Top South Sudan Officials Directed or Knew about Acts of Violence in War-torn Nation, Sanctions Committee Chair Tells Security Council

SC/12251
19 February 2016
7628th Meeting (AM)

Top South Sudan Officials Directed or Knew about Acts of Violence in War-torn Nation, Sanctions Committee Chair Tells Security Council

Permanent Representative, Other Senior Officials Also Deliver Briefings

Since the outbreak of war in 2013, both sides in South Sudan had engaged in actions that met criteria for the imposition of targeted sanctions, the Security Council heard today, as senior United Nations officials offered rare frontline views into the violence gripping the country and stunted progress towards the formation of a Transitional Government of National Unity.

Fodé Seck (Senegal), Chair of the 2206 (2015) South Sudan Sanctions Committee, presenting the final report of the Group of Experts (document S/2016/70), said there was “clear and convincing” proof that most acts of violence had been perpetrated under the direction, or with the knowledge, of high-level members of the Government and Opposition, including President Salva Kiir; Riek Machar; Paul Malong, Chief of General Staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in Opposition; and Akol Koor, Director General for Internal Security. 

As such, the experts regarded a general arms embargo as essential for stabilization, he said, adding that lifting it could be tied to progress in implementing the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.  They recommended that businesses in South Sudan, particularly those in the oil and natural resources sector, should conform with transparency and diligence guidelines set out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Further, all humanitarian actors should participate in a surveillance and communication mechanism that would identify those responsible for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. 

Also briefing the Council were Festus G. Mogae, Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission; Moustapha Soumaré, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS); and Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, who also spoke via video link from Addis Ababa, Juba and Goma, respectively.  The presentations complemented the Secretary-General’s report on the situation (document S/2016/138).

“The South Sudanese parties should not believe that they can bypass the Agreement’s commitments,” Mr. Mogae cautioned.  “South Sudan’s leaders can, if they wish, act to ameliorate the conditions.”  Implementation of the Agreement was lagging “far behind” timetables specified in the accord and subsequent arrangements between the parties.  Despite repeated commitments, “parties have consistently demonstrated that there is still much distrust,” he said. 

Limited progress, which included adherence to a permanent ceasefire in Greater Upper Nile, had taken place amid increased violence in Western Equatoria and Western Bahr El Ghazal, and recent fighting in Malakal, which had left 18 people dead.  The priority was the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity, expected in November 2015 and subsequently “reset” for 15 December 2015, 15 January 2016, and a further date — all of which had been missed.  The Agreement’s “provisions of compromise” were worth implementing, a point the Council must make clear.

Mr. Soumaré expressed grave concern at violence at the Mission’s protection sites in Malakal, condemning any infringement by armed elements on the civilian character of those areas.  Security had deteriorated in Western Bahr El Ghazal, especially around Wau, as fighting between SPLM/A and armed groups had led to a steady influx of displaced persons into that area.  Intercommunal violence in Jonglei, Warrap and Lakes was also a concern.

In response, UNMISS had adopted a more agile posture to protect civilians, he said, projecting physical presence away from its bases in Bentiu, Bor, Juba, Malakal and Wau through long-duration patrols and temporary operating bases in highly insecure areas, including Leer and Mundri, which, along with the deployment of a company to Yambio, had strengthened the Mission’s presence in Western Equatoria.  In Greater Upper Nile, UNMISS would deploy a regular troop presence on the west bank of the Nile, and within Malakal.

Mr. Šimonović decried that parties continued “to attack, kill, abduct, rape, arbitrarily detain and forcefully displace civilians and pillage and destroy their property”.  Since August 2015, a “scorched earth strategy” had seen civilians burned alive in their homes, their livestock raided and means of livelihood destroyed.  Children’s rights had been violated and sexual violence was rampant.  Violence had erupted in previously calmer areas, and armed defence groups had emerged in response to the Government’s highly militarized response.  Human rights were under attack throughout South Sudan and the space for freedom of expression and dissent had narrowed considerably.

Joseph Moum Majak Ngor Malok (South Sudan) declared in response to the presentations: “Sanctions will complicate the already complicated situation.”  Rather, the focus should be on implementing the peace agreement.  The Government was disappointed by plans to impose sanctions in lieu of measures that would encourage cooperation with the international community.  He pressed the Council not to adopt the experts’ recommendations, which if adopted, would derail what had been achieved.

He said what was being seen in South Sudan was not a failure of politics or poor leadership, but rather, problems created by climate change.  Events in Mundri and Godwe, for example, had resulted from Dinka pastoralists having to find water and healthy grass for their livestock in places mainly inhabited by farmers.  Falling global oil prices, a mainstay of the economy, were having an impact as well.  In that context, he reiterated South Sudan’s steadfast commitment to implement the peace agreement, noting that demilitarization had been implemented in the capital. 

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 11:20 a.m.

Briefings

FESTUS G. MOGAE, Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, said via video link from Addis Ababa that the body, which he had led since October 2015, was charged with overseeing implementation of the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.  That accord offered the Chair an opportunity to report to the Council at any time that remedial action was needed in its implementation.  On that point, progress had been limited, lagging “far behind” the timetables outlined in the Agreement and in subsequent arrangements between the parties, he said.  The Agreement offered the best opportunity for South Sudan to restore peace and stability, he emphasized.  However, it was only as strong as the political will accompanying it, and on that front, the resilience of the South Sudanese people was being severely tested by their leaders, he said, adding that despite repeated commitments, implementation had not been timely.

Citing gains made, he said that the advance team of the South Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in Opposition had returned to Juba in December 2015, and that the Commission and other bodies, such as the Joint Military Ceasefire Commission, had begun to meet.  Steps towards forming the Transitional Government of National Unity had been taken, and the permanent ceasefire was largely holding in Greater Upper Nile, he reported.  However, that progress had taken place amid increased violence in Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal, he said, noting that recent violence in Malakal had left 18 people dead.  Moreover, restrictions on access across the country, as well as local insecurity, had made the humanitarian response extraordinarily complicated.  “South Sudan’s leaders can, if they wish, act to ameliorate the conditions,” he stressed.  The Commission’s main focus was the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity, which should have occurred in November 2015, following the pre-transitional 90-day period.

He went on to note that “reset” dates of 15 December 2015 and 15 January 2016, as well as a further date, had also been missed, due in part to the Government’s creation of new administrative boundaries.  The significance of the new Transitional Government would be determined by whether it committed to the Agreement’s reform agenda, consolidated peace and honoured its commitments to accountability and reconciliation, he said.  “The South Sudanese parties should not believe that they can bypass the Agreement’s commitments,” he said, underlining the need for continued pressure.  He pressed the Council to state that, while the Agreement did not offer solutions to all problems, its provisions on compromise were worth implementing in the interests of peace and reform.  The Council must underscore the urgent need to complete security arrangements required to establish the Transitional Government, and take all necessary measures against those seeking to impede the Agreement’s implementation.  More broadly, he pressed the United Nations to help the African Union establish a hybrid court for South Sudan.

MOUSTAPHA SOUMARÉ, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Deputy Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), spoke via video link from Juba, expressing grave concern about the violence at the Mission’s protection sites in Malakal, condemning infringements by armed elements of their civilian character.  In the aftermath, UNMISS personnel were taking robust measures to strengthen the site’s physical security, while humanitarian partners were working to resume service delivery.  The Mission was engaged with all levels of the Government, the Opposition, the national security forces, and within communities to address underlying factors and avoid further violence.

Civilian-on-civilian fighting, complicated by the presence of armed elements, was a frequent occurrence at the sites, he reported.  Of particular concern was deteriorating security in Western Bahr El Ghazal, especially around Wau, as fighting between SPLA and armed groups had led to a steady influx of displaced persons into that area.  Increased intercommunal violence in Jonglei, Warrap and Lakes was also a concern.  In response to shifting conflict dynamics, he continued, the Mission had adopted a more agile force posture to protect civilians, projecting its physical presence away from its bases in Bentiu, Bor, Juba, Malakal and Wau through long-duration patrols and temporary operating bases in highly insecure areas, including Leer and Mundri.  Those actions, coupled with the deployment of an additional company to Yambio, had strengthened the presence of UNMISS in Western Equatoria.  In Greater Upper Nile, the Mission would deploy a regular troop presence on the west bank of the Nile, as well as within Malakal, he said.

Meanwhile, 6.1 million people across South Sudan required aid as a result of armed conflict, intercommunal violence, economic decline, disease and climactic shocks, he said.  Yet UNMISS and its humanitarian partners had regularly been denied freedom of movement, one of the various violations of the Mission’s status-of-forces agreement with the Government.  Such concerns underscored the urgent need to advance implementation of the Agreement, he said.  To that end, the Special Representative regularly convened an “international partners and friends of South Sudan” forum to consolidate support behind the Joint Commission, he said, recalling that UNMISS had supported eight monitoring and verification teams of the ceasefire monitoring mechanism.  While the parties were still in the planning phase for the establishment of the Joint Operations Centre and the Joint Integrated Police, the Mission had outlined a preliminary training regime, he reported.  He urged the Transitional Government to end the violence and take urgent action to address the impact of economic decline, which along with food insecurity had left tens of thousands of people on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, described how the parties to the conflict had continued “to attack, kill, abduct, rape, arbitrarily detain and forcefully displace civilians and pillage and destroy their property”.  Since the signing of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict, a “scorched earth strategy” had seen civilians burned alive in their homes, their livestock raided and their livelihoods destroyed.  Children’s rights had been violated and sexual violence in conflict was rampant, he said.  Violence had erupted in areas that had previously been little affected by hostilities, notably the Equatorias, and a growing number of armed defence groups had emerged in response to the Government’s highly militarized response to insecurity.  Emphasizing that human rights were under attack throughout South Sudan, he said the space for freedom of expression and dissent had narrowed considerably.

Citing recent reports, he said there were reasonable grounds to believe that gross violations of international human rights law, as well as serious violations of international humanitarian law and international crimes, had been committed by the parties.  It was crucial to establish a commission for truth, reconciliation and healing, a hybrid court for South Sudan, and a compensation and reparation authority, as called for in Chapter V of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict.  However, such institutions would need enormous long-term funding and attention from the international community, he cautioned.  Urging an immediate halt to human rights violations and abuses, he called for continued engagement with the parties on the part of the Security Council and regional leaders in that regard, as well as international support for the creation of transitional justice mechanisms.  “Not only is South Sudan on the verge of fragmenting, but the conflict seriously threatens stability in the entire region,” he warned.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal), Chair of the 2206 (2015) Committee on South Sudan Sanctions, briefed the Council on the final report of the Group of Experts, presented on 14 January, and the discussions that followed on 12 February.  According to the Group of Experts, both parties to the peace accord had consistently violated the “permanent ceasefire” and acquired arms and materiel as well, he said.  The absence of a ceasefire had also undermined even modest steps undertaken in the political process.  The humanitarian situation was getting worse, with more than 2.3 million people — a fifth of the population — displaced since December 2013, over 3.9 million people facing grave food insecurity and 43 humanitarian workers having been killed.

The Group of Experts had established that complex military operations had been undertaken on several fronts in Unity State and elsewhere, he said, emphasizing that they could not have taken place without detailed planning, particularly with regard to logistics, by headquarters in Juba and without the approval of the highest governmental authorities.  Summarizing recommendations of the Experts, he said there was clear and convincing proof that most acts of violence had been perpetrated under the direction, or with the knowledge, of high-level members of the Government and Opposition, including President Salva Kiir, Riek Machar, SPLA Chief of General Staff Paul Malong, and Akol Koor, Director General for Internal Security.  The Experts regarded a general arms embargo as essential for stabilization, he said, adding that lifting it could be tied to progress in implementing the peace agreement.

According to the Group of Experts, he continued, businesses in South Sudan, particularly those in the oil and natural resources sector, should conform with transparency and diligence guidelines set out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Its final recommendation was that all humanitarian actors participate in a surveillance and communication mechanism that would identify those responsible for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.  The Committee’s discussion of the report on 14 January had been lively, but without consensus on measures to be undertaken on the recommendations, he said.

He went on to announce that he intended to visit South Sudan and other countries in the region during the first months of 2016 and would communicate details to Committee members in due time.  He recalled that, at a meeting on 12 February with representatives of South Sudan, the Committee had stressed the importance of that and other countries in the region implementing a travel ban and asset freeze imposed on six persons on 1 July 2015.  Invited representatives meanwhile had presented their views on the conclusions and recommendations contained in Experts’ final report.

Statement

JOSEPH MOUM MAJAK NGOR MALOK (South Sudan) reiterated the steadfast commitment of his country’s Government to full implementation of the peace agreement, noting that demilitarization had been implemented in the capital.  Elsewhere, security had improved significantly, although insecurity remained in Mundri and Godwe States due to elements of the Arrow Boys.  What was being seen today was not a failure of politics or poor leadership, but a reflection of problems that the entire world had been facing, he emphasized.  Climate change was having a negative effect on South Sudan, and the events in Mundri and Godwe, for example, were the result of Dinka pastoralists having to find water and healthy grazing for their livestock in places mainly inhabited by farmers.

The drop in the global price of oil, a mainstay of the economy, was also having an impact, he explained, stressing that what South Sudan needed was assistance, not sanctions.  “Sanctions will complicate the already complicated situation and shock it further,” he said.  Rather, the focus should be on implementing the peace agreement, he said, noting that the Government was disappointed by plans to impose sanctions in lieu of measures that would encourage cooperation with the international community.  Sanctions at the present critical time would harden positions, encourage confrontation and, above all, devastate the economy, putting more hardship on people already suffering and desperate.  South Sudan called upon the Security Council not to adopt the recommendations of the Panel of Experts which, if adopted, would derail what had been achieved so far.

For information media. Not an official record.