The national dialogue just launched in South Sudan by President Salva Kiir would only be credible if opposition groups genuinely participated, the senior United Nations official in that country said today, as he briefed the Security Council on the significant military, humanitarian and political challenges facing that nation.
Speaking via video link, David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), stressed that “unity of purpose will send the best signal to South Sudan’s political leaders to focus first and foremost on the plight of their citizens”.
Noting that President Kiir launched the national dialogue in Juba in the presence of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, Mr. Shearer underscored not only the significant influence States in the region had on the matter, but the critical need for a coherent and unified regional position. At the same time, it was imperative for the Council to unite on a common strategy in order to move the political process forward.
Recapping the military situation, he said that, with the arrival of seasonal rains, forces were making their last push before roads became impassable for the next four months. Intercommunal conflicts persisted nationwide, while clashes between the Government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) had seen 22,000 people arrive in Wau from surrounding areas, seeking refuge at United Nations premises and in churches.
The onset of seasonal rains would greatly complicate the humanitarian response and heighten the danger of cholera, of which 7,700 cases had been reported to date, he said, adding that violence directed at aid workers — including detention, threats, arrests, assaults and killings — remained at unacceptable high levels.
The deployment of a 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force in Juba — approved by the Council through its resolution 2304 (2016) with a mandate to reinforce security in the capital — was also under way, he said. In the coming months, advance units from Bangladesh and Nepal would be joined by troops from Rwanda and Ethiopia.
Following the briefing, Council members echoed the Special Representative’s emphasis on an inclusive national dialogue, as well as the critical importance of a well-coordinated regional approach. They also expressed their ongoing deep concern with the humanitarian situation and the dangers and impediments faced by aid workers.
Ethiopia’s representative said the Council should acknowledge President Kiir’s announcement of a national dialogue and unilateral ceasefire. He added that, in light of President Museveni’s efforts and a supporting initiative from Kenya, prospects for advancing peace were better now than a few months ago.
The representative of China, also highlighting recent positive progress, spotlighted the critical role of regional and subregional organizations, including the mediation efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and the African Union. It was crucial that the international community support such efforts.
Ukraine’s delegate, voicing concern about humanitarian aid being hindered from reaching those in need, emphasized that freedom of movement for UNMISS and humanitarian organizations was a right, not a privilege to be granted or taken away on a whim. Such respect defined the Mission’s very ability to carry out its mandated tasks.
The representative of the United States, noting her country’s call last month for further sanctions and an arms embargo, said words needed to be backed up by concrete action. Council members must use the tools at their disposal as soon as possible to stop the suffering of the South Sudanese people.
However, South Sudan’s representative reiterated his stance that sanctions were not the best way to address the conflict. Welcoming the arrival of the Regional Protection Force, he also emphasized that the Government was not hindering its deployment. More so, while President Kiir had been persistent in his quest for a lasting peace, the other side had chosen “stoke the bonfire of the conflict”.
Elaborating on the national dialogue, he said it was not meant to replace the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, but rather an opportunity to accommodate views and address issued that had not been tackled in that accord. However, to achieve a permanent peace, the rebel movements now needed to meet the Transitional Government of National Unity halfway if they were serious about finding a durable solution to the conflict.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Egypt, Japan, Italy, Bolivia, France, Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Sweden and Uruguay.
The meeting began at 10:47 a.m. and ended at 12:28 p.m.
DAVID SHEARER, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), speaking via video link, said that, with the arrival of seasonal rains, forces were making their last push before roads became impassable for the next four months. Summarizing recent military developments, he also noted that an attack on 3 May on an UNMISS base near Leer had prompted some humanitarian organizations to downsize their desperately needed presence.
He went on to say that intercommunal conflicts persisted nationwide, while clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) had seen 22,000 people arrive in Wau from surrounding areas, seeking refuge at United Nations premises and in churches. In the south, the deployment of UNMISS patrols in Yei amid gunfire nevertheless enabled human rights violations to be investigated while reassuring civilians.
The onset of rain would greatly complicate the humanitarian response while raising the spectre of cholera, of which 7,700 cases had been reported to date, he continued. In the past month, humanitarian responders had focused on more than 20,000 civilians displaced from Aburoc in Upper Nile due to clashes between the SPLA and opposition fighters. While the deployment of Rwandan peacekeepers to the area gave humanitarians confidence to follow suit, there were unacceptable levels of violence — including detention, threats, arrests, assaults and killings — directed at aid workers.
Regarding the deployment of the first wave of the Regional Protection Force, he said a Bangladesh construction engineering company had arrived in Juba, with an advance team of the Nepalese High Readiness Company due to follow by month’s end. Main bodies of both contingents were on track to arrive in July. Pending final tax exemptions for the Rwandan advance infantry company, that unit should deploy in late June or July, while its Ethiopian counterpart would follow in August after refurbishment of its equipment.
President Salva Kiir, announcing several changes within the SPLA, had formally launched a national dialogue in Juba, to which President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda had attended, he continued. He also noted that President Kiir had declared a unilateral ceasefire again and had pledged to review the cases of political prisoners. While those announcements were welcomed, he said, he also stressed that “the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating”.
In order to be credible, the national dialogue would need the genuine participation of opposition constituencies, he stated, adding however that opposition groups had jointly denounced the initiative. States in the region had significant influence on the political process and it was critical to have a coherent and unified regional position on South Sudan. It was also imperative for the Council to unite on a common strategy to advance the political process, he said, stating that “unity of purpose will send the best signal to South Sudan’s political leaders to focus first and foremost on the plight of their citizens”.
MICHELE SISON (United States), noting that it had been two months since the Government had declared a ceasefire, called on all parties to the conflict to stop the violence, return to the negotiating table and allow UNMISS unhindered access to those in need. The only way to achieve a lasting solution and to end suffering was through an inclusive political process led by the South Sudanese themselves. Noting her country’s call last month for more sanctions and an arms embargo, she said words needed to be backed up by concrete action. The terrible cost of failing to act would be borne by the South Sudanese people. Council members must use the tools at their disposal as soon as possible to stop the suffering.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said there would be dire consequences if the Council failed to avert South Sudan’s descent down a slippery slope. The unilateral ceasefire and release of political prisoners declared by President Kiir was welcomed, and the Council should acknowledge those developments. However, only through full implementation of the 2015 peace agreement could peace and stability be restored. The national dialogue must be all-inclusive and constructive. Because of the promising efforts by the President of Uganda and the support from Kenya’s initiative, the situation for advancing the peace process was better now than a few months ago. It was critical that the region speak in one voice, and for the international community and the Security Council to be on the same page, as well. Conflicting messages would inflict great damage, he said, noting that the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) had always ensured that their efforts were coordinated.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), recalling that two months had elapsed since the Council had agreed on very clear steps forward in South Sudan, pointed out that now “people are no longer fleeing in the tens of thousands, but in the hundreds of thousands”. The current situation underlined how “hollow” President Kiir’s promises two months ago must have sounded to the South Sudanese people. Noting that yet another ceasefire had been announced, the onus was now on President Kiir to prove such a declaration went beyond mere words. The Government and all parties on the ground must commit to the new ceasefire. It was also important to keep pressure on the Government with “all available tools” and make clear that there were consequences if it failed to deliver peace. He underscored the Council’s own responsibility in that regard, which he added “we are not yet fulfilling”.
LIU JIEYI (China), highlighting recent positive progress in South Sudan’s dialogue and political process, said its overall situation nevertheless remained “as complex as it is austere”. Consistent efforts from the international community were required to help the country push towards a sustainable political settlement. Spotlighting the critical role of regional and subregional organizations, including the mediation efforts of IGAD and the African Union, he urged the international community to support such efforts. There must also be stronger communication between UNMISS and Juba, with the latter implementing the related joint communiqué and supporting the Mission in carrying out its duties.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) called on Juba, the opposition and other regional actors to develop a time-specific plan of action to reach a cessation of hostilities and pursue dialogue. Warning that the current lack of progress provided the parties with a justification to continue fighting without legal ramifications, he also called for a “unified front of opposition” — representing all factions without narrow tribal prejudice — that would renounce violence and practice modern, peaceful opposition. The measures taken recently to restructure the SPLA were a step in the right direction towards building a professional army capable of protecting the population and subject to law and international accountability, while preventing the State’s collapse.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) underscored that almost one third of the population were now internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries, while two thirds of the population was in need of food and other humanitarian assistance. Welcoming the commencement of the National Dialogue Process, he stressed it would be productive only if it was genuinely inclusive. The first wave of the Regional Protection Force had arrived in South Sudan in April, and its full deployment must be completed expeditiously, in the hope that it would improve the situation on the ground, not only in Juba, but throughout the country.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) said the situation in South Sudan was tragic, with no apparent end in sight. It was crucial for the Regional Protection Force in Juba to be deployed without delay and for the Government to cooperate in that regard. The national dialogue must be genuinely inclusive. Otherwise, the opposition would not abandon warfare. Regarding joint mediation efforts now under way, he said regional actors could do more. With time running out, it was up to the Government and opposition to improve the situation. A political solution would entail a will to compromise. Otherwise, the Council would have to consider further options.
LUIS MAURICIO ARANCIBIA FERNÁNDEZ (Bolivia) said that, with no progress since last year, redoubled efforts were needed to revitalize the political process. Any initiatives in that regard were welcomed, including the unilateral ceasefire declared by President Kiir, as well as the good offices of the President of Uganda. Regional organizations should play a leading role, he said, calling for coordinated action, as well as a strategy that would make it possible to deal with the issue in a unified manner. Because escalating violence made it difficult to provide humanitarian assistance, he voiced hope that the Regional Protection Force would be able to fulfil its mandate as soon as possible.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), pointing out that, in the past, parties to the conflict had never failed to use the rainy season as an opportunity to rearm, said that an arms embargo would help address that situation. The beginning of a national dialogue offered hope for addressing the root causes of the conflict, but it must be fully inclusive, with stakeholders engaging in frank and fear-free dialogue. Mobilization of the international community was essential for facilitating the political process with the goal of advancing the 2015 peace agreements, she said, emphasizing the need for coordination between the African Union, United Nations, IGAD and other partners. The Council should meanwhile keep reminding stakeholders that they must make progress while putting sanctions on those obstructing the peace process.
PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation), echoing concerns about South Sudan’s disastrous humanitarian situation, appealed to all sides on the ground to ensure humanitarian access. He also commended the efforts of both the Government and neighbouring countries to address South Sudan’s food insecurity, which was not only human-induced, but also resulted from adverse weather conditions. However, progress on the ground would not be brought about by an arms embargo. The views of regional actors needed to be heeded in that regard. In addition, he expressed concern that some States that called loudly for sanctions inside the Council chamber continued to bring pressure on the committee tasked with investigating their involvement in the provision of arms to opposition forces in South Sudan.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), welcoming the initial deployment of the Regional Protection Force, urged that challenges related to tax exemptions for its equipment, as well as other relevant administrative issues, be swiftly resolved. Only transparent dialogue and the implementation of the peace agreement would bring about a sustainable peace. All parties must commit to a ceasefire and efforts to restore the rule of law. Other critical elements including the engagement of women and youth, the pursuit of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts, and ending the flow of weapons into the country.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said it was critical that President Kiir’s recently announced ceasefire be translated into concrete action. A comprehensive political settlement was the only way to settle the conflict and all major South Sudanese groups should be represented in the National Dialogue Committee. Welcoming the engagement of regional actors, he noted that regional initiatives, as well as those of the broader international community, be both coordinated and synchronized. “Freedom of movement of UNMISS and humanitarian organizations is not some kind of privilege to be granted or taken away on a whim, but their right,” he stressed, adding that such respect defined the Mission’s very ability to carry out its mandated tasks.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said the need to end suffering should drive the various parties towards an immediate end to fighting, the resumption of dialogue and implementation of the peace agreement. Hailing the unilateral ceasefire declared by the President of South Sudan, he said it encouraged all initiatives by countries in the region to restart the political process. While regional actors had a clear role to play, the various stakeholders must show true political will to end the conflict. On the deployment of the Regional Protection Force, he emphasized the need for cooperation from the South Sudanese Government.
CARL SKAU (Sweden) said that while he welcomed the declaration on a unilateral ceasefire by President Kiir, such commitments should be honoured and implemented. Furthermore, the situation must be monitored and the South Sudanese Government and other relevant actors must be held accountable. The need to address the humanitarian situation was pressing, and the Secretary-General’s report illustrated the severe impact of violence against aid workers on humanitarian operations. He also welcomed intensified efforts that were under way in the region, including the recent visit by President Museveni of Uganda to Juba. The world looked to the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to take the lead in efforts to create a road map for peace.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay), Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, saying that President Kiir’s recent announcement pointed “in the right direction”, namely towards a peaceful political dialogue and away from military operations, and he urged Council members to closely follow progress on both fronts. Only an inclusive dialogue would enjoy the legitimacy necessary to lead South Sudan out of conflict. The United Nations, regional and subregional actors must coordinate to ensure that the country’s peace process met such conditions. Noting that UNMISS continued to operate in an extremely dangerous environment, he voiced concern that, while eight months had elapsed since the Council had authorized the Regional Protection Force, its deployment had only just begun. He called on Juba to fully cooperate with resolution 2327 (2017), including with regards to the Force’s deployment and the lifting of all restrictions on the Mission.
JOSEPH MOUM MALOK (South Sudan), stating that the use of sanctions was not the best solution to address the conflict, welcomed the recent arrival of the first consignment of the Regional Protection Force. However, he stressed that the Government was not hindering the Force’s deployment. President Kiir had been persistent in his quest for a lasting peace, and had announced several amnesties to encourage rebels to lay down their arms. The other side had instead chosen to “stoke the bonfire of the conflict,” and had taken the war to the Greater Equatoria and some parts of Bahr el Ghazal. The President had also launched a national dialogue in Juba, and had instructed the Steering Committee to conduct consultations across the board.
It was not a replacement of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, he continued, but rather an opportunity to accommodate views and address issued that had not been tackled in that accord. A unilateral ceasefire had also been declared by the President and armed and security forces had been warned against harassing rebel or opposition members if they decided to join the national dialogue. The President had also noted that the ceasefire would facilitate the movement of humanitarian aid to famine-stricken areas. To achieve a permanent peace, the rebel movements now needed to meet the Transitional Government of National Unity halfway if they were serious about finding a durable solution to the conflict.