Top UN peace envoy arrives in South Sudan to lend support to the peace process
Shortly after touching down in Juba, the United Nations chief of peace operations was whisked off to a series of meetings with South Sudan’s top politicians.
The visit by the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is designed to help breathe life into the stagnating peace process and to express the commitment of the United Nations to supporting the people of South Sudan as they transition from war to peace, recovery, and development.
“Over the last 18 months, the situation has been rather tough for the country and the people of South Sudan and also for our colleagues here because of the challenges that already existed before COVID-19 but also additional challenges resulting from COVID-19,” said USG Lacroix. “I think it’s important to come here and express the UN’s commitment to South Sudan and its people and support their efforts but also to express support and gratitude to our UN colleagues.”
After five years of civil war, the warring factions signed a peace deal in September 2018. Since then, political violence has significantly reduced although sporadic fighting continues at the community level in pockets of the country, particularly in the states of Western Equatoria and Warrap.
One of the key players in resolving that conflict and pushing the peace process forward is the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition, now First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar. The USG held lengthy talks with him today to discuss vital issues, such as the conflict around Tambura and the delayed graduation and deployment of unified security forces, the permanent constitution-making process, and preparations for elections.
“We know the importance of the elections is very crucial because it is the democratic process that allows the citizens of South Sudan to elect whom they see as the right person to lead them during the next few years. We have some challenges, mainly the security arrangements. We need to create a conducive environment for the elections,” said the acting Press Secretary for South Sudan’s First Vice President, Puok Both Baluang.
Next stop was the residence of Vice President Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior. In addition to general political, security and humanitarian issues, a key focus of the talks was the importance of women leading and actively participating in the peace process. The peace agreement requires parties to ensure 35 percent representation of women in all governance structures. The country has appointed its first female Speaker, but it is still far from meeting its target.
“Women are more realistic about issues because they are mothers, they are wives, they are sisters, so they know what a country is, what is a nation. It is a nation without people, the women know about this. Some of the men are concerned about their positions but the women are concerned about the life of people,” said Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior.
“Without women participating in the building of our economy, the economy will be paralyzed, it will be like a bird without one wing. If you see West African women, they are there in the market, but in South Sudan, we have not encouraged our women. Women are very important and even men know that our women are very important.”
The USG also met with civil society groups and faith-based leaders who want the political leaders to live up to their promises.
“Our leadership needs to remember that they told the global leadership in Rome that they will never take their country back to war,” said the General Secretary of the South Sudan Council of Churches, Father James Oyet Latansio.
“We understand the challenges, however, they should recommit to dialogue, dialogue to build trust among themselves, dialogue to engage our troops, dialogue to deliver services to the people of South Sudan, not to leave the people in South Sudan in misery. Get on and give peace a chance through dialogue.”
Jean-Pierre Lacroix took that message on board by reinforcing the importance of civil society and communities more broadly engaging in the peace process and holding their leaders to account.
“You cannot build durable peace if you don’t engage the civil society, the communities, the people basically in their diversity, the women and the youth, and these representatives of the civil society,” he said.
“They are our partners, our partners in the UN, and they help us in highlighting concerns that are really very high in the minds of so many people here. So, I think it’s extremely important to have this regular dialogue with these partners and members of civil society.”
Political and security discussions will continue tomorrow with meetings scheduled with the country’s President and Defense Minister as well as all-important women’s groups who are working to build durable peace.