Remarks of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Nicholas Haysom at today's Press Conference [Near Verbatim]
Thank you very much and thank you for joining me today members of the media and welcome to all those following live on Radio Miraya.
In March, I briefed the Security Council on the work of the Mission and the situation in South Sudan. So, I want to take this opportunity to update you, people based in South Sudan and the media on what UNMISS is doing to promote peace and stability in the country.
February marked the two-year anniversary of the formation of the Revitalized Government of National Unity.
I recognize the progress made and applaud the parties for overcoming the impasse in reaching the 3 April agreement on security arrangements regarding the unified command-and-control structure.
I also take note of the presidential decree on 12 April which is a crucial and necessary step for the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement. It’s important to recognize that all parties cooperated and contributed to make this possible.
The launch of the nationwide consultative process for the establishment of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing was another milestone achieved.
I have personally commended President Kiir, First Vice President Machar and three of the Vice Presidents for these important achievements. It sends a strong signal to the people of South Sudan that their leaders are committed to peace and stability.
I am however discouraged by the resurgence of sub-national violence along with attacks by armed and youth militias that has spanned the country from north to south from east to west.
I was saddened to learn that only last week thousands of people in Leer, Unity State were forced to flee their homes following a surge of fighting along with disturbing reports of sexual violence, looting and destruction of civilian and humanitarian property.
Civilians, including women and children, continue to bear the brunt of the senseless violence.
I strongly condemn these violent attacks on civilians but in particular attacks on humanitarians and looting of life-saving supplies and assets, all of which is unacceptable. Already this year  humanitarians have lost their lives.
We will continue to advocate at the highest levels of government for it to assume a greater responsibility to intervene in the protection of civilians, which includes humanitarians. For humanitarians, saving lives should not mean losing lives. With the appointment of single unified command, we expect to see greater coherence in Government response to local conflicts across the country.
Against the backdrop of intercommunal violence, we are conscience that the country is facing a humanitarian crisis that deepened in 2021, owing to multiple and overlapping shocks such as flooding and the continued economic impacts of Covid-19.
This year, two thirds of the population or almost 9 million people (4.6 million of whom are children) will need aid to survive. Food insecurity will be widespread and that is worsening because of climate change, conflict and displacement.
We know as well that the waters have not receded in the areas where there has been flooding and the rainy season is almost upon us. There areas have been impacted by displacement and violence is growing.
Donors have given generously to support humanitarian work in South Sudan for many years.
Continued and sufficient funding is urgently needed to stop the worst from happening. But South Sudan is now competing with other humanitarian demands such as COVID-19, the Ukraine war, Ethiopia and Sudan. We will for our part continue to do our best to keep an international focus on South Sudan, pointing out that it is at the center of a fragile conflict-scarred region.
In March, the Security Council renewed our mandate for another year until 15 March 2023.
Despite increasing political tension and competition, we’ll be expected to ramp up efforts to deliver on our core mandate.
That is protecting civilians, supporting the delivery of humanitarian assistance, monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, and supporting the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.
For us, we treat this last as part of our overall mission vision as a commitment to make peace irreversible.
The most significant addition to our mandate is to include an obligation to provide support to the holding of elections to mark the end of the transition – I will come back to this topic in a moment.
The Mission in the meantime will step up its efforts on tackling conflict-related sexual violence, which continues to be one of the most traumatic features of the conflict in South Sudan.
We will maintain force levels with a ceiling of 17,000 troops and 2,101 police personnel.
In discharging our mandate, the Mission is engaged in a wide front of activities which I would like to share with you.
For example, the Reconciliation, Stabilization and Resilience Trust Fund is bringing together 16 UN, national and international NGO partners to address conflict drivers in central-southern Jonglei and the GPAA.
This Trust Fund now disburses tens of million annually with projects in four conflict-affected areas.
Separately, with support from the Peacebuilding Fund, a two-year joint project on building peace will be implemented by UNMISS, UNDP, UNHCR including through the establishment and operationalization of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing. Last year, the Fund allocated almost $12 million towards peacebuilding projects.
UNMISS is coordinating efforts with humanitarian and development partners to sustain peace. In hotspots across the country, peacekeepers continue to establish Temporary Operating Bases to provide protection, deter violence, and enable humanitarians to conduct assessments and deliver aid to displaced people. We place increasing emphasis on the mobility of UNMISS- not least so that as a mission we can operate for 12 months of the year, and not 6 Months.
Last year alone, UNMISS established over a hundred temporary operating bases to prevent and respond to conflict hotspots.
UNMISS’s Temporary Operating Bases in Tambura, Koch and Marial Lou continue to play an instrumental role in confidence building, facilitation of humanitarian assistance and community engagement by the state authorities.
UNMISS has also regularly helped relocate humanitarian partners to safe zones until conditions were reestablished that are conducive to the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Over the next two years, the Mission will work with communities to strengthen the traditional justice system through special and mobile courts, and training local police, prison and customary court officials on adjudicating cases related to gender-based violence.
In the past year, peacekeeping activities have been supplemented by 170 conflict resolution engagements which have yielded 34 peace agreements across South Sudan.
UNMISS’s support to communities ranges from building hospitals and providing healthcare for internally displaced people, to constructing and repairing dykes, clinics, courts, police stations, prisons and roads.
Peacekeeping engineers from seven different countries are building and improving 3,200 kilometers of roads. UNMISS engineers from Bangladesh, China, Korea, Thailand, India and Pakistan are carrying out this important work in coordination with the World Food Programme.
UNMISS funds veterinary clinics as part of efforts to promote peaceful coexistence among communities that subsist on animal herding. Our projects provide much needed veterinary care, especially needed due to floods that make herds more vulnerable to diseases.
This year, the Mission is investing $2.5 million in 50 Quick Impact Projects with a focus on empowering women and youth.
Radio Miraya, owned and operated by UNMISS, is reaching almost 50% of radio audiences across the country keeping them informed on national and state politics and other issues that affect them, while promoting peace and reconciliation.
I should mention UNMISS’ particular work on repairing the dykes in Bentiu which have been critical in mitigating flood damage in that blighted area.
These are just a few examples of our efforts we undertake across various fronts in support of our mandate.
With ten months left of the transitional period, I am now strongly encouraging all parties to channel renewed momentum towards completing the remaining benchmarks of the peace agreement and to reach agreement as to when elections should be held.
Upon the invitation from the Government, the Mission stands ready to support the South Sudanese in holding elections and in building their political institutions required to manage to those elections. The holding and timing of elections will remain a sovereign decision for the people and leaders of South Sudan.
Now that the parties have reached agreement on the unified command structure, the way is now open for a surge on other critical tasks which includes transitional justice; undertaking financial, legal and judicial reforms; and the constitution making process which is fundamental to building the social contract to underpin national unity.
UNMISS is committed to providing technical support, working with local organisations to encourage an understanding on the constitution making process and to ensure that the process is inclusive.
In regard to elections, I would want to underscore the range of technical preparations which will be necessary to hold elections under the difficult circumstances in South Sudan. And if those technical preparations are overdue and complex, then I would also want to point out that the political environment is equally important for the holding of elections, creating as it does the atmosphere in which a competitive political process can be undertaken.
We’ve heard the voices of civil society urge South Sudan’s leaders to take the peace process forward, not backwards. I reinforced this message together with the AU, RJMEC and IGAD envoys during high-level engagements with the President and First Vice President, and Members of the Presidency only ten days ago.
I have called on the non-signatory parties to support the peace process and to this end we continue to support the Sant’ Egidio community that promotes discussion on the differing visions of the transition rather than violence as a means of reconciliation. All have a duty to build peace- even the hold-outs.
When I briefed the Security Council in March, I reflected on the longstanding delays in implementing the peace agreement. I also stressed that a window of opportunity remained for South Sudan to complete its transition in accordance with the timeline set out in the Peace Agreement. That remains my view today although I can see that the window is closing. Recent progress gives hope that the Government can accelerate implementation and make maximum use of the time left in the transitional period.
Finally, I would also like to express my deep appreciation to the Government and people of South Sudan.
Let me affirm that the Mission stands with you as you seek to turn a new page, heal the wounds of the past, and consolidate a path towards peace.
Q & A
BBC: Thank you for inviting us this morning; thank you for the briefing.
I think my question is based on the elections. You emphasized on that the conduct of the elections and that the elections should be conducted. Are you trying to say that with the latest developments in the country is it appropriate to conduct the elections? Do you see it appropriate for the parties to conduct the elections?
The other thing is that you mentioned the Sant ’Egidio initiative. How reasonable would it be for South Sudanese to go for elections while there are still parties fighting the Government in the bush – the SSOMA – how can South Sudanese go for elections before this group comes on board or makes peace? Try to help us understand what conditions need to be fulfilled so that the elections can be conducted?
SRSG Nicholas Haysom: Thank you for that important set of questions. If you asked me “is the country ready for elections?,” I would say not. And I would say that would be the view of most observers because the technical conditions haven’t been put in place. In other words, an electoral management body has not been put in place, the laws have not been enacted and the structures necessary to conduct elections under the difficult conditions in South Sudan – I mention the difficult conditions but am referring of course to the reliance in modern elections on logistical infrastructure which is required.
But I also had pointed to the need for the political conditions to be also adjusted. And I think here, we would have drawn attention to the need for an open political space within which the parties can contest each other’s viewpoints. And our anxiety is that elections in a space where the conditions are not appropriate would likely lead to violence before, during and after elections. But that doesn’t exhaust the question, “Are elections possible? Is it feasible to expect the parties (including the Government but the other parties as well) to create the conditions for elections?”. In my view, the parties have it within their grasp to create those conditions. It would certainly need an energetic approach to meeting those conditions both at the technical level but also politically to create the political environment in which interparty competition is possible.
As we get closer to December, which is the anticipated date for the elections, if we follow the peace agreement, it may become more apparent that the country will not make the deadline. All I am suggesting is that there still is an opportunity to make that deadline if they seize the task ahead with both hands and make progress.
You asked me then about the Sant ‘Egidio process. My view, quite frankly, is that even the holdout groups have an obligation to promote peace. They may have a different vision on how the transition should be run but, in my view, they have a commitment to a peaceful South Sudan. It is in that regard that we expect them to participate in the Sant ‘Egidio process which brings together the Government and the holdout groups. I think that the particular potential which the Sant ‘Egidio process offers is that it seeks to encourage the parties to participate in the ceasefire structures. So, you don’t have to sign that peace agreement, you don’t have to participate in the transitional structures, but you can participate in the ceasefire.
Secondly, we would like to encourage the holdout groups to consider participating in the constitution-making process. We believe that if they participate in that process, the door would be open for their participation in subsequent elections and in the political process – the more permanent political processes contemplated for South Sudan.
So, that is really the conditions under which we would like to see elections take place. To be sure, we have not reached a moment in which elections would be – as they were in my country, South Africa – a nation-building moment and we would want to avoid the conditions which would render them a catastrophe. We think it is possible and, certainly in this mission, we would want to send an offer to assist and cooperate. The United Nations has experience in administering elections - several times a year and across the world, hundreds of elections and some in as difficult and challenging conditions as here in South Sudan.
VoA Radio: You spoke on the situation in Leer. Can you shed more light with regards to the latest humanitarian situation on the ground? Some of us spoke to some of the displaced persons recently and some of them, two days ago, said they were still hiding in swampy areas, in bushes and that they fear to go to their homes. How is the situation – I know that UNMISS has a presence on the ground. How is the humanitarian situation, casualties?
Yesterday, the Government sent an investigation team to go and investigate on the situation on the ground.
My last question is that in recent past weeks in one of the UN reports, it warned that some of these sub-national violence may slide the country back into another conflict. I am just wondering if UNMISS still shares the same version or concern considering the latest situation at hand.
Eye Radio: Just to put my question where my colleague ended, how best can authorities in South Sudan respond to this sub-national violence as you put it?
SRSG: On the issue of sub-national violence, we have become aware that while on the one hand we have an important asset, being the peacekeepers, and they are able to mitigate violence in an area, protect communities, the IDPs that have been displaced and to provide the safety which is necessary for humanitarians to move food and other lifesaving services to displaced communities and we will continue to do that. But it is not enough. We have to intervene from the perspective that communities be able to live together harmoniously. So, we see as a critical part of our peacekeeping intervention, also the civilian dimension, which is creating space for peace dialogue amongst communities that are affected by the violence. That is exactly what we did in Tambura – of course the jury is still out on Tambura, but we have been able to make a difference through our strategy of providing a protective umbrella and then inserting peacemakers into the process to bring communities together so that when the peacemakers leave the area, we leave behind an agreement between those who are fighting on the way forward. That is exactly what we are doing in Leer. We have a presence on the ground. Most of the IDPs have flocked to our Temporary Operating Base and are now beginning to drift back to their houses. In the meantime, we are using whatever means possible to get humanitarian goods to them as basic as drinking water and we appreciate there is a considerable need. We have our agencies, funds and programmes investigating the conditions there and seeing what is needed in the form of humanitarian assistance, but we are also sending out today a human rights team that will take statements from the survivors in order to properly understand what is taking place and the scale of medical and counselling services which may be necessary. We have been very disturbed with stories of rampant sexual violence against women and are looking at ways in which we can respond constructively to that situation.
I think that answer has more or less dealt with both questions.
You raised the bigger problem: what does this represent? Quite frankly, we are looking for the political conditions under which elections can be held. They could not be held when there is violence rampant and present throughout the country. We need to see this as particularly one of the conditions that has to be met for us to create the conditions for elections which is: mitigation of the violence; bringing communities together and a greater level of a common commitment to peaceful coexistence across the country. And we would want to believe there is particularly a role for central Government and the new unified forces to play in creating the conditions for people to have the confidence to embark on an electoral process.
So, does the subnational violence affect the country? It does deeply particularly as we see now the conflict from Aweil to Torit, from Tambura to Jonglei to Upper Nile and Unity. We have also been engaging with the leaders in the country to say it’s critical that you intervene and display leadership in regard to the treatment of this violence.
VoA: Your comment on the Government has formed an investigation committee to investigate the situation in Leer?
I think that is helpful and I would certainly encourage it. There are potentially positive consequences to the investigation team that they sent to deal with Twic and Ngok Dinka conflicts on the borders of Abyei and this could play a similar role.
Sorry did I answer your question?
Eye Radio: Mine was how best can the Government respond to this subnational violence?
Well, I think that there is a responsibility that rests on the shoulders of State and Central Government and local leaders if they want to create the conditions for peace, particularly to intervene in the cycles of violence in which an incident begets a revenge attack which begets a counter revenge attack and so on. And to break that cycle, leadership at all three levels have to engage. We believe quite strongly that Juba-based politicians need also to engage, but it also needs State level, the Governors, the Commissioners, and traditional leaders to bring communities and sometimes youth groups to the table to discuss the arrangements by which they can live together harmoniously.
The City Review: You mentioned that six humanitarian aid workers were killed this year. Can we know where they were killed and what action is UN taking?
SRSG: I can’t tell you where each one was killed. We know that the last three were killed in Jonglei. What UNMISS does is that we frequently escort humanitarians, but we cannot escort them all. We do not have the manpower and many of the humanitarians believe that they can travel in their lifesaving work to all areas. But there is clearly a dire economic situation, and that is what concerns me, in which the youth are both politically and economically marginalized, and we need to find a bigger national strategy which speaks to the conditions of those who are looting prepositioned food and when they loot prepositioned food, they remove the food for the worst periods still to come for whole communities. Tens, twenty, hundreds of thousands of people suddenly will have no food. We need to engage those groups and the leaders of those groups.
Classic FM: I would like to understand how many people were displaced in Leer County. We also understand there are people who lost their lives. We want to know how many.
SRSG: I don’t have those figures. I have seen figures in the media which report 35 people were killed in the Leer County incident, but I wouldn’t want you to rely on my estimate. I would want you to rely on the estimates provided by the specialized agencies attempting to look at the extent of the damage and the extent of the displacement. The displacement itself is a moving target. People escape the area during the attack, but they also want to protect their property and their livelihood, so they are also in the process of returning. I am told there has been quite extensive damage in Leer County with regards to burning down of houses and the burning down of shops and infrastructure, so it is not looking good.