Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and Head of UNMISS, Nicholas Haysom Briefing to the Security Council [Near Verbatim]
Thank you for this opportunity to brief this Council today on the situation in South Sudan.
In my last briefing, I shared that a window of opportunity remained for South Sudan to meet the critical benchmarks required for it to complete its transition. With eight months remaining, that window is closing. This notwithstanding, I report to you the following progress.
After the opposition’s withdrawal from the transitional security mechanisms, following a tense security environment at the end of March, the parties have been able to overcome a critical impasse to reach a breakthrough agreement on a single joint command structure for the Necessary Unified Forces, on the 3rd of April.
The formation of the reconstituted transitional legislature, at national and state levels, is now completed, with all speakers sworn in and heads of specialized committees appointed. Renewed legislative activity and debate is noticeable. The fact that – at least some of the political differences are fought out in Parliament rather than outside of it is a welcome development.
The recent mandate extension of the National Constitutional Amendment Committee will now allow for the review of the National Elections Act. This is a pre-requisite for launching the electoral and other legislative frameworks, including the reconstitution of the National Elections Commission.
I’d like to commend the parties to the agreement for advancing the provisions of Chapter 5 of the peace agreement. The ongoing nationwide public consultations of the technical committees of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing demonstrates a commitment to justice, accountability, reconciliation and healing. Our hope is that this will contribute to a more resilient and stronger society. Transitional justice is a prerequisite for sustainable peace.
And following a nine-month delay, I welcome the adoption – in March – by Parliament, of a national budget for the year 2021/22. But with the fiscal year ending by the end of this month, I encourage the Government to table the budget for 2022 and 2023 before Parliament, as soon as possible for its expeditious approval.
In the months ahead, what is needed is national leadership, resources, and a visible commitment by South Sudan’s leaders to fulfil their responsibilities under the peace agreement and to take the necessary steps for the country to exit the transitional period.
As mentioned by the Secretary-General in his report, with the agreement of 3rd of April, which I have referred to, the South Sudanese leaders have shown that they can make real progress when there is a sense of urgency and determination. It is therefore our expectation that the parties to the peace agreement – with the same sense of urgency - will now agree on a roadmap, as jointly called for by the African Union, IGAD, RJMEC, and the United Nations.
This roadmap should serve to recommit the parties to the revitalized peace agreement and must be accompanied by clear benchmarks and timelines. It should especially address the completion of outstanding tasks, such as the graduation and deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces, the approval of pending key legislation for the constitution-making process and national elections, as well as critical reforms of the security, judicial and financial sectors.
In regard to the elections, it is important to note that what is required is not only the technical arrangements and logistics, but also an appropriate political environment. The former refers to the necessary transparency and organization for the elections, for it to be considered manifestly a true result of the votes cast. But the latter refers to the presence of political space for a robust and competitive political process, that is nonetheless a nation-building event.
Unless the parties demonstrate a collective common purpose, there will be challenges in meeting these commitments. The roadmap also offers an entry point for the international community to align targeted support for the priority transitional tasks. It is our view that the sheer magnitude of the tasks ahead requires the international community’s full and unrestricted attention. In this regard, I welcome the recent visit by the African Union Committee of Five (C5). It represents the African continent’s renewed commitment to the transition towards sustainable peace in South Sudan.
The scale of sub-national conflict—which now spreads from north to south, from east to west—is alarming. In Eastern and Central Equatoria, Unity, Warrap, and Jonglei states, as well as the Abyei Administrative Area, violence has been perpetrated against civilians, fueling a cycle of cattle raiding, abductions, revenge killings, and gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence.
I welcome the steps taken by the government to establish high-level investigation committees. UNMISS will provide logistical support in the cases of Leer, Unity, and in Magwi, (that is Eastern Equatoria) for those investigations. Meanwhile, the Mission has conducted its own independent investigations into the conflict in Leer, which have revealed horrific human rights violations by armed youth from Koch and Mayendit counties.
This year, more than 80 per cent of civilian casualties have been attributed to intercommunal violence and community-based militias. This violence divides communities and hampers reconciliation. Peace spoilers have proven adept at instrumentalizing these conflicts for their own interests.
More positively, the decline in civilian casualties overall continues, as compared to the previous year. The Mission is of course challenged more than ever to sustain its prevention and response efforts. UNMISS continues to deploy an increasingly mobile and robust posture, even amidst challenging terrain and weather conditions.
For example, the Mission is testing all-terrain amphibious vehicles in Jonglei as part of my commitment to transition UNMISS from a six-month mobile force to a year-round Mission, one that is better able to extend our integrated protection presence during the rainy season.
Our concern, however, is to avoid becoming a victim of our own success. While the deployment of our Temporary Operating Bases offers short-term “sanctuaries of peace”, they are in ever greater demand, to enter and to remain in theatre, thereby stretching and immobilizing our resources. The UNMISS protection posture is predicated on our ability to deploy quickly where the needs are greatest. Quite frankly, we can’t be everywhere, and this is a reminder that the primary responsibility to protect civilians rests with the government itself.
The three-year strategic vision requested by the Security Council continues to be the framework for UNMISS’ integrated efforts. In addition to the multi-faceted work relating to the Protection of Civilians, the Mission has also been active in other priority areas.
One important building block in this regard is the support to strengthening the justice chain, and promoting accountability. In this regard, UNMISS is supporting the standing-up of General Courts Martial to Bentiu and Yei. In Yei, the General Court Martial is prosecuting 21 serious crimes by military personnel, of which 5 are related to sexual and gender-based violence – the first time that crimes of this nature have been referred to UNMISS-supported courts martial in South Sudan. This support includes assistance to victims and witnesses through pre-trial counselling, translation and logistical support.
Another important aspect is the support to the Rule of Law, more broadly through the enhanced community policing and through the provision of individual training assistance and advisory support by the UN Police to the South Sudan National Police Service. The Mission is supporting Special Courts in several states, such as the Joint Special Mobile Court for Warrap and Western Bahr el Ghazal.
In four conflict hotspots [Unity; Central Equatoria; Jonglei-Greater Pibor Administrative Area; Western Bahr Ghazal-Warrap] UNMISS participates in a joint programming effort that seeks to operationalize the humanitarian, development, peace & security nexus in order to address the root causes of conflict, by implicating multiple actors across these sectors. I acknowledge the support and vision of the Reconciliation, Stabilization, and Resilience Trust Fund, and the donors who support it. The Fund enables us to realize this joint action with Agencies, Funds and Programmes from which we are beginning to see positive results.
The country is confronting a serious humanitarian crisis. OCHA will provide a comprehensive briefing on the situation, but I want to emphasize key aspects and their far-reaching consequences. As humanitarian needs grow to an estimated 8.9 million people in need, resources are diminishing. Currently, only 26 per cent of the $1.7 billion required for the humanitarian response plan has been received. Amidst competing priorities, I urge the donor community not to lose sight of South Sudan and to continue its critical assistance, including to support over 2 million women and 4.6 million children.
The incessant flooding, for a fourth consecutive year, in Unity state and Jonglei, climate-related displacement, food insecurity, and lack of livelihood opportunities for youth is now predicted. This will exacerbate needs and contribute to localized conflict over resources. Those affected are the most often vulnerable women and children.
Moreover, humanitarian workers are increasingly targeted while delivering services to those in need. In this regard, I call on the Government to guarantee the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and the general population, and to bring those responsible to justice.
In view of the dramatic escalation of humanitarian needs, I must share my concern at the decision of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management requiring humanitarians to provide documentation in addition to the existing documents required. Such unilateral decisions impede the ability of humanitarian partners to carry out operations that ultimately benefit the South Sudanese people. Both I and the Humanitarian Coordinator have urged the government to review this decision as soon as possible and engage constructively with the ongoing negotiating process with the humanitarian sector.
In closing, I would like to reaffirm that despite delays, I believe that the only viable course of action remains the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement in letter and spirit. This includes the full and proper participation of women in all the mechanisms contemplated by the peace agreement.
I urge the continued commitment of the African Union, IGAD and its member States, the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, that’s RJMEC, and members of the international community. Their sustained engagement and continued partnership is fundamental in ensuring meaningful support for South Sudan. And while on this topic, I would mention our disappointment of the cancellation of the visit of his Holy Father the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the moderator the Scottish Presbyterian Church, which was scheduled for early July. And using this opportunity also to extend to this Council the request for a deliberation on the appropriateness of a visit by this Council to Juba.
I thank the Security Council members for their support to the people of South Sudan, and I extend my appreciation to all uniformed and civilian personnel of UNMISS who serve in the name of peace.