Near verbatim remarks by Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General's Special Representative and Head of UNMISS, at the South Sudan National Livestock Conference
Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan, His Excellency, Dr. James Wani Igga
Honorable Ministers, Governors,
Members of the Transitional National Assembly,
It’s a pleasure and privilege to be here with you today as we examine the challenges of cattle raiding and migration-related violence in South Sudan.
We are all aware that livestock plays a central role in the fabric of life in this country. It has been vital to the economy, the culture, and social structure of the people of South Sudan even before this nation gained its independence.
And this is what makes it a valuable form of currency and, therefore, both an incentive for both cooperation as well as an incentive for conflict among communities.
But whereas cattle raids were once cyclical, small scale, and mostly localised, the nature of this consequential violence has changed.
Similarly, cattle migration was traditionally well-planned and peaceful; however, these trends have changed, with violent clashes between cattle keepers and crop growers.
Cattle- and migration-related violence can claim hundreds of lives in a single incident, leading to widespread sexual and gender-based violence, destruction and loss of property and assets, and mass displacement.
In the second quarter of 2022, our Human Rights Division reported that community-based militias and self-defence groups, whose main objective is to protect herds of cattle from external attack, were in fact responsible for 60 per cent of civilian deaths.
Unregulated transhumance—the flow of cattle through migration routes—also continues to be a major driver of communal conflict in South Sudan. It is not just a domestic phenomenon, but one that crosses regional borders and invokes sensitive issues of ethnic politics, land ownership, borders, grazing rights and access to water.
In all these scenarios, the proliferation of weapons, lack of economic livelihoods, and climate change are contributing factors. But nor can we ignore the manipulation of local-level conflict by national political actors, which adds fuel to the fire.
Prolonged insecurity has led to the erosion of traditional, local, and state authorities. And in the absence of dispute resolution, criminal accountability and justice mechanisms, a culture of impunity has taken root. This sparks vicious cycles of counter raids and retaliatory attacks that, once unleashed, are difficult to quell.
South Sudanese youth – who should be enjoying opportunities for education and employment – are instead drawn into a culture of warfare.
The consequences of cattle-related violence on intercommunal harmony are devastating and long lasting, setting up cycles that are difficult to break and undermine progress this country has made towards peace.
This is why cattle raids and migration-related conflict are an immediate protection and human rights concern for the United Nations here. More broadly, it is an obstacle to the full implementation of the Revitalized Peace agreement.
But the root causes go deep and, therefore, invoke a broader, collective responsibility to address the problem. It is clear to this Mission that history is only an explanation if we are content to consign communities, and particularly our children, to these continuous cycles of bloodshed.
Solutions must go beyond retaliatory dynamics at the surface and look into broader issues of accountability, reconciliation, political inclusion, state effectiveness, development, and the proliferation of arms among the civilian population.
Looking at this through a gender perspective is also critical, given the link between cattle and the negotiation of bride price, and the devastating impact of inter-communal violence on women and girls.
The combination of these factors lead us to believe that this issue requires the priority attention of the transitional government, and the transitional parliament, with the support of the entire UN family. We’re already working on a UN-wide Strategic Response Plan to Mitigate Cattle Raiding-Related Conflict.
A focus of this conference is the development of a broader national policy and legislation: one that will strengthen the legal framework governing livestock management and will facilitate a move towards commercialization of the sector. Ideally, it can be tailored by various states to match the local needs and, to take into account their local circumstances. Remember, this is not a problem that is unique to South Sudan.
On migration specifically, we see that risk management strategies and localized transhumance regulatory agreements, especially in the northern states, have significantly reduced migration-related violence. However, a national effort is still required.
For its part, UNMISS is providing technical assistance to review draft legislations on livestock management in South Sudan, including the Livestock Bill, Animal Production Bill, Veterinary Bill, Meat Marketing Bill and Land Act and Policy. We hope these bills will be comprehensively reviewed after this conference.
Let me conclude by re-stating that we cannot ignore the nexus between political conflict and its actors: cattle keepers, farmers and armed youth. Much of today’s cattle-related conflicts are an extension of politics by other means.
This underscores the importance of consolidating the gains achieved in the Revitalized Peace Agreement, forging ahead on the new Roadmap, and fully implementing the Revised National Development Strategy. It is upon these foundations that all South Sudanese can enjoy productive livelihoods, the benefits of education and employment, and equal access to and ownership of land.
In closing, let me say that the graduation of Necessary Unified Forces this week offers a new promise through which the transitional government can more comprehensively mitigate intercommunal violence, protect its own citizens through an effective and professionalized security sector.
I congratulate the parties and the transitional government for giving life to this commitment.
It is in the spirit of that renewed political will that I wish you well in your deliberations over the next few days.
With that, let me share that I am required to join the deliberations on the adoption of the new roadmap at the RJMEC extraordinary session; but I assure you that I will continue to follow closely the conclusions in the deliberations you reach in tackling this most important problem.
I thank you.