Briefers in Security Council Paint Mixed Picture of South Sudan Situation, with Transitional Government’s Formation Lagging amid Continuing Violence

SC/12311
31 March 2016
7663rd Meeting (AM)

Briefers in Security Council Paint Mixed Picture of South Sudan Situation, with Transitional Government’s Formation Lagging amid Continuing Violence

Representative Rejects Killing, Rape, Torture Claims against Government Soldiers

The formation of a transitional Government in South Sudan was moving forward, despite serious security, humanitarian and human rights concerns in the country, the Security Council heard today, as several high-level officials briefed members on the situation there.

Festus G. Mogae, Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, said the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity seemed within reach, although implementation of most aspects of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan had been delayed.  The first of 1,370 troops of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-in-Opposition (SPLA/M—IO) had been returned by United Nations and charter aircraft.

He said flights would continue over the coming week until all 1,370 soldiers had been transported, after which time the First Vice-President-designate, representing the SPLM-IO, would return to Juba, permitting formation of the new Government.  Expressing cautious optimism that it would be in place by mid-April, he said that, while that was months behind schedule, it was a vital step forward in the Agreement’s implementation.

Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said:  “The hideous facts on the ground are that the humanitarian situation has worsened.”  A host of impediments were hampering aid operations, including the refusal of at local actors to respect official assurances by national authorities.  Illegal exactions and taxes were rampant, with payments constantly demanded from humanitarian convoys at checkpoints.

Incidents of violence against humanitarian personnel or their assets were ongoing, with 49 humanitarian staff having been killed since December 2013, he continued.  Furthermore, there was a critical lack of funding for humanitarian activities, he said, noting that of the $1.3 billion needed to reach more than 5 million people, only 9 per cent had been received from the international community.

On the human rights front, Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said violations and abuses against civilians continued unabated.  Since December 2013, all parties to the conflict had committed gross human rights violations and abuses, including the killing of civilians, wide-spread sexual violence against women and girls, pillaging and destruction of civilian property.  Children as young as nine years old had been forcibly conscripted by both the Government and the opposition, while rape had been common in terrorizing and punishing civilians.

In spite of the repeated public and formal commitments given by the parties to the conflict to end the violence and punish perpetrators, no evidence had been found of any genuine effort by either side to live up to their undertakings, she emphasized.  If South Sudan was to realize sustainable peace, security and development, the long-standing and vicious cycle of impunity must be broken, and transitional justice mechanisms established in accordance with international norms and standards, she said.

Ellen Margrethe Løj, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said continuing clashes between Government forces and armed groups had resulted in civilian deaths, as well as looting and harassment of communities by Government forces.  Noting that those conflicts were not new and had erupted out of historic social divisions and competition over limited resources, she said they would probably continue to threaten longer-term peace and stability.  Furthermore, dramatic economic deterioration continued to take a heavy toll on citizens and could have security implications.

Joseph Moum Malok (South Sudan) said implementation of the Peace Agreement was progressing well, despite delays in forming the Transitional Government of National Unity.  If all went according to plan, the agreed 1,370 members of the SPLA/M-IO forces would be in Juba by the end of this week, paving the way for Riek Machar’s arrival in the capital, he said.

Noting the dire humanitarian situation in the country, he said long periods of drought alternating with heavy rains caused by climate change had also had a devastating effect on South Sudan.  However, the Government did not accept allegations of organized and systematic killings, torture and rape by its soldiers and allied militia, as contained in a recently released report from the Human Rights Council.

The meeting began at 10:45 a.m. and ended at 11:36 a.m.

Briefings

FESTUS G. MOGAE, Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, said the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity seemed within reach, although implementation of most aspects of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan had been delayed.  In response to the plan for transitional security arrangements for Juba, issued on 23 February, the first of 1,370 Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement in Opposition (SPLA/M-IO) troops had returned by United Nations and charter aircraft, he said.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) had made aircraft available and provided crucial logistical support in Malakal and Juba, he said, while recognizing Ethiopia’s critical role in supporting the transportation of weapons required by the guards of the First Vice-President-designate.  Flights would continue over the coming week until all 1,370 soldiers had been transported, after which time the First Vice-President-designate, representing the SPLM-IO, would return to Juba, permitting the formation of the new Government.

He went on to state that SPLM-IO representatives had confirmed that there were no further obstacles to the First Vice-President-designate’s return, and expressed cautious optimism that the new Government would be in place by mid-April.  While that was months behind schedule, it was a vital step forward in the Agreement’s implementation.  However, violations of the permanent ceasefire continued, as documented by the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism in the states of Upper Nile, Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal.

Despite pledges by the Government and the SPLA-IO to enhance cooperation with the humanitarian response, the outlook was dire, with millions at risk, he said.  On the economic front, South Sudan was in desperate trouble, and without urgent implementation of agreed reforms, the Agreement would be imperilled.  The parties must resolve the State’s internal administrative boundaries, which made it crucial to establish the ad hoc national boundary commission called for by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) communiqué on 31 January.  There was little time to lose, if the coming two-and-a-half years of transition, provided for in the Agreement, were to be meaningful, he emphasized.

ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, briefed via video link from Juba, saying that, despite the signing of the peace agreement, violence continued in many areas of the country.  In Upper Nile, tensions between the Dinka and Shilluk communities remained high following the outbreak of violence that occurred in the United Nations protection site at Malakal in February.

Since that incident, she continued, UNMISS had helped humanitarian partners to re-establish facilities and restore service delivery within the site, while also providing protection for food distribution, both within the site and to internally displaced persons relocated to Malakal town.  There had also been efforts to increase perimeter security at the site, and close engagement with community leaders and the local government to prevent any resurgence of violence, she said, welcoming the constitution of the Board of Inquiry to assess the Mission’s response to the Malakal incident.

Elsewhere in the country, continuing clashes between Government forces and armed groups had resulted in civilian deaths, as well as looting and harassment of communities by Government forces, she said.  Noting that those conflicts were not new and had erupted out of historic social divisions and competition over limited resources, she said they were likely to continue to threaten longer-term peace and stability.  Furthermore, the dramatic deterioration of the economic situation continued to take a heavy toll on citizens and could have security implications.  Humanitarian needs were escalating and spreading rapidly across the country, she said, emphasizing the urgent need to sustain momentum towards implementation of the peace agreement.

“We all know that enormous challenges and hurdles remain,” she said, stressing that South Sudan was at a critical juncture.  Continued ceasefire violations and the rise of previously dormant intercommunal conflicts, coupled with difficulties in meeting the country’s growing humanitarian needs, deplorable human rights abuses and the sharp economic downturn all threatened to derail the peace process.  Sustained progress would require that both parties form the Transitional Government without further delay and demonstrate the courage to compromise for the sake of peace, she said, underlining the utmost importance of South Sudan’s leaders beginning to put the people first.

STEPHEN O’BRIEN, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said new outbreaks of violence had occurred in areas around Western Bahr el Ghazal, Western Equatoria, Jonglei and Malakal, resulting in the displacement of more than 150,000 people.  Children were particularly vulnerable, with many becoming separated from their parents while trying to flee the fighting, he said.  A host of impediments were hampering aid operations, and more than 17 incidents of obstruction had been reported in the 14 days since the Security Council’s presidential statement of 17 March.  Last week in Unity State, for example, a truckload of armed men had threatened to detain the pilots of a relief flight operated by a non-governmental organization who had refused to give them a free ride to Juba, he said.  In Malakal, humanitarian workers had been denied river access to Wau Shilluk, which had disrupted delivery of life-saving assistance to more than 27,000 people.

Official assurances by national authorities were not respected by local actors, he said, adding that illegal exactions and taxes were rampant, with payments constantly demanded from humanitarian convoys at checkpoints.  Road convoys traveling recently from Juba to Bentiu had reported more than 50 checkpoints, with each truck having been made to pay more than 30,000 South Sudanese pounds, the equivalent of $1,000.  Such extortions must stop, he emphasized, pointing out that deteriorating economic conditions were also driving instability.  The monthly cost of food and clean water for an average family amounted to more than 10 times a teacher’s salary.  Such pressures were felt most acutely in urban and population centres, but in the in the north-western areas of Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Warrap, food insecurity compounded by the economic downturn and growing unrest had resulted in some 38,000 people fleeing into east and south Darfur since the end of January.

Moving on to incidents of violence against humanitarian personnel or their assets, he said the number of humanitarian staff killed since December 2013 had risen to 49, with the most recent case being that of a father of two shot in Akobo, Jonglei State.  Since the beginning of 2016, humanitarian supplies and facilities had been destroyed or looted in Malakal, Pibor and Western Equatoria.  A conservative estimate put the value of humanitarian losses at around $10 million since the beginning of the year.  Despite such challenges, however, humanitarian partners had been able to reach more than 4.5 million people with assistance in 2015 and more than 1 million people in the first two months of 2016.  They had found innovative ways to save lives, even in places where formal access had not been granted.

However, there was a critical lack of funding, he said, noting that of the $1.3 billion needed to reach more than 5 million people, only 9 per cent had been received from the international community.  Non-governmental organization partners were scaling down nutrition and health programmes due to a lack of funding, and with the rainy season approaching, it would cost up to six times more to deliver aid by air.  “We need action,” he emphasized, asking the Council to call upon parties to the conflict and all armed actors to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law in order to protect civilians, allow free and unhindered humanitarian access and safeguard humanitarian workers and their access.  “The hideous facts on the ground are that the humanitarian situation has worsened,” with millions of innocent people suffering and dying amid fighting between two sides who did not care for those they claimed to represent.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that, despite the Peace Agreement, human rights violations and abuses against the civilian population continued unabated.  Since December 2013, all parties to the conflict had committed gross human rights violations and abuses, as well as serious violations of international humanitarian law.  They included the killing of civilians, wide-spread sexual violence against women and girls, and the pillaging and destruction of civilian property.  Both the Government and opposition had forcibly conscripted children, some as young as nine years old, she said, noting that rape, in particular, had been used as a strategy to terrorize and punish civilians.  From April to September 2015, the United Nations had recorded more than 1,300 reports of rape in Unity State alone, she added.

She said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), like the African Union Commission of Inquiry, found reasonable grounds to believe that allegations of gross violations may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.  The legacy of violence and revenge underscored South Sudan’s urgent need for accountability for both past and present-day human rights violations and abuses, as well as for violations of international humanitarian law.  Yet, in spite of repeated public and formal commitments given by the parties in conflict to end the violence and punish its perpetrators, no evidence had been found of any genuine effort by either the Government or the opposition to live up to their undertakings, she noted.

If South Sudan and its people were to realize sustainable peace, security and development, the long-standing and vicious cycle of impunity must be broken, she emphasized.  Transitional justice mechanisms should be established in accordance with international norms and standards.  A complete cessation of hostilities, improved security, commensurate resources and a high level of political commitment must be put in place as necessary preconditions for allowing the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms.  Failure to address the deeply engrained disregard for human life would only lead to further violations.  The only lasting and viable solution to the terror and pain perpetrated against the people of South Sudan — and to ensure peace in South Sudan and justice for its people — was immediately and urgently to dismantle the apparatus of violence, hold to account those who had imposed such egregious suffering and put an end to the cycle of impunity, she stressed.

Statement

JOSEPH MOUM MALOK (South Sudan) reiterated his Government’s commitment to implementing the Peace Agreement, saying the process was progressing well despite delays in forming the Transitional Government of National Unity.  If all went according to plan, the agreed 1,370 members of SPLM/A-IO forces would be in Juba by the end of this week, paving the way for Riek Machar’s arrival in the capital city.  The formation of the Transitional Government would thus be complete, he said.

Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said it was not solely a result of the conflict, as humanitarians wished the world to believe.  Long periods of drought alternating with heavy rains caused by climate change had also had a devastating effect.  The right to food — inherent in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights — was a vital prerequisite for the enjoyment of other rights, he noted, expressing hope that the humanitarian situation would improve and that displaced persons would be able to return home.  He voiced regret over the incidents reported by humanitarian agencies and the deaths of some humanitarian workers.

“It is not the wish of the Government of South Sudan to continue to fall into the abyss,” he said, emphasizing its commitment to help the humanitarian community as much as it could so that normality, “an unknown phenomenon in South Sudan”, could become reality.  The Government acknowledged the Human Rights Council’s decision to appoint a three-member panel that would report annually on South Sudan, but it did not accept allegations of organized and systemic killings, torture and rape by its soldiers and allied militia, he stressed, pointing out that, since members of the SPLA, SPLA-IO and even criminals had been seen in the same uniform, it was impossible to determine who the perpetrators might be without apprehending them.

For information media. Not an official record.