Near Verbatim Transcript of SRSG/Head of UNMISS Nicholas Haysom's Press Conference – Opening Remarks and Q & A
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.
MEDIA: You say peace remains fragile in South Sudan. When you try to shed more light on this, what’s wrong exactly? You talked of South Sudan commemorating its 10-year anniversary following its independence. Since the country attained independence, thingshave not been moving forward. The country went into conflict. What you think is the way forward so that the South Sudanese know that they succeeded in 2011?
SRSG: I think you’ve asked me the question why do we say that peace is fragile? I think we’re conscious that even though some of the intensity of the political conflict of two or three years ago has diminished, it’s been more than replaced by the intercommunal conflict that we see spreading across the country. And really, we have to offer the citizens of South Sudan a safer place to return to. In our discussions with returnees and IDPs, the biggest single barrier to their return is the insecurity they feel because of the prevalence of violence, which includes also the prevalence of firearms throughout the country. Secondly, I think the people of South Sudan want to see progress in the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.
Remember, the Agreement is an agreement between South Sudanese people, and they are looking first and foremost to a commitment by the Government, and all the other stakeholders, not just the Government, to the implementation of that agreement. I think certainly we ourselves would like to assist all of the stakeholders and the Government make progress in the implementation of the agreement, bearing in mind that the full implementation of the agreement means that South Sudan eventually exits from its complex transition that it has been locked into for some time.
MEDIA: My first question is regarding your duty and responsibility. What do you think you would do differently as the new SRSG? I understand that you have already met with officials in South Sudan. You have met with the President plus other stakeholders. How do you understand their action on the implementation of Revitalized Peace Agreement? Do you think that they are actually working to ensure peace will be achieved?
SRSG: Well the first question is what do I intend to do differently from my predecessor? Let me say I have the greatest respect for my predecessor, who spent a considerable amount of effort trying to find ways in which the Mission can have the greatest impact. And in a sense, I will continue at least that spirit of self-interrogation and curiosity. I think we have an obligation, once we are provided with resources by the international community, to make sure we have the greatest impact in the use of those resources. I think at almost every level we will want to up our game. Regarding the use of the peacekeepers, we are looking towards a more effective deployment, a more widespread deployment to as many communities as possible. Previously, many of our peacekeepers did little more than guard the POC sites. We now want them to actively patrol, including to deal with the rising criminality, which is affecting the capacity of people to trade, to move, and so on.
In other areas the country is entering a new phase in the transition. It’s going to be a greater political discussion now around the constitution. With the question of what is it that the country needs for free and fair elections, we’re going to see an open debate around what kind of election South Sudanese could have and would like to see here, and whether we are going to create the conditions for a peaceful election. Some of the commentators have suggested that elections could be a remarkable turning point for South Sudan, a birthing process that is part of the nation coming together. But it could also be a catastrophe. And
our task – not just the UN, but all of us – is to make sure it’s a celebration, not a catastrophe.
What has been the general attitude of the leaders I’ve engaged – and I’ve engaged across the spectrum – I think there’s a recognition of the need to make progress on the Revitalized Peace Agreement. And, of course, it’s South Sudan, so people have different perspectives as to what the priority is and what is required. But I think there’s a recognition that the country can make progress across a broad range of fronts, not always big steps, sometimes there would be smaller steps in this area, smaller steps in another area. But we want the process, as a whole, to be moving decisively forward, and we think it will give people confidence. People in South Sudan get confident quite quickly if things move well.
MEDIA: UNMISS is one of the bodies reporting on South Sudan, which influences the decisions of the UN Security Council. Recently we have seen Government officials or the Government pleading to UNMISS for collaboration that will ultimately lead to the lifting of sanctions on South Sudan. Is there a possibility that the Council can meet ahead of the expiration of the arms embargo on South Sudan to decide on its future? And does UNMISS have any proposal for South Sudan’s constitution?
SRSG: Let me deal with the arms embargo question first. UNMISS itself does not take a position on the arms embargo because it’s taken by Member States of the Security Council. We are like the civil servants, so it’s not our job to pronounce on the arms embargo itself. But we would note that, in the latest resolution, they’ve clearly spelled out certain benchmarks which would assist South Sudan in having the arms embargo lifted. Those benchmarks are quite closely related to building durable peace in South Sudan and in making progress on the Revitalized Peace Agreement. So, I just note that that was the approach adopted by the Security Council. Secondly, the Security Council has also pointed to the fact that there are options for member countries or for South Sudan to apply for a waiver if they have a particular need for small arms or any other kind of arms for a particular purpose. So that option is open as well. Do I see South Sudan eventually meeting those conditions? I think so. Yes, I’m an optimist because I do believe that, at the end of the day, we’re going to have to meet the benchmarks set out in the Revitalized Peace Agreement. And if I didn’t believe we could do that, then I’m not sure I should be doing this job.
MEDIA: You are saying you are doing your best to protect humanitarian workers, but in Torit, there was a recent attack on humanitarian workers and some UN agencies. This is all because there are some youths from a certain ethnic group that are raising concerns about access to UN jobs and to NGOs. What do you make of these people’s complaints? Also, we understand that when the attack happened, UN troops were deployed in Torit, and then the Governor ordered the UN troops to leave the site and go back to their compound because it’s the responsibility of the Government to protect people. What do you make of this order by the Governor?
SRSG: Let me, first of all, deal with the question of youth. This is a country which is very heavily dependent on humanitarian aid. One billion dollars a year come here to feed South Sudanese, normally a function performed by the country itself. So, humanitarians and humanitarian delivery is critical, and yet in this country they work under some of the worst conditions that humanitarians work in anywhere in the world, and we believe it would not be productive to place additional threats, including threats of serious violence and attacks on humanitarian workers, for the reasons that have been advanced by some of the youth groups – which is to say, really without regard to the functions which are being performed, that you must employ only people from our area. Now, it’s contrary to the law in South Sudan, notwithstanding that in the UN we are quite willing to share our employment procedures to show that they are merit-based, that they are fair, and that they lean in favour of recruiting people from that area.
What I would say is that these threats on humanitarians are very counterproductive. Humanitarians are now withdrawing from Torit. Who are the losers? The losers are largely the young people who are the beneficiaries of a lot of the humanitarian services. And it’s not just in Torit but also in Renk and in one or two other areas. I have myself raised this issue with the President, with the First Vice President, I’ve raised it with the Minister of the Interior, and I have raised it with all the Governors that I have seen. I haven’t met anybody who didn’t believe that the position that I sketched out is absolutely correct, that this is a very unproductive, and very damaging, development for South Sudan. But we recognize that to respond to it, we need to respond together with other NGOs. In fact, many of the attacks have not been on the UN. They’ve been on NGOs that we need to work with. And we also need to work with the Governor.
Regarding what happened in Torit, our troops immediately deployed to protect people and goods from being attacked before there were any government forces available. When the government forces became available, quite correctly they took over the responsibility, so there is no clash and there is no tension. On the contrary, I have had a discussion on this topic with the Governor, who is very supportive. I think he just quite correctly assessed that once they had Government forces available, it was more properly their responsibility to protect humanitarians, goods, and staff.
MEDIA: Is UNMISS mandated to hold accountable violators of the ceasefire agreement? If yes, what is the mission doing about that?
SRSG: No, it’s not the body that is charged with that. There’s quite a complex machinery which has been established to do precisely that, CTSAMVM, which was established by the Revitalized Peace Agreement to perform that function, to investigate and to make findings on violations, and eventually to act on them through the political principals. But let me just give you a fuller answer. We have, as perhaps our largest focus of effort, the effort of building up the rule of law in South Sudan, which is complicated. It involves building a police service capable of investigating crimes, a prosecuting service capable of prosecuting crimes, prisons capable of holding prisoners, courts capable of adjudicating. We are involved in those efforts across the country, from the top to the bottom. But these things take time. We recognize that a critical part of providing a solution to criminal behaviour or violations of human rights is the machinery to deal with it. If a country doesn’t have the machinery, what is it going to do? And at least that’s partly why I think we can see much of the violence, the intercommunal violence which is spreading, because people have no alternative institutions
to turn to, to get their cattle back or to get justice with respect to attacks on members of their communities.
MEDIA: In your recent speech you talked about how a constitution-making process needs to be quite inclusive, and just before that workshop finished, the media came to realize that one of the civil society activists had a gripe about being blocked from attending the session. We followed up on that, and no other parties intervened, and now you are talking about inclusivity for the constitution-making process. What role will you play to make sure that everyone is involved in this process? Secondly, you talked about the parties needing to make a courageous decision and recently we have seen how they have reacted to the arms embargo for South Sudan, with one party saying that the Government will not be able to meet the deadline to create the unified forces, and this is a shock. So, what other role could you play to make the parties take a bold decision and create the unified forces?
SRSG: There is an expression in South Africa, where I come from, that the doctor can’t take medicine on behalf of the patient. In a sense, it’s a reflection that leadership on critical decisions, political decisions, have to come from the South Sudanese with all the difficulties that arise in the effort to find consensus on those major political decisions. Inclusivity has increasingly become recognized as one of the principles – or let me call it ‘best practices’ – in constitution-making. The reason is quite simple. If you leave people out, then they don’t own the constitution. They’re not going to defend it. They don’t believe it’s theirs or it speaks to their issues and anxieties. So, we always say the task of constitution-making really puts a premium on including every group. In my country, we really went the extra mile to make sure that everybody agreed and celebrated the new constitution, and I think it’s a good practice.
On the individual issue you mentioned, I’m afraid I don’t know about the facts so I can’t really comment on it, but what is important is the approach.
MEDIA: You talk about your intention to promote reconciliation in Jonglei. Is it possible to do so if the root causes of the conflict are not being addressed by the Government?
SRSG: Well there are a lot of ways of approaching the question about the root causes. At least one of the root causes would be reconciliation between the communities and agreed arrangements by which they can live together, and a concerted attempt to break the pattern, the cycle of violence whereby one raid leads to a counter-raid and communities seem permanently engaged in conflict with each other. At least one of the conditions for an end to, not only that conflict, but also conflict around the country, is to facilitate people’s proper engagement with commercial activity, economic activity, agricultural activity, so that they can boost production, but much more importantly that they can earn livelihoods. In the long term, that is the future for South Sudan, that people will all have access to livelihoods. The problem is we cannot get there without peace. There is sometimes a chicken-and-egg situation: Do you need peace before development or development before peace? I think our approach is to say you’ve got to do them both simultaneously. You can’t have development without peace; you can’t have peace without development.
MEDIA: On the peace process, could you please tell us in which way you are going to support the peace process? Could you please clarify?
SRSG: I think the Revitalized Peace Agreement, which is a South Sudanese agreement, sets out a number of benchmarks, and it’s time to make progress along those benchmarks, properly constitute the transitional legislature, pass the legislation which is part of the transitional legislation, establish a fair and professional election management body, support an inclusive constitution-making process. What the UN does best is it expands the imagination of those people who are engaged in the exercise. It cannot make decisions on their behalf. That’s a sovereign issue for the country to decide. So, we would want to do capacity-building, provide experts, but in the knowledge that, at the end of the day, the South Sudanese have to be in charge of the process and be making the decisions themselves. That’s just on that front. I think we have a bigger wish-list that we would want to make a bigger impact on, including creating conditions in the country which are safer so that people can return. We need all South Sudanese to come back to their mother country. That’s going to be difficult. They want to know there are schools in the areas to which they are returning. They want to know there are clinics and access to medicine. They want to know they’ll have understood the condition of the land that they’ll be working. We can’t do all of that with a relatively small group of people. The question that we will ask ourselves, and continue to ask ourselves is: “Are we doing the best with what we’ve got?”
MEDIA: You mentioned the worsening situation in Jonglei and Pibor. I’d like to know what’s happening there, as you have been there recently. Did UNMISS also recognize that there is ongoing intercommunal violence in parts of Lakes and especially Warrap as well? Lastly, you mentioned in attempts to address the current situation, the leadership needs to take concrete steps to address the situation. What should those concrete steps be?
SRSG: I think quite correctly you pointed out that Jonglei is just one area experiencing intercommunal conflict. There is in intercommunal conflict in Warrap, and in Lakes, and in other places. I think only so much can be achieved by guns in bringing peace. What is more important is the capacity for communities to reach out to each other, to agree the arrangements and contingency measures and early warning signs which would allow them to collectively deal with potential violence.
We know that works. And we know that it even worked in Jonglei, where at least some of the groups did not take part in the violence precisely because they had been engaged in reconciliation talks at the time of the conflict. Not necessarily by UNMISS. But UNMISS, to the extent that we can maybe help people come together or convene them or give support to these very important discussions and engagements between communities, we will certainly support. We have been supporting it and we will continue to support it.
I don’t want to impose a priority list, but we know that there are some big issues coming up, including the constitution issue. It’s the agreement whereby all of you agree to live. You agree on the arrangements by which you can live together in peace and harmony. It’s one of the most important issues that you are going to encounter in your lifetime. I was part of the constitution-making process in my country. It was a privilege, not a chore, not a burden. It only comes once in a generation sometimes. You are that generation, and your readers, who will have that opportunity.
But there’s elections. Very critical that we get the decisions right on how the elections will run, how many elections, what level of elections, what kind of electoral system, how you are going to prevent violence during the elections, how you are going to resolve disputes. I can go through all of the different issues. It will be very important to have a security apparatus that has the respect of the people performing and undertaking security tasks during the election. I understand the Revitalized Peace Agreement contemplates that primarily the police will be the security agency involved in providing security during the elections. We have to make sure that they are in a position to discharge that responsibility. And so on.
There are many areas where Government still has to make decisions. The most immediate are in forming the transitional legislature, without which certain critical legislation can’t be passed, without which certain institutions can’t stand up. To stand up the institutions, the laws have to be passed. For the laws to be passed, the Council of States has to be formed, a Speaker has to be appointed. These are all steps which are there for the political decision-makers to make, and they can hopefully do so as soon as possible.
MEDIA: And on Jonglei, Pibor, and inter-communal violence, who is fighting who?
SRSG: Let me not point fingers. Who is to blame? Who caused the violence? Who started it? The issue now is to prevent the recurrence of that cycle of violence as people contemplate revenge and so on. I’m not a one-man commission of inquiry into who is to blame. The task before us is to stop it before it repeats itself.
MEDIA: The Government has a lot of opinions on how to bring peace to Jonglei. How do you think the situation will develop? How will the situation develop if the Government is not in a position to bring peace within one month?
SRSG: I don’t know the full answer. I want to believe that Government would not want to see continuing violence there or anywhere. And the same goes for the other stakeholders as well, apart from Government.