South Sudan Faces Potential Full-scale Civil Conflict as Economy Crumbles, Secretary-General’s Special Representative Warns Security Council

SC/12591
17 November 2016
7814th Meeting (PM)

South Sudan Faces Potential Full-scale Civil Conflict as Economy Crumbles, Secretary-General’s Special Representative Warns Security Council

Permanent Representative Says Embargo Proposal Shows Moral Equivalency between Legitimately Elected Government, Armed Rebellion

The deterioration of South Sudan’s economy and the increasingly fragmented conflict in that country had placed it on a potential downward slide towards greater divisiveness and the risk of a full-scale civil conflict, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country told the Security Council this afternoon.

Ellen Margrethe Løj, who is also the Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said that while the Transitional Government of National Unity had taken steps to improve security in Juba, the capital, the overall security situation remained volatile, especially in Greater Equatoria, parts of Unity State, and in Western Bahr el Ghazal.

“The guns have to be silenced if the suffering of the people is not going to become even more dire,” she said, noting that greater efforts must be made to stem the growing number of localized conflicts, ethnic rhetoric and incitement to violence.  That would need the involvement of local community and religious leaders and civil society representatives.

She said the difference between the success or failure of the Peace Agreement would rest upon the commitment of the parties to pursuing its comprehensive and inclusive implementation with the firm support of regional and international partners.  She urged all involved, especially South Sudan’s leaders, never to lose sight of the ultimate goal – a peaceful and prosperous future for the country’s people.  “We must not let the boys and girls of South Sudan down and we must place them at the forefront of all our decisions on South Sudan,” she emphasized.

Adama Dieng, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, reported on his assessment visit to South Sudan last week, as violence threatened to spread to new areas.  What he had seen confirmed the risk of more ethnic violence, and potentially genocide, he said, noting that civil society organizations, human rights defenders and journalists had been directly targeted.  The Government and non-State armed groups continued to hinder humanitarian access, he said, warning that given the stalling Peace Agreement, the worsening humanitarian situation and the proliferation of arms, all the ingredients for a dangerous escalation were in place.

Stressing that genocide was a process and did not occur overnight, he urged the Council to take preventative measures, including steps to end incitement to hatred and discrimination.  There was an urgent need for an arms embargo, and for the imposition of sanctions against all those benefiting from war, he said, adding that the peace process must move forward and dialogue must be facilitated in the interim.  Beyond peace and reconciliation, justice and accountability had been common themes during the discussions, he noted, while underlining the need to ensure accountability for crimes.

Fodé Seck (Senegal), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015) concerning South Sudan, highlighted the findings of that body’s Panel of Experts, noting that the war in South Sudan was increasingly characterized by the targeting of civilians on a tribal basis, and was evolving into a “zero-sum confrontation between the Dinka and non-Dinka tribes in many areas of the country”.  Civilians had been indiscriminately targeted for extrajudicial killing, rape, abduction, forced recruitment, arbitrary arrest, torture, beatings, harassment, intimidation, looting as well as destruction of property and livelihoods.

To realize inclusive and sustainable peace, he said, the Panel recommended that the Committee designate high-level decision-makers responsible for actions and policies threatening peace, security and stability, including those responsible for serious crimes under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  It also recommended that the Council impose a general arms embargo on South Sudan so as to promote national implementation of sanctions against six individuals designated by the Committee in July 2015, he said.  The Panel suggested reaching out to banking regulatory authorities in several regional States and issuing a press release encouraging their State and commercial banks to implement the asset freeze.

The representative of the United States said she would propose the imposition of an arms embargo on South Sudan and targeted sanctions on individuals, emphasizing that the situation had the potential to spiral into genocide.  Ingredients that could lead to mass atrocities in South Sudan had also been seen in Rwanda and Srebrenica, she said, while stressing that the principle of sovereignty did not give the Government a licence to commit mass atrocities.

China’s representative, however, urged the Panel of Experts to abide strictly by its mandate and cautioned against expanding sanctions, emphasizing the need for prudence in that regard.  Wider recognition of positive developments when they occurred was critical to encouraging further progress, he said.  The Russian Federation’s representative cautioned that targeted sanctions against leaders would have a counterproductive effect, asking what made anyone think that a United Nations arms embargo would work when a similar measure imposed by the European Union had not succeeded in preventing arms from entering South Sudan from Europe.

Other speakers, several of whom supported an arms embargo and targeted sanctions, noted that UNMISS was ill equipped to protect civilians against mass atrocities, noting that responsibility for protecting civilians rested primarily with the Government of South Sudan.  New Zealand’s representative laid responsibility for the state of affairs not only on national leaders, but also on those supplying arms and those who had constrained the Council from taking effective action.

Speakers called for the lifting of all restrictions on the movements of UNMISS and humanitarian workers, and urged the deployment of the regional protection force.  The representative of France said the resumption of the political process was indispensable to restoring hope.  The parties must cease hostilities, engage in an inclusive dialogue to facilitate stable governance and find a way out of the crisis.

South Sudan’s representative said his country still lacked the capacity necessary to overcome grave challenges in a robust manner.  Citing the principle of shared responsibility, he encouraged the international community to cooperate rather than pointing fingers.  The Government of South Sudan had accepted the proposals for a regional protection force and the formation of a hybrid court, he said, while noting that significant challenges remained.  Proposing an arms embargo was another indication of the moral equivalency that failed to distinguish between a legitimately elected Government and an armed rebellion, he added.

Also addressing the Council were representatives of Uruguay, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Japan, Spain, Malaysia, Ukraine and Angola.

The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 6:02 p.m.

Briefings

ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said that while the Transitional Government of National Unity had taken steps to improve security in Juba, the overall situation in South Sudan remained volatile, especially in the greater Equatoria regions, in parts of Unity, and in Western Bahr el Ghazal.  The deterioration of the economy and the increasingly fragmented conflict had placed the country on a potential downward slide towards greater divisiveness and risk of a full-scale civil conflict.

“The guns have to be silenced if the suffering of the people is not going to become even more dire”, she said, noting that greater efforts must be made to stem the increasing number of localized conflicts, ethnic rhetoric and incitement to violence.  That would need the involvement of local leaders, religious leaders and civil society representatives.

Regarding the Regional Protection Force, she said that on 16 November, she noted that the Transitional Government had circulated a document to the Security Council that gave the impression that agreement had been reached between the Transitional Government, the Council and the United Nations on the provisions of resolution 2304  (2016).  However, she had not had the opportunity to review the contents of the document in detail.  As for the freedom of movement, the Government had agreed that UNMISS would inform the Government of patrols and movements but not wait for a formal approval to conduct such movements.  Still, challenges continued to exist in implementing that in practice.  Mission staff would be issued with multiple entry visas.

She said that 4.8 million people were now estimated to be severely food insecure.  Humanitarian workers were doing their utmost to reach people in need but they continued to face obstacles in terms of movement, bureaucratic procedures and criminality.  Following the Council’s visit in September, a Humanitarian Oversight Committee had been established comprising members of the Cabinet and security institutions as well as representatives of UNMISS and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

She said the difference between success and failure of the Peace Agreement would rest in the parties’ commitment to pursuing its comprehensive and inclusive implementation with the firm backing and support of regional and international partners.  She urged all involved, especially the South Sudanese leaders, never to lose sight of the ultimate goal – a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of South Sudan.  “We must not let the boys and girls of South Sudan down, and we must place them at the forefront of all our decisions on South Sudan,” she stressed.

ADAMA DIENG, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, reported on his assessment visit to South Sudan last week, as violence threatened to spread to new areas.  What he had seen confirmed the risk of more ethnic violence, with potential for genocide.  The fighting had drained South Sudan of resources and the population was becoming increasingly desperate, he said.

Continual security incidents were being reported by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) and other armed groups, he said.  Civil society organizations, human rights defenders and journalists had been directly targeted.  What had previously been two opposing forces had splintered into multiple armed groups, some formed along ethnic lines.  There was tremendous mistrust of the military, with many complaining that it was dominated by the Dinka at the expense of the Nuer, while there were also incidents in which the Dinka were targeted, he said.  Government and non-State armed groups continued to hinder access to humanitarian assistance.

Describing his visit to Yei River State, he said it had previously been spared the violence, but had now seen massive displacement, looting, targeted killings as well as sexual assaults and mutilations.  Fear was rampant, and in many regions media, including social media, were being used to spread hatred, he said, adding that young people were particularly vulnerable to such messages.  With the stalling of the peace agreement, the worsening humanitarian situation and the proliferation of arms, all the ingredients for a dangerous escalation were present, he warned.  Emphasizing that genocide was a process and did not occur overnight, he said the Council must urgently take preventative measures, including steps to end the stirring-up of hatred and discrimination.

He called upon the political leadership and UNMISS to take action in that regard, stressing that adequate support must be provided to the Mission, and that the free movement of United Nations personnel must be guaranteed.  The Panel of Experts on South Sudan could report on those who incited violence, including those in the diaspora, he added.  There was also urgent need for an arms embargo, and for sanctions against all those benefiting from war.  The peace process must move forward and dialogue must be facilitated in the interim.  Beyond peace and reconciliation, justice and accountability had been common themes during the discussions, he noted, emphasizing the need to ensure accountability for crimes.  In addition, regional action must be invigorated.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015) concerning South Sudan, highlighted the findings of the Panel of Experts, noting that the war in that country was increasingly characterized by the targeting of civilians on a tribal basis, evolving into a “zero-sum confrontation between the Dinka and non-Dinka tribes in many areas of the country”.  Incitement to violence in the form of open letters, official statements and social media posts had increased, and the economic situation had further destabilized security, leading the Panel to conclude that the Transitional Government of National Unity had yet to demonstrate commitment to sound economic governance.  The war had expanded into the conflict in the greater Equatoria region, especially Yei County and Yei Town, where civilians had been indiscriminately targeted for extrajudicial killings, rapes, abductions, forced recruitment, arbitrary arrests, torture, beatings, harassment, intimidation, looting as well as destruction of property and livelihoods.

Turning to the political situation, he said the parties had not respected the permanent ceasefire after the fighting in July, which had derailed the minimal progress towards implementing the Peace Agreement.  The only headway had been establishment of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and the approval of cantonment sites in greater Equatoria and greater Bahr el Ghazal, although both measures had been contested.  Citing moves to contravene agreements on security-sector reform, he said the SPLA continued to accept new troops, while opposition representatives appointed by Riek Machar had been replaced by those affiliated with Taban Deng Gai, Mr. Machar’s replacement as First Vice-President in the Transitional Government.

As for the humanitarian situation, he said there had been an acceleration of mass displacements, which had risen from 1,000,000 people on 16 September to 1,250,000 on 11 November, with most crossing the border in recent weeks, fleeing from greater Equatoria.  Some 4.8 million people faced severe food insecurity approaching famine levels in some areas.  There had also been relentless obstruction of and attacks against the United Nations and humanitarian missions, with many senior members of the Government demonizing the United Nations in official statements and on social media.  Underscoring that rhetoric were sustained, systematic violations of the status-of-forces agreement, including 19 in September alone.  The situation of aid workers was particularly grave, with 67 having been killed since the outbreak of conflict in December 2013.  Regarding humanitarian access, he said that some 81 incidents had occurred in September alone, of which 59 had involved violence against humanitarian personnel and assets.

To realize inclusive and sustainable peace in South Sudan, he said, the Panel recommended that the Committee designate high-level decision-makers responsible for actions and policies threatening the country’s peace, security and stability, including those responsible for serious crimes under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  It also recommended that the Council impose a general arms embargo on South Sudan to prevent further destabilization of the security situation and large-scale human rights violations “directly related to the supply of arms and ammunition to non-State actors and groups by all sides”.  A third recommendation aimed to promote national implementation of sanctions measures against six individuals designated by the Committee in July 2015, he said.  The Panel suggested reaching out to banking regulatory authorities in several regional States and issuing a press release encouraging their State and commercial banks to implement the asset freeze.

Statements

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said South Sudan was at the point where there was a potential for genocide.  Violence had escalated along political lines, but also along ethnic lines.  UNMISS police and military did not have the manpower and reach to stop mass atrocities if they were to occur.  The shortage of manpower was in part because the Government stood in the way of deploying the Regional Protection Force of 4,000 troops.  There was a growing climate of incitement, fear and intimidations, along with complete impunity.  Those ingredients created a climate conducive to mass atrocities, which had been seen in Rwanda and Srebrenica.  The principle of sovereignty did not give the Government license to commit mass atrocities.  Her country would be proposing an arms embargo on South Sudan as well as sanctions on individuals, she said, adding that no embargo could completely stop weapons coming in the country and remove the weapons already in the country, but it could have an impact on preventing the acquisition of heavy weapons and aircraft and vehicles.  Those who had argued against those modest steps had had months to show that an alternative approach could work, she stated.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said the intensification of the violence after July had had devastating impacts on civilians. There were more and more violations of human rights with an ethnic aspect that could led to large-scale atrocities.  The food security was alarming.  It was the Government’s responsibility to protect its civilians regardless of their ethnic origin.  Any incitement to violence should be rejected.  The parties must immediately put in place a cessation of hostilities and commit to resumption of an inclusive and transparent dialogue.  Urgent measures must be taken to end impunity, he said, noting the African Union’s intention to establish a hybrid tribunal.  South Sudan should lift any restrictions on the Mission.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said it was necessary to recognize that the crisis in South Sudan was no ordinary civil war.  United action by the Council was required to prevent the unthinkable consequences warned of by Mr. Dieng.  The steps necessary had been already articulated by the Council and had been reiterated today.  All tools available must be used to foster dialogue and a sustainable peace.  It was particularly urgent for the Council to impose an arms embargo, which would surely have an impact in the matter of life and death.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), describing the factors that fed into the danger of even greater violence in South Sudan, said that the role of UNMISS remained crucial.  He expressed hope that the technical challenges facing the Mission would be resolved.  The Mission must, at the same time, apply lessons learned in the protection of civilians.  In addition, a clear political strategy must be developed, marked by national ownership and an effective cessation of hostilities.  Confidence-building between the parties must be promoted along with inclusive dialogue and the building of a culture of peace.  Provisions of the Peace Agreement for transitional justice must be implemented.  Urging that any regional protection force abide by the basic principles of peacekeeping, he stated that the Council must act cautiously but with full determination in grappling with the South Sudanese crisis.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) noted that while Juba was relatively calm at the present moment, the security situation in South Sudan was very severe.  The ultimate goal of the Council’s response should be to advance the political process, he said, stressing that “our credibility is on the line”.  Kenya’s unfortunate decision to withdraw its contingent only further highlighted the important role played by South Sudan’s neighbours.  The United Nations must coordinate with the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), he said, commending the Secretariat for consulting with those groups to devise a comprehensive political strategy.  He went on to express concern about rising ethnic tensions, highlighting the African Union Commission’s proposal to establish an “over-the-horizon” force in order to respond to possible mass atrocities.  In that regard, he also called for clarification about how that force’s mandate would differ from that of the Regional Protection Force.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said the Peace Agreement was moribund and the key actors were not inclined to join dialogue.  The responsibility for the state of affairs rested with the leaders of the country, but also with those who supplied arms and those who had constrained the Council from taking effective action.  The Council was now warned that UNMISS was unable to respond to expected atrocities.  The warnings of genocide must be heeded and the recommendations of the independent investigation must be implemented.  The Council must send a clear signal, including through an arms embargo and sanctions, that the current situation would no longer be tolerated.  Such an embargo would signal the end of the line of the international community’s tolerance.

FRANCISCO JAVIER GASSO MATOSES (Spain) said there was an urgent need to prepare for any atrocities.  Genocide was not an event; it was a process and the main responsibility to stop the process rested with the Government and military of South Sudan.  However, as they did not assume their responsibility, it was up to the international community and the Council to act.  The United Nations and the African Union were exploring possible options, including mechanisms to deploy the Regional Protection Force.  A key element to guarantee the Mission could function was to ensure freedom of movement, he said, adding that restrictions imposed on the Mission were unacceptable.  The Council must build the capacity of the Mission to be involved in the political process.  Individual sanctions or imposing an arms embargo should also be considered.

WU HAITAO (China) said that the international community should intensify pressure on the parties in South Sudan to achieve a political solution to the crisis.  Voicing his full support to UNMISS in its efforts for protection of civilians, he also commended the mediation role of the African Union and IGAD, and called for synergy among all those promoting peace.  He urged that cantonment and other details of the peace treaty be discussed as soon as possible.  He also urged the sanction committee’s panel of experts to abide strictly by its mandate and cautioned against expansion of sanctions, emphasizing the need for prudence in that regard.  It was critical that there be a wider recognition of positive developments in South Sudan when they occurred in order to encourage further progress.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) affirmed that an inclusive political progress must be moved forward in South Sudan, as measures such as a protection force would not end the ills of the country.  He expressed concern over actions that led Kenya to withdraw its contingents, as well as a dramatic portrayal of the South Sudanese situation in a way that could lead to an expanded sanctions regime, which he opposed.  Targeted sanctions against leaders would have a counterproductive effect and there was no unity on new sanctions among African countries.  He asked what made anyone think that a United Nations arms embargo would work when a European Union arms embargo had not succeeded in preventing arms from coming to South Sudan from Europe.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) urged the Transitional Government of South Sudan to fulfil its responsibilities in protecting the population, calling on all parties to follow the path of reconciliation and peace.  Welcoming regional mediation efforts, he called for continued support for them by the Council and a harmonized approached among all stakeholders.  Commending the work of UNMISS, he said it was imperative that the Mission be enabled to perform all its mandated tasks; more should be done to enhance confidence between the Government and the Mission.  He pledged that his country would continue to support the sanctions committee in the effort to help bring about peace in South Sudan. 

ANNE GUEGUEN MOHSEN (France), expressing grave concern over a new escalation of violence in South Sudan, said that the Security Council could not abandon the people there to their fate; it must mobilize to prevent a descent into deadly chaos.  An arms embargo, which France had long called for, was most urgent.  Next, the resumption of the political process was indispensable to restore hope.  The parties must cease hostilities, engage in an inclusive dialogue permitting the stabilization of governance and find a way out of crisis.  Commending IGAD and the African Union for their roles in seeking a political solution, she stressed that efforts toward that goal must be redoubled, including those by the Security Council, which must take measures against those who presented obstacles to peace.  Affirming full support to UNMISS, she also added it must be enabled to fulfil its full mandate, without restrictions on movement.

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) was extremely concerned about the surging violence in the greater and central Equatoria region, Western Bahr El Gazal, Upper Nile and Unity States, where armed groups had systematically targeted civilians.  The security situation had resulted in mass displacements, underlining an urgent need for an immediate cessation of hostilities and full implementation of the ceasefire.  “The continuous fighting suggests that the parties may not gain enough pain and still hope to achieve their goals by military means”, he said, stressing the need for all parties to resume their implementation of the Peace Agreement.  Although there had been some improvement in removing obstacles for UNMISS to implement its mandate, restrictions remained to the freedom of movement and humanitarian access.  He urged the Transitional Government of National Unity to respect its commitments, adding that the deployment of the Regional Protection Force would help stabilize the security situation.   

JOÃO IAMBENO GIMOLIECA (Angola) said that instead of increased dialogue, there had been a resurgence of hate speech and incitation of violence in South Sudan.  The international community had a duty to protect the civilian population; denounce war crimes; and ensure that any perpetrators be held accountable.  However, an arms embargo would not be a solution, he said, adding that the efforts of the international community should be to promote inclusivity.  He voiced his regret that the Panel of Experts had produced biased and contradictory reports in which they assumed the Peace Agreement had already collapsed and the Transitional Government had become a regime.  The international community should support the people of South Sudan and help them on the path to sustainable peace.  

Mr. DIENG, responding to the representative of Venezuela’s question about taking measures with the view of lowering intentions, said efforts had been made to prevent further violence.  It was now important to facilitate a dialogue with community leaders and religious leaders and to develop a communication plan for global and regional awareness for mass atrocities in South Sudan.  In that regard, he had initiated daily monitoring of incitement and hate speeches, even in local languages.  Further engagement with the African Union was necessary, he said, but ultimately, the responsibility was with South Sudan. 

Concerning the question raised by the Angolan ambassador, he said that it was clear that if the Regional Protection Force was enhanced, it would not help stop the problem.  What was needed was a truly inclusive process, where civil society would be involved.  “Discussing with some actors on the ground, you can feel the hatred”, he said, warning about the level of arms in circulation. 

JOSEPH MOUM MAJAK NGOR MALOK (South Sudan) said that restoring peace and security, while addressing humanitarian needs, was a major concern for the Government.  The conflict had intensified the divisions among South Sudan’s leaders and people, he noted, adding:  “If we fail, it should be recognized that the explanation lies not in the lack of will, but in the limits of our national capacity to respond.”  Having been “grossly neglected by the colonial administration”, South Sudan still lacked the necessary capacity to overcome grave challenges in a robust manner, he said, noting that those challenges emanated from both internal and external factors, particularly the continuing legacy of the decades-long civil war between the former northern and southern Sudan.  Citing the principle of shared responsibility, he encouraged the international community to cooperate rather than pointing fingers.

With support from world bodies, national institutions must be strengthened to protect the people, he continued, emphasizing the need for genuine and respectful cooperation that would not infringe upon South Sudan’s sovereignty.  It was the Government’s responsibility to restore unity, he said, while stressing that nowhere in the world would a sovereign State accept armed rebellion.  On the inclusion of all ethnic groups and political factions, he said that was the desired objective, as long as they all adhered to democratic principles and the rule of law.  In that regard, he expressed regret over the misleading tendency towards moral equivalency, noting that the report categorically asserted a lack of inclusivity in the political process and increasing feelings of political marginalization among other ethnic groups.  Members of the Nuer and other groups had always been well represented at senior levels, and asserting the opposite was being blind to the facts, he emphasized.

“Actions speak louder than words,” he continued, pointing out that President Salva Kiir Mayardit had repeatedly demonstrated his determination to end the crisis.  Far from promoting Dinka domination, he had promoted the unity of South Sudan by incorporating Nuer militias into the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), he said.  In addition, he had appointed Taban Deng Gai as First Vice President so that the peace process would not be held hostage.  The Government did not intent to exclude any citizen from the political process and there was no justification to support Riek Machar’s continuing armed rebellion, he said, adding that it was therefore misleading to assert that he retained significant political and military support.  Significant numbers of the Nuer held important positions and those who had fled into Dinka areas were living peacefully with their host Dinka communities.

Turning to the proposed Regional Protection Force and formation of a hybrid court, he said the Government had accepted both proposals.  However, significant challenges associated with them must be addressed constructively.  The force must supplement or reinforce, rather than replace, Government efforts, while reinforcing and strengthening control over the national armed forces.  The court, for its part, should balance the quest for justice and accountability with the promotion of peace and national reconciliation.  Concerning the proposed arms embargo, he said that although the motive was to end the violence, that proposal was another indication of the moral equivalency that did not distinguish between a legitimately elected Government and an armed rebellion.  On the increasing violence targeting ethnic groups and violations of the status-of-forces agreement with UNMISS, he said they did not reflect the Government’s policy.

For information media. Not an official record.