Statement by Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, to the Security Council
Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today on the situation in South Sudan.
I acknowledge the presence of the interim Chairperson of RJMEC, Gen. Charles Gituai, and the President of the Community of Sant'Egidio, Prof. Marco Impagliazzo, who will respectively brief in detail on the status of the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement and engagements with the non-signatory parties.
For my part I would like to begin by noting that the crisis in Sudan has implications for the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in South Sudan. The impacts of that conflict are unfurling along multiple fronts.
Since mid-April, over 117,000 women and children and men have crossed over into South Sudan from Sudan along the border areas. Ninety-three percent of these are South Sudanese returnees. I want to commend the Government of South Sudan for its open border policy to all those who are fleeing the conflict, with or without travel documents.
The absorption capacity of the government and humanitarians in South Sudan, however, is under strain, with limited local resources and bottlenecks of arrivals in South Sudan’s border towns, notably in Renk.
The economic impact of the conflict casts a shadow on an already fragile country context. The sudden interruption of imports from Sudan has resulted in essential commodities being ‘out of reach’ for ordinary people in South Sudan. Crude oil exports from South Sudan through Port Sudan are an economic lifeline which if interrupted, as recently threatened, could have devastating effects on the South Sudanese economy.
On the political side, the conflict in Sudan reduces the much-needed bandwidth (both domestic, international) to focus attention on South Sudan during this critical phase of its transition. While President Kiir and IGAD’s efforts to end the conflict in Sudan remains commendable, the timeline of the peace process in South Sudan should not be allowed to become the opportunity cost of these efforts.
In South Sudan, these factors are exacerbating the existing triggers and drivers of conflict – complicating an already tenuous security situation across the country. For example, reports of northern migratory cattle herders refusing to return to Sudan are concerning. The absence of local agreements governing the movement of cattle outside the dry season heightens the risk of clashes between the northern pastoralists and South Sudanese agrarian communities.
Furthermore, there is increased competition over scarce resources in areas of new displacements – resulting in an escalation of tensions amongst communities, often with a tribal overtone in an environment marked by prevailing economic hardship, preexisting communal tensions, and the presence of firearms.
Recently the developments in Upper Nile State underscore just how combustible these factors can become in a short space of time – with a simple trigger rapidly igniting underlying drivers in a deadly sequence of events, as has happened in Renk and Malakal over access to water points.
Concerningly, among these events, one of our UNPOL officers was held against his will by 30 IDPs, for several hours.
Specially, on 7 June, a 14-year-old Shilluk resident of the Protection of Civilians site was stabbed to death. A Nuer man was subsequently beaten to death, sparking deadly clashes between armed youth militias. UNMISS has verified that at least 14 IDPs were killed and 28 injured (including one woman).
At the request of the State Authorities, humanitarian partners have temporarily suspended the movement to Malakal of new arrivals from Sudan currently in Renk but continue to facilitate the voluntary movement of people to their chosen destination or other destinations across South Sudan.
In the aftermath of this latest event, I visited Malakal to observe the dynamics on the ground myself. We are reviewing our integrated response (both uniformed and civilian responses), and the effectiveness of our coordination with South Sudan’s security services.
As matters stand, approximately 6000-7000 Nuer have now left the PoC site, with only the Shilluk community remaining at what is now a monoethnic site. Humanitarians are adapting their response plans to support both communities, inside and outside the camp. Threats to the site, far from receding have only increased.
UNMISS’ prevention plan includes the deployment of intensified patrols and over 600 peacekeepers on the ground. We’ll be reinvigorating cordon and search operations to search and remove firearms from the camp, which is designated a weapons-free zone. We are supporting community leaders in their responsibility to de-escalate and take ownership of conflict resolution efforts.
This is backed by engagements with national and local political leaders who set the overall tone for intercommunal tolerance and peaceful disarmament. We also appreciate the support that has been extended by the Governor of Upper Nile, the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces, South Sudan National Police Service, and National Security Service in restoring relative calm and preventing reinforcements by armed youth from Malakal town.
The flare up of tensions in Malakal only adds to the much wider patchwork of intercommunal and sub-national conflicts that the Mission is grappling with.
On the recent publication of the UNMISS Human Rights Quarterly briefing, we expressed our alarm at the reappearance of extrajudicial killings in Warrap and Lakes States and have engaged the government on these serious violations of human rights. We further urged the government to publicly release the findings of the ad-hoc investigation committees which have been established by the President.
Meanwhile, the renewed UNMISS mandate requires us to undertake additional protection of civilians tasks. These must be commensurate with capabilities and resources in a context where our protection mandate is operationalized on a Mission-wide, cross-cutting responsibility using the full range of tools at our disposal.
In that regard, our intention is to extend the Force’s footprint across the country, while still retaining reserves for addressing intercommunal, sub-national and pre-electoral contingencies. I note that we await the outcomes of the ongoing military and police capability study, which will respond to our question of whether we are ‘fit-for-purpose.’
And despite our geographical constraints, I note that a recent independent perception survey shows there is still support and trust amongst the South Sudanese in the stabilizing presence offered by UNMISS.
After four years of incessant rainfall, some parts of South Sudan are bracing for a drought. The extended dry season and late rains will impact the crops, fueling further insecurity, and vulnerability. Criminal activity targeting food items is on the rise.
In Bor, in one incident alone, 7 metric tons of food was stolen. In Jonglei, WFP has had to pause the pre-positioning of food for the third time this year.
Attacks on humanitarian personnel and assets are unacceptable. Humanitarians must be able to safely deliver life-saving supplies to those in need. UNMISS continues to provide WFP convoys with force protection and we are collaborating on further enhancing coordination and operations.
With needs increasing and resources dwindling, humanitarian partners have made the difficult decision to divert resources from ongoing responses to address emerging critical needs, including of the newly arrived vulnerable returnees and refugees from Sudan.
I commend the Emergency Relief Coordinator for allocating 8 million USD from emergency funds and request donors and the broader international community for their support. The 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan to reach vulnerable people, estimated at 6.8 million, with urgent vital support is less than 30 per cent funded.
On a more positive note, I am pleased to inform of progress on the Nile River Corridor initiative. Our engagements with the Government resulted in an agreement to reduce the number of check points from over thirty to six. UNMISS will continue to support the Government to actualize this.
Now is not the time to take our eyes off the ball in South Sudan. What we can learn from Sudan is how quickly hard-won peace gains can unravel.
This underscores the need for full and timely implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement. We are informed by the recent IGAD communique that the political impasse over the removal of the Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs has apparently been resolved, but not acknowledged as such. We urge the parties to avoid taking unilateral decisions. We also request redoubling of efforts in support of constitution-making and election preparations. In our estimation, the constitution-making process is 10 months behind schedule, elections planning 8 months behind, and several aspects of the transitional security arrangements remain hanging.
As it stands today, South Sudan is not ready to roll out an electoral process. We’ve heard this directly from government members, political parties, and civil society – who all recognize that there’s a new urgency to deal with this.
However, we also believe that with united political will amongst all parties, it may be possible for South Sudan to make up the gap. To that effect, I welcome the initiative of the Revitalized Government to form a joint task force with the UN, IGAD and the AU to advance the constitution-making and electoral processes, which held its first meeting a few weeks ago. I further urge the relevant stakeholders to double-down on passing the National Elections Act in parliament and to stand up the National Elections Commission, so that the South Sudanese people can begin to decide the form and content of their new constitutional and electoral system. However, no electoral process can be credible and successful without adequate civic and political space for all citizens to participate in it, and a great deal needs to be done in this regard.
I welcome the engagement of civil society in quarterly dialogues with UNMISS leadership on the requirements to expand civic and political space, and to address the nature of their participation in it, as well as our engagement with the leadership of political parties in the political parties’ forum. Both groups underscored the need for urgency if the elections are to be held next year.
In conclusion, the challenges are many. But I am hopeful that with cooperation, partnership, and sustained leadership, a positive change in the lives of the South Sudanese can be achieved.
I thank you.