Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General David Shearer's Briefing to the Security Council on the Situation in South Sudan [as delivered]
Thank you, Mr. President.
Good afternoon everybody. Very nice to be with you once again.
I want to start by going back to this time last year. Back then, the political situation was fragile. The parties had just agreed to a second extension of the pre-transitional period, further delaying the peace deal for 100 days. The lack of political will among the leaders was provoking disillusionment, and even anger, among their citizens.
I’m pleased to report, as we come to the end of 2020, that there has been some progress. Through compromise, parties have successfully formed a transitional government, led by President Salva Kiir with First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar.
All states and county positions have been allocated, and nine out of the 10 governors are in place. The Council of Ministers is meeting, and most national institutions are functioning, at least on a basic level. These achievements are to be commended.
But progress is lagging.
The Transitional Security Arrangements that are aimed at unifying the security forces are stalled and leaving combatants in training centers often without adequate food and shelter.
The dispute over the proposed governorship of Johnson Olony in Upper Nile, Malakal – the only governor yet to take up office – is being used now to halt the appointment of country commissioners who are an essential part of local government.
Their absence leaves a local vacuum of power, which makes it difficult to nip in the bud brewing intercommunal violence.
Momentum in South Sudan’s peace process is linked to the strength of international engagement. However, attention by member states in the Horn is understandably directed elsewhere, contributing to the sense of drift that people are frequently remarking upon. Nevertheless, collectively, we still need to remain focused on South Sudan and guide the peace implementation.
This year, so far, more than 2,000 civilians have lost their lives during local-level conflict, which is being weaponized and turbocharged by external actors acting in their own economic or political interests.
In this last quarter, violent incidents dropped by 64 percent compared to the previous quarter, but as the dry season approaches, we are preparing ourselves for a possible resurgence of volatility.
Several underlying factors have created a “perfect storm” for those already facing hardship.
There is acute food insecurity that’s affected half of the population. It’s driven by displacement from conflict and severe flooding which is affecting around a million people with the loss of livestock and crops. There is a worsening economic situation due to COVID-19. And that’s all on top of the existing pervasive poverty.
The latest IPC Acute Food Insecurity analysis has found that communities in six counties are facing “famine likely” or “catastrophic” conditions.
Humanitarian workers are doing their best to assist those in need, but, tragically, nine humanitarian workers have been killed this year, triple the number of last year.
Historically, as I was saying, the dry season exacerbates these problems. Farmers and pastoralists, having lost crops and cattle, often seek to recover those assets through violent raids on owners. There’s competition for scarce resources, like grazing land and water, which also become points of tension between farmers and cattle herders during migration.
Anticipating this, we have established five new temporary bases in conflict hotspots in line with our “proactive, robust and nimble” approach to peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
Our integrated military and civilian teams are in place right now to deter violence and support reconciliation so communities can reach an agreement to peacefully co-exist. We know that our presence has markedly de-escalated conflict, particularly where we can make contact with parties early.
The South Sudan government’s refusal to enable the Mission to access many areas during the year has hampered this work considerably. While those restrictions have eased over the past weeks, we will continue to monitor and report progress to you.
In the medium term, the addition of the multi-donor trust fund, to bring reconciliation, stabilisation, and resilience together, will target the underlying causes of violence. It harnesses the particular skills of individual UN agencies, NGOs and UNMISS in the pursuit of a common strategy for each geographic area.
Our seven engineering contingents, which we now have, have also undertaken a major roadbuilding programme to repair 3200 kilometers of roads. Improving roads – and I really can’t overstate this – boosts connections and communications between regions; it increases trade; it boosts the economy, jobs; and, most significantly, what we have found is where we have had good communication, it builds peace, just by people being able to meet together and allay some of those suspicions that occur.
Meanwhile, at the national level, UNMISS is working to achieve underlying agreement on vital aspects of the peace process. A number of dialogue forums have been held with political parties, women, youth, media, and faith-based organizations on essential issues, particularly – and most particularly over the last few weeks – on the constitution and putting the constitution in place.
Let me touch very briefly on the transition of the Protection of Civilians sites to conventional displacement camps. The POC sites, as you all know, were established seven years ago to protect people fleeing from intense conflict. That threat no longer exists today, with most residents now moving daily between the camps and towns while still being able to access humanitarian services.
In the past three months, Bor, Wau and Juba POC sites have been successfully transitioned. This occurred smoothly as a result of joint planning and consultation with national and local authorities, with the security services, humanitarians, and the displaced communities themselves, of course.
Planning is underway at the remaining two: Bentiu, where government and opposition began joint policing in the last few weeks, which is a positive step; and Malakal, which is a more complex area and will only transition when the time is right and conducive to it.
At the newly designated IDP camps, the transition occurred without incident and UNMISS remains engaged in support of the displaced communities.
Our UN police officers provide support to their national counterparts, have co-located with them in police posts near the ex-POC sites, and are providing training in community policing.
The Government, with UNMISS technical support, has assumed ownership of the sites and is now obliged to work towards more durable solutions where IDPs can return home safely and with dignity. Now, again, I can’t overstate this, because it’s moved the onus for the welfare of these people from the UN to the Government and they have realized that they are going to have to step up and ensure that that happens.
I also want to touch on the recently completed Independent Strategic Review of UNMISS.
The review was prompted by the change in the situation in South Sudan. There’s been a ceasefire in place for three years, a peace agreement for two, and a transitional government since the beginning of the year.
Although sub-national violence has been a tragic feature of this year, it’s important to remember that the scale of violence and displacement is vastly different and less than it was in 2016 when the war between political actors was at its peak.
That progress has been the progress that’s enabled the re-designation of our POC sites.
The changed circumstances also require the UNMISS mandate to evolve, which was the rationale behind your instructions for the review.
Going forward, we have new opportunities that are opening up for UNMISS’ future strategy, most of which are touched upon in the ISR report. I’ll just touch on these briefly.
First, although we are termed a ‘peacekeeping’ mission, our central task is ultimately political. I often think it’s a political mission with peacekeeping enablers, rather than a sense of a peacekeeping mission. We understand the need for politics, that primacy in achieving the goal of a durable peace. That can’t happen alone but needs to happen with close strategic partnership with the countries of the region and continent, and we fully support the ISR in their recommendations there.
Secondly, our duty is to provide protection for those who need it most. The withdrawal of troops from passive, static duties at POC sites will enable increased outreach – through hub and spoke and mobility movements – to areas where civilians’ lives are threatened or to where people are returning. Retaining our assets to ensure that we can be and remain nimble and proactive is essential to our effectiveness. The transitions will also allow for the gradual downsizing of overall Force and Police numbers.
Thirdly, the shift out of POC sites will enable us to focus on strengthening the capabilities of the South Sudan police and addressing the insidious impunity that continues to exist. This will occur with increased support to prosecutors and courts and build off the success of the mobile courts that we’ve had running now for a couple of years. It’s only through extending domestic rule of law that we can end impunity and make an impact to reduce one of the worst impunities, which is gender-based violence.
Fourthly and lastly, as well as maintaining the momentum of the peace process, preparations must begin for elections and becoming more proactive on the security sector reform and, ultimately, on disarmament and reintegration.
There have been some political gains in the past few months despite the impact of COVID-19. However, we are acutely aware that implementation of the peace agreement continues to stagnate, with many benchmarks well behind schedule.
We urge the parties to take concrete steps to breathe fresh air into the process – above all, to compromise – to achieve the peace dividends that their citizens deserve.
As always, we will be right by their side, doing everything we can to make the hopes of the South Sudanese people for a peaceful and prosperous future a reality.
Thank you very much.