Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan Nicholas Haysom's Briefing to the Security Council
Thank you for this opportunity to brief on developments in South Sudan.
Twenty-second February of this year marked the two-year anniversary of the formation of the Revitalized Government of National Unity (RTGoNU). In this period, the ceasefire continued to largely hold, and civilian casualties have significantly reduced over the past year. Executive appointments at the national and state levels were concluded. The Transitional National Legislature and Council of States were reconstituted, as were the state parliaments.
Moreover, key institutions of government, at national and state levels, are in operation. The cabinet endorsed the permanent constitution-making bill, and a taskforce was established to operationalize the transitional justice mechanisms of the Revitalized Agreement.
Despite a formidable legislative agenda, parliamentary proceedings are now in motion. The debate on the 2021/22 national budget is a positive step, particularly in view of reforms that South Sudan is undertaking. Similarly, the President’s recent commitment toward economic and financial management reforms is welcome.
I also acknowledge the launch of the Joint Technical Working Group, where UNMISS, supporting the Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration (DDR) Commission and other partners, is advancing the design of a community violence reduction (CVR) project. The project will serve as a bridge until national plans are in place for broader DDR programming.
I further welcome the decision of the Amum and Malong factions of the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) to engage with the RTGoNU under the Sant’Egidio-led mediation initiative. I encourage the SSOMA faction led by Thomas Cirillo to join these efforts as the holdout parties also have a responsibility to promote peace in South Sudan.
As we enter the remaining twelve months of the transitional period, even if we acknowledge some progress, we are mindful of the accumulation of unfulfilled commitments and the imperative to address them in the limited time at hand.
Key pending benchmarks relate to the necessary conducive political and civic space, as well as technical and logistical pre-requisites and an agreed timetable for a free and fair electoral process. This is intended to bring the transitional period to a close. While UNMISS stands ready to support the electoral process, the Government has not yet pronounced on UNMISS’ role, nor on a timeframe for the elections.
Critically, the Constitution-Making Process Bill is still pending, and the process of drafting a new constitution for the country remains stalled.
Likewise, even though the parties have engaged on the transitional security arrangements, the actual graduation of unified forces is yet to commence, with no agreement on the command structure.
Stakeholders agree that the sluggish implementation pace is a cause of disillusionment amongst the people of South Sudan. This worrisome trend has the potential to undermine the peace agreement. In this connection, the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) has called for the parties to resolve their disputes as provided for by the peace agreement, as it remains the agreed pathway to sustainable peace.
Slow implementation comes at a cost. Peace dividends remain elusive. Nowhere is this more clearly reflected than in the frustration of marginalized youth, many of whom have joined tribal militias—as we see in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area—or channel their anger at humanitarians and peacekeepers. In 2021, five humanitarian workers were killed. This year already two have been killed.
The dire economic situation and its impact on youth has resulted in a surge in criminality and xenophobic hostility towards humanitarians and peacekeepers. It is critical that these important concerns are taken into consideration in our overall response and addressed in a manner that acknowledges the voice of the youth, while manifesting zero tolerance for violence directed at humanitarians.
The Mission is supporting the development of the National Action Plan for Youth Peace and Security in partnership with the South Sudan National Coalition for YPS, a group of 30 National Civil Society Organizations. The government must create the prospect of a future for South Sudan’s young men and women.
Sub-national violence continues to spread. This includes perennial conflicts, such as in Jonglei and Greater Pibor Administrative Area, and emerging cross-border conflicts, in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity and Upper Nile States, and the Abyei Administrative Area. All of which underscores the need to liberate South Sudan from the repetitive cycles of violence and revenge. This in turn is fuelled by national and local political competition, some involving non-signatory armed groups, some intra SPLM/A-IO clashes, and community disputes over land and resources, including those induced by climate change. With the dry season setting in, a spike in intercommunal violence has been observed in the past month.
As briefings from OCHA demonstrate, this year, overall humanitarian needs are projected to continue growing. Yet the donors’ appetite to provide additional resources to South Sudan is trending in reverse. The third year of consecutive floods, exacerbated by insecurity and the prolonged impact of Covid-19 has strained coping mechanisms, destroying farmland, killing livestock, threatening dykes and similar flood mitigation infrastructure, all causing further displacement and unpreceded food insecurity. This bears negatively on the prospects for the next agricultural season, in a country that otherwise has the potential for self-sufficiency.
Over the last two years, UNMISS has provided an extensive programme of assistance to political parties to facilitate consensus around multi-party electoral policies and alliance-building. UNMISS stands ready to provide technical advice on constitutional and electoral matters, acknowledging that ultimately these are sovereign decisions for the South Sudanese to take.
In 2021, UNMISS has established 125 temporary operating bases to prevent and respond to conflict hotspots, working with humanitarian partners, and leveraging our capacities to support political solutions. This includes our national and field-level presence across the ten states, deploying integrated civilian-military teams for grassroots engagement, and using the collective weight of the diplomatic community for leadership engagement and advocacy in Juba. Civilian and military efforts complement each other. Neither is effective on its own. Our peacekeeping activities have been supplemented by 170 conflict resolution engagements yielding 34 peace agreements.
The Mission has enhanced its capabilities by moving away from static, base-centric security tasks. We have made efforts to maximize the mobility of the Force so that it can respond to threats year-round. Importantly, the Mission’s strategic interventions contributed to a 42 per cent decline in civilian casualties over the past year. The Mission will continue to pivot to a more responsive posture through its early warning system and meeting pressing protection needs.
The conduct of short and long-distance patrols has yielded results. It has also given rise to challenges, particularly as civilians establishing IDP settlements around the TOBs. This creates difficulties in redeploying Force assets to other hotspots. The result has been a pressure on our capacity to addresses a wider range of contingencies—including those expected to arise in an environment of increased electoral competition and political tension.
Concurrently, we continue to work with the South Sudan National Police Force (SSNPS) as they take on responsibilities for the protection of civilians, including preventing and addressing sexual and gender-based violence, which remains a key concern in South Sudan.
UNMISS is working with humanitarian and development partners on planning joint programmes over the medium term. While preparedness planning is essential ahead of the next rainy season, a gender-inclusive triple nexus approach (integrating development, peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts) is required to achieve successful and sustainable intervention. A longer-term reduction in conflict will assist in reviving the Equatorias as the breadbaskets of South Sudan.
The Revitalized Agreement remains a valid framework for building political stability. The proposed Kampala ‘Principal’s Retreat’ offered an opportunity to address the remaining roadblocks to implementation. IGAD and other partners are required to overcome the current impasse which has led to the postponement of the Ugandan initiative.
The support of regional and international partners remains critical. The call of the African Union Peace and Security Council for a trilateral AU-UN-IGAD evaluation of the electoral and constitution-making needs of South Sudan presents a platform to leverage our comparative advantages. The Mission intends to be an active partner in this effort.
In regards of Mandate renewal, it is my view that the three-year strategic vision called for by the Security Council, as informed by the development of our five tracks of engagement, sharpens UNMISS’ core mandate and remains an appropriate framework. The present troop ceiling (17,000 peacekeepers and 2100 police) ensures flexibility as UNMISS addresses contingencies and plans for 2023.
We anticipate a mandate flexible enough to support the conduct of free and fair elections, upon the request of the government. This will be contingent upon progress in implementing the peace agreement. As I have stated before, elections have the potential to be a nation-building moment, or a catastrophe. Much depends on the political will and leadership of the South Sudanese working together.
In conclusion, though progress has been undeniably slow, there is still space, even a window of opportunity to capitalise on the country’s relative stability to pursue and ground a democratic transition. This Mission, as ever, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the people, as they collectively chart their way forward towards sustainable peace. I thank this Council for its continued and strong support for the UN Mission in South Sudan.