fighting of last year, the process has definitely not taken place, not progressed in the way that we would want it to, that's obvious, what we are hoping with the engagement of the international community in particular the regional community, we might be able get back on the track again. That’s certainly our hope. On access, access takes various forms, certainly Wau Shulluk is one particular example, but it's one example of many where we had been asked to go to particular areas. We wanted to go to kajo keji the other day and we had to wait four days before we were able to get clearance to go. In the end I asked the forces and police group that was going down the road there who had been turned back I think three days in a row , they slept at the checkpoints and finally they were able to go down there the following morning . We will continue to be robust about wanting to go to particular places and we will make that clear to the government; but let me give you another example of lacking access. We have well over hundred military personnel who are joining various peacekeeping groups across the country who are waiting outside for visas at the moment and there is some problem within the bureaucracy of the government which is not allowing them to be able to get into the country. This is a real problem and it interferes with the effective operations of our forces. As I said to the government we as the UN, are required by the Security Council to record areas where there have been access problems or were we have a violation of state of forces agreement that has been signed between the UN and the government of south Sudan . And we record those and we send that to the Security Council. I would be delighted if we were able to see a reduction in a number of those violations and so we are able to say to the Security Council the situation is getting better. I think that would be positive on both sides, both on the government side and for the UN as well. So I would like to see a greater degree of compliance with agreements that are already signed some time ago.

Channel News Asia - Yesterday the President urged people living in the PoC sites to move back to their homes. Is this something the mission is advocating for or supports that? And if that's true how will the mission support the transition between leaving the camps and settling back in their homes?

SRSG Shearer - This is a good question, thank you. Yes we do support people moving out the Protection of Civilians (PoC) camps, but that has to happen voluntarily from the people who leave. We are not pushing them out. What we need to be able to do is to establish the conditions which will encourage them to go back. And there are two major conditions; one is they feel secure physically form the security point of view, that when they are going back, they are going back to their homes and there is not going to be threat or risk of their lives and I have asked our peace keeping forces wherever possible to be able to push out of the camp and start doing patrols in conjunction with the governor of the particular area so that these people can have a greater sense of confidence about being able to move back. Second part of that confidence is making sure that they have the ability to particularly when they move back where their lively hoods are destroyed, where they don't have anything to fall back on, just to make sure that food distributions for example are able to happen in the place of their residence. And we are looking at that with humanitarian organizations to try and coordinate so that is able to happen and we have done that. To give you one small example when we do food in the town of Leer, anybody from the PoC site which is about sixteen or seventeen hundred people near the peacekeeping camp, they have to go to town to pick it up. So people are slowly starting to drift back to their homes. So it is a voluntary thing, but we can try and put the conditions in place for people to move back. It's incredibly important over the next couple of months because as you know the rainy season will be here, people will need to start planting. If they missed this planting season, then we are condemned to having another cycle of a year for people to be in camps because they can’t go back to their homes. So we are anxious that we are able to move people along as much as possible. So thanks for the question.

Radio Miraya - Could you tell us more about humanitarian response planned given the fact that famine was declared in the country and there is this response planned that government and humanitarian agencies put in place (paraphrased)

SRSG shearer- The price tag is on 1.6 billion dollars. There is an increase in the number of people that we are trying to reach particularly with food aid. That's the critical issue and that's getting more than five and a half million people will be in food deficit this year. So that is an increase from last year by half a million of people. In addition to that obviously there's an array of health requirements that is needed in addition to food. I think food takes up about a billion dollars of that more than one and a half billion. In addition to that what we are trying to do is to not look at simple kind of basic food supply but also some of the seeds, tools, fishing equipment etcetera which will enable people being more self-sufficient on top of that as well . And that's part of the array of support as well as to education, and as I said to health services. So it’s a very big package, the critical issue will be whether the donors will be able to support. I hope they do ,because clearly people are in desperate need and what we would like obviously is the government has said that it would provide I think one percent of the total as well from its budget and we will certainly welcome the government's contribution as they committed to when it was launched earlier this week

Aljazeera - Mr. David you said that you're hoping that the peace process gets back on track , obviously that's very challenging with so many fragmented armed groups , not just between the government and the opposition IO but there are so many armed groups in the Equatorias and parts of the greater Upper Nile , grater Unity State . My question is , how long do you think South Sudanese can take before the UN or the International Community actually decides to take a stronger step to try to make sure that South Sudan survives?

SRSG shearer -I think the UN has been taking pretty strong steps if you read for example the response from the Security Council , I can’t think about a place where it was any stronger than the statement that has come out of the Security Council . You know it depends on what you are anticipating in a sense the UN is able to do. We had 12,000 troops and we are able to keep the peace but basically as you said there is has been some fragmentation and there is not a lot of peace to be kept at the moment but ultimately it is only true and I guess we have a process which is in track certainly from the regional countries supporting the promotion of a peace agreement. That's definitely there and it’s been a re-commitment over the last two or three weeks. We are hopeful that, that commitment will provide the spot to get the peace process back on track again.

UNMISS Spokesperson - Thanks everybody, thanks for coming and we hope to see you soon.