South Sudan’s Leaders Must End Pursuit of Political Objectives through Violence, Assistant Secretary-General Tells Security Council

SC/12918
20 July 2017
8008th Meeting (AM)

South Sudan’s Leaders Must End Pursuit of Political Objectives through Violence, Assistant Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Members Warn of Humanitarian Crisis, Voice Support for Subregional Plan to Revitalize 2015 Peace Agreement

Briefing the Security Council on the situation in South Sudan today, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations said the success of an Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) proposal to revitalize the 2015 peace agreement in the country would hinge on the degree to which the Government and opposition embraced it and committed to its implementation.

Briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s 30‑day report on South Sudan, as well as on the situation there, El Ghassim Wane called the Intergovernmental Authority’s initiative an important development.

He encouraged the Council to once again express full support for the IGAD‑led process and to urge all stakeholders in South Sudan to embrace it.  He also underlined the importance of unity of purpose within the region, adding that the international community must send a strong message to South Sudanese leaders on all sides that the status quo was unacceptable and unsustainable.

“A change of behaviour is long overdue and the pursuit of political objectives through violence — for which the people of South Sudan continue to bear a heavy toll — should not be allowed to continue,” he said.

He said the peace process in South Sudan faced numerous challenges that must be overcome to make the most of the opportunity created by the deployment of the Regional Protection Force in Juba and to put South Sudan back on a track to peace and stability.  Describing the security environment as volatile, he said that, since the Government announced a unilateral ceasefire in June, active military operations had been reported in the Equatorias and in Upper Nile State.

He added that recent Government decisions — including the blocking of news media websites — seemed to contradict official commitments to create an environment conducive to conducting a national dialogue launched by President Salva Kiir.  Every effort should be made to ensure that the National Dialogue was inclusive and transparent, with outcomes that complemented the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan and supported by a sufficiently broad consensus on the part of all the country’s political forces, he said.

Festus Mogae, Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, speaking via video link, briefed the Council on his consultations with critical stakeholders.  Those included the President and Vice-President of South Sudan, the Presidents of Sudan, Uganda and Kenya, the Vice-President of South Africa in his capacity as that country’s Special Envoy for South Sudan, and Riek Machar, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO).  He also discussed the IGAD initiative, calling it an opportunity to halt violence and restore hope.

He said he wished that the United Nations, the African Union and IGAD spoke in one voice.  Currently, their efforts were not quite aligned, enabling parties in South Sudan to take advantage of differences of approach, he explained, adding that stronger warnings from those three entities could make the South Sudanese believe that what they meant what they said.

South Sudan’s representative said the Government of National Unity had the political will and desire to continue to work closely with UNMISS and humanitarian actors to address any pending issues.  Despite the lifting of the famine alert on South Sudan, the humanitarian situation continued to remain dire, he added, urging the international community to honour their pledges to aid South Sudan.

The National Dialogue had started its work and was progressing well, he said, adding that he had led a delegation to South Africa to meet with Mr. Machar, who “unfortunately declined to give him and his delegation an audience”.  The Government continued to urge Mr. Machar and other armed opposition groups to reconsider their positions regarding the Dialogue.

“The National Dialogue can only be inclusive with their participation, but its success does not depend on their participation,” he said, stating that it was prudent for “personal bitterness” to be put aside in favour of initiatives that sought to bring about lasting, peaceful solutions for South Sudan.  He added that the Government would keep working with IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations to find lasting peace.

Council members took the floor to voice support for the efforts by IGAD and the African Union, emphasizing that a political solution was the only way out of a conflict that had generated a humanitarian crisis in the world’s newest nation.

The representative of Ethiopia, a member of IGAD, said a lack of progress in implementing the 2015 peace agreement called for a reinvigoration of the process through forgiveness and reconciliation.  IGAD had thus decided to convene a High‑Level Revitalization Forum, which would include estranged groups, to implement that accord and devise a realistic timeline and schedule for democratic elections.  The IGAD Council of Ministers and Chiefs of Staff would soon meet in Juba to discuss the approved guidelines, he said.

For its part, he added, the Security Council must lend its unreserved support to that regional effort and send a message to all parties to seriously and constructively engage in the peace process.  Unity of purpose among IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations must be maintained.  “All of us speaking with one voice should be our guide,” he said.

The representative of the United States said nothing was changing despite promises from South Sudan’s leaders to finally get serious about peace.  “This Council needs to hold the parties on the ground accountable for their broken promises,” she said, stressing that the overall trend was worsening, with more than 6 million people — half the country’s population — food insecure, and 1.7 million on the brink of starvation because aid could not reach them.

“Make no mistake.  This is a crisis of human creation,” the United Kingdom’s representative said, stating that until Government actions matched its words, the Council had no choice but to return to issuing an arms embargo and stopping the uncontrolled flow of weapons that was driving the violence.

Taking a different stance, the Russian Federation’s delegate said it was unjust to pin all blame on Juba, and that it was important for the opposition to take reciprocal measures.  The threat of new sanctions would not help and risked exasperating the conflict, he said.  Noting the Secretary-General’s efforts and coordination among regional players, he cautioned against excessive optimism, saying the political process was only beginning and that much work lied ahead.

The representative of Uruguay called the crisis the result of a conflict of personal ambitions between two political leaders who had put their own quests for power above the interest of their citizens.  No effort by the Council, the African Union or IGAD would succeed if South Sudan’s leaders did not commit themselves to the needs of their people, he said.

Also speaking were representatives of France, Sweden, Bolivia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Ukraine, Japan and China.

The meeting began at 10:44 a.m. and ended at 12:18 p.m.

Briefings

EL GHASSIM WANE, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefing the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s 30‑day report on South Sudan, said the peace process in that country faced numerous challenges.  Those challenges had to be overcome as a matter of priority in order to make the most of the opportunity created by the deployment of the Regional Protection Force in Juba and to put South Sudan back on a track to peace and stability.  Describing the security environment as volatile, he said that, since the Government announced a unilateral ceasefire in June, active military operations had been reported.  That included heavy fighting after the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) moved towards Mathiang, in Upper Nile, as well as clashes between the SPLA and Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) near Torit, Eastern Equatoria, where the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) had to reinforce its presence.

Recent Government decisions seemed to contradict official commitments to create an environment conducive to conducting the National Dialogue, he said.  Those included two decrees on 17 July to replace six SPLA-IO members of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly linked to Riek Machar with allies of First Vice-President Taban Deng Gai.  The following day, the websites of two media outlets were blocked after criticism of the Government, raising questions about respect for freedom of expression.  On 10 July, the National Security Services arrested the Director-General of the South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation.  He was later released, but the authorities needed to do more to create an environment conducive to a credible National Dialogue, he said.

Every effort should be made to ensure that the National Dialogue was inclusive and transparent, taking place in a free and secure environment, with clear outcomes that complemented the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan and supported by a sufficiently broad consensus on the part of all the country’s political forces, he said.  That was critical for ensuring that the National Dialogue was not dismissed or rejected by the opposition and that it not lead to more disputes, more fighting and greater displacement.

Turning to proposed revitalization process led by the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), he said success would depend on the extent to which the Government and opposition would embrace that initiative and commit to its full implementation.  Describing the Intergovernmental Authority’s initiative as an important development, he encouraged the Council to once again express full support for the IGAD-led process and to urge all stakeholders in South Sudan to embrace it.  He underlined the critical importance of unity of purpose within the region, adding that the international community must send a strong message to South Sudanese leaders on all sides that the status quo was unacceptable and unsustainable.  “A change of behaviour is long overdue and the pursuit of political objectives through violence — for which the people of South Sudan continue to bear a heavy toll — should not be allowed to continue,” he concluded.

FESTUS MOGAE, Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, speaking via video link from Juba, said his team’s “One Voice” initiative, which demanded that South Sudanese leaders end hostilities and restore the ceasefire, was as relevant today as on the day it was written.  At the same time, he said he had engaged in a constant round of consultations with critical stakeholders, including the South Sudan’s President and First Vice-President, reiterating a message of peace, humanitarian relief and political inclusivity.   He discussed other meetings he had had with the Presidents of Sudan, Uganda and Kenya to identify a way out of the escalating violence and human crisis, emphasizing that IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations must adopt one voice in their engagement with South Sudan with regional leaders aligning their messages and action.

In South Africa, he continued, he had met with the Vice-President in his capacity as that country’s Special Envoy for South Sudan and with Riek Machar, conveying to the latter a message to renounce violence, respect the ceasefire and embrace dialogue.  He went on to discuss IGAD’s latest initiative, saying it was an opportunity to end senseless violence and restore hope for the people of South Sudan.  Success, however, would require parties to the peace agreement to be willing to compromise and accommodate each other.

Statements

MICHELE SISON (United States) said there had been promises from South Sudan’s leaders to finally get serious about pursuing peace, allow aid to reach the starving and the sick, and that humanitarian workers would not be harassed while they did their jobs.  However, nothing was changing.  The violence continued, with horrific atrocities becoming almost routine.  United Nations peacekeepers faced obstacles in protecting civilians, while humanitarians were blocked from delivering life-saving assistance.  “This Council needs to hold the parties on the ground accountable for their broken promises,” she asserted, recalling that it had called for a ceasefire in South Sudan more than a year ago.  In May, the Government had declared a unilateral ceasefire, yet its forces were opening new battle fronts.  Those military operations were driving thousands from their homes and forcing humanitarian workers to be evacuated.  “It is truly a travesty,” she said.

She stressed that the overall trend was worsening, with more than 6 million people — half the country’s population — food insecure, and 1.7 million on the brink of starvation because aid could not reach them.  June had been the worst month for aid access this year.  The Government was still asking humanitarian agencies to pay high fees just to continue operating in the country.  Recalling that, in March, the Council had adopted a presidential statement calling on parties to stop the fighting, commit to a political process and allow unfettered humanitarian access, she said the Council must be prepared to hold parties accountable for their inaction.  It must place real pressure on them to change their behaviour, starting with additional targeted sanctions and an arms embargo.  The support for the High-Level Revitalization Forum demonstrated that international partners did not have confidence in South Sudan’s leaders to live up to the 2015 peace agreement.  If its leaders did not participate in that Forum, the United States would review its position and support for the peace agreement and its implementing bodies.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the horrifying situation in South Sudan had compelled him to speak out today, noting that, two weeks ago, that nation’s people should have been celebrating six years of independence, but they had been stifled by their leaders who would rather serve their own ends than their country.  Six million people depended on humanitarian aid.  “Make no mistake.  This is a crisis of human creation,” he said.  While the country’s leaders had had six years to prevent the violence, they had instead poured fuel on the fire.  On fighting in Pagak, where a Government offensive had displaced thousands of people into Ethiopia, he said some Government officials had denied there was violence, while others said it was done only in self-defence.  He disputed the latter claim as a violation of ceasefire declared by the President, stressing that the Government also had clamped down on the media and access to information, with Internet service providers ordered to block media outlets with which the Government disagreed.  In June, humanitarian access had been blocked 100 times, all in violation of the peace agreement.  Until Government actions matched its words, the Council had no choice but to return to issuing an arms embargo and stopping the uncontrolled flow of weapons that was driving the violence.  He advocated support for the IGAD Revitalization Forum, which would require a negotiated ceasefire, across a broad range of armed actors.  Any actors blocking peace would face consequences, he stressed.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) noted the deeply worrying security situation in South Sudan.  Despite the President’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire, fighting continued unabated with devastating consequences.  Violence in Upper Nile State and the state of emergency declared in four states demonstrated the deterioration.  The cessation of all hostilities was an urgent priority, which would create a conducive environment to facilitating humanitarian access.  He expressed serious concern over the many obstacles faced by humanitarian agencies, which had been denied access to deliver supplies.  He called on all parties to facilitate unhindered access, and on the international community to step up efforts to provide such aid.  There had been reports that ceasefire monitoring teams had been prevented from carrying out their duties by both parties.  He called on all parties to immediately renounce violence and take genuine steps to stop hostilities.

Stressing the 2015 peace agreement as the only viable way to restore peace and stability, he said the lack of lack of progress in its implementation was a source of concern, requiring a reinvigoration of the process through forgiveness and reconciliation.  IGAD had decided to convene a High-Level Revitalization Forum, which would include estranged groups, to implement that accord and devise a realistic timeline and schedule for democratic elections to be held at the end of the transition.  The IGAD Council of Ministers and Chiefs of Staff would soon meet in Juba to discuss the approved guidelines.  For its part, the Security Council must lend its unreserved support to that regional effort and send a message to all parties to seriously and constructively engage in the peace process.  The unity of purpose among IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations must be maintained.  “All of us speaking with one voice should be our guide,” he said, calling it a “silver bullet” for making serious progress.  There was no viable alternative to those collective efforts and he encouraged them to enhance their collaboration.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said the crisis was the result of a conflict of personal ambitions between two political leaders who had put their own quests for power above the interest of their citizens.  That stood in contrast to Colombia’s peace process, he said, adding that no effort by the Council, the African Union or IGAD would succeed if South Sudan’s leaders did not commit themselves to the needs of their people.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), noting that fighting had continued despite the rainy season, emphasized the Government’s responsibility to protect civilians.  It must ensure smooth cooperation with UNMISS, as well as access for humanitarian workers to all areas where civilians were under threat.  The Council must assume its responsibilities, as well, he said, adding that an arms embargo would help lower the level of violence.  He also emphasized the need to fight impunity and ensure accountability for human rights violations, including through the creation of a hybrid court with the African Union playing a major role.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said the political, security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan remained deeply concerning.  The ongoing conflict continued to have a profound impact on the people of South Sudan, with almost 2 million having fled the country.  He welcomed regional efforts aimed at moving parties towards a permanent ceasefire and a credible political process.  The commitment by IGAD to engage all parties, including estranged groups and other stakeholders, was particularly important.  He also emphasized the need to strengthen the role and participation of women in the peace process.  Expressing concern over reports of intense fighting, he said that recent confrontation around Pagak and Torit were particularly worrying as they illustrated that the SPLA had launched new offensive operations.  All parties must immediately lay down their arms and adhere to the ceasefire, he stressed, urging the Council to remain unified on the matter.  He went on to stress the need for further humanitarian financing and urged access to those in need of assistance.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said that, six years ago, 98 per cent of South Sudanese had opted for their independence, a unity that had since disappeared amid political, security and humanitarian crises.  Bolivia had taken note of the President’s conciliatory message that war was not an option and of his appeal to respect the ceasefire.  While Bolivia advocated implementation of the ceasefire and international support for recent efforts, the South Sudanese must lead those efforts and their total commitment was vital.  Internal divisions in the Government and the opposition must be set aside.  Beyond any differences over who governed, citizens must be the priority.  Inclusiveness and genuine dialogue were fundamental, and citing the Revitalization Forum, he expressed support for regional efforts, notably from the African Union, the United Nations and IGAD, as 6 million — 50 per cent of the population — would require food aid this month.  Guaranteeing safe access to it was crucial.  On the Regional Protection Force, he welcomed progress by engineering companies, especially as the Force’s assistance was crucial for guaranteeing protection of civilians.  He also voiced support for measures taken by UNMISS to improve its effectiveness.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) said the status of forces agreement had been violated by South Sudan authorities, including with arbitrary arrests of UNMISS personnel and increasing attacks on humanitarian workers.  Further, 250 children were trapped between clashing parties and journalists had been arrested.  He commended Sudan for the one-year deal allowing aid flow to South Sudan refugees and the opening of humanitarian corridors.  Indeed, the only solution was a political one, a position Italy had taken bilaterally and as Co-Chair of the IGAD Partners Forum on 12 June.  Without collaboration among IGAD members, there could be no peace in South Sudan.  Together, with the African Union and United Nations, IGAD was the one to develop a political track for the parties and he welcomed its growing diplomatic actions.  Urging authorities to facilitate the Rapid Deployment Force, he said South Sudan’s leaders were obliged to feed and protect the population.  Work to establish the hybrid court must be accelerated.  For its part, Italy would continue to work at the political level with South Sudanese and regional stakeholders, and at the humanitarian level, by providing aid and financing to address the emergency.

PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation), emphasizing that stabilization would only be possible through a ceasefire, said it was unjust to pin all blame on Juba, and that it was important for the opposition to take reciprocal measures.  The threat of new sanctions would not help and risked exasperating the conflict.  He said his country wished that the National Dialogue would be a success and called for full support for that initiative.  Noting the Secretary-General’s personal efforts and coordination among regional players, he cautioned against excessive optimism, stating that the political process was only beginning and that much work lied ahead.  Cooperation between the African Union, United Nations and IGAD would hopefully demonstrate its effectiveness, he said.

BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) expressed grave concern over continued fighting, as well as violence against UNMISS and humanitarian personnel.  Such actions undermined efforts to facilitate the peace process, he said, urging all parties to cease hostilities and to stop attacks on humanitarian workers.  On the National Dialogue, he said it must be truly inclusive and transparent.  He also urged the transitional Government to engage positively with the United Nations and regional actors.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) asked what the Council must do now that it had proclaimed the need for cooperation between the region and the subregion, citing IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations in that regard.  Such cooperation was important as the Council considered adopting measures.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) expressed concern over the security situation in South Sudan, condemning clashes in Gogrial State, where a cattle dispute had turned into a full-scale battle, killing many people.  The security situation was extremely fragile, even in areas previously considered peaceful.  Ukraine had taken note of the state of emergency and the order to form an investigation committee, he said, urging that the perpetrators of killings be held accountable and emphasizing that armed clashes in Pagak had forced thousands of people to flee.  Welcoming the conclusion of the extraordinary session of the IGAD Council of Ministers, he outlined Ukraine’s expectation that parties demonstrate “once and for all” good will to respect the ceasefire and start a realistic timeline for elections.  Unless the process was all inclusive, it would not succeed.  He expressed regret that UNMISS’ efforts had been obstructed, hampering its ability to implement crucial tasks.  The Mission and humanitarian actors must have unhindered access to areas in need.  The Council must speak in one voice and continue to engage collectively and bilaterally with South Sudan.  The Rapid Protection Force was in the best interests of the Government if it genuinely sought peace.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) expressed concern over the situation, especially the advance of the SPLA towards Pagak, contradicting the President’s claim that war was not an option.  He called for restraint from the Government and the opposition alike, stressing that residents and aid workers were evacuating Upper Nile State because of that advance.  Japan was encouraged that IGAD was working with the African Union and the United Nations to revitalize the 2015 peace agreement by engaging with previously excluded groups.  The Council should unite in urging all parties to constructively engage in the process so that the Forum, slated for September, would yield positive results.  National dialogue was equally important, he said, which must involve grass‑roots trust-building and reconciliation activities.  Japan looked forward to the deployment of the Rapid Protection Force, including through resolution of land allocation issues, he said, stressing the importance of cooperation among troop‑contributing countries, the Secretariat and South Sudan in that context.

LIU JIEYI (China), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity, and describing the overall situation as complex and serious, said the only way out was through a political solution.  That would require more effort on the part of the Government and people of South Sudan with international support, he said, emphasizing that a settlement must address root causes while aiming for broad support.  Speeding up the political process while maintaining stability was a priority, he said.  The Government had reached agreement with part of the opposition and China hoped the international community would support its leading role in addressing internal matters.  He emphasized the need to support the good offices role of regional and subregional organizations and to enhance humanitarian and economic assistance, with priority going towards agriculture, irrigation and roads.  He drew attention to the assistance China had extended to South Sudan, including food assistance through the World Food Programme (WFP), the bilateral delivery of food and anti-malarial drugs and the contribution of 1,000 peacekeepers.

Mr. MOGAE, taking the floor a second time and responding to a question from Senegal’s representative, said he wished that the United Nations, the African Union and IGAD spoke in one voice.  Currently, their efforts were not quite aligned, enabling parties in South Sudan to take advantage of differences of approach.  He added that those three entities could maybe also warn the South Sudanese much more strongly.  By doing so, the South Sudanese could believe that they meant what they said.

AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan) reported some positive developments with regard to the deployment of the Regional Protection Force, with some of the units and contingent equipment already in Juba.  Just a few days ago, the Government of National Unity made some progress on the proposed “one-stop shop” by appointing national staff.  The one-stop shop had been intended to resolve impediments to UNMISS operations, including facilitating equipment.

He said that the Government of National Unity had the political will and desire to continue to work closely with UNMISS and humanitarian actors to address any pending issues.  Despite the lifting of the famine alert on South Sudan, the humanitarian situation continued to remain dire, he added, urging the international community to honour their pledges to aid South Sudan.  The humanitarian gap faced by the various humanitarian organizations must be met.

The National Dialogue had started its work and was progressing well, he continued, adding that it was imperative to report that the Co-Chairs of the Steering Committee had begun their efforts to reach out to the other stakeholders who were in and out of South Sudan.  One of the Co-Chairs had led a delegation to South Africa to meet with Riek Machar, who “unfortunately declined to give him and his delegation an audience”.  The Government continued to urge Mr. Machar and other armed opposition groups to reconsider their positions regarding the National Dialogue.

“The National Dialogue can only be inclusive with their participation, but its success does not depend on their participation,” he added.  It was prudent that they put aside their “personal bitterness” and embrace initiatives that sought to bring about lasting, peaceful solutions for South Sudan.  He also said that the Transitional Government of National Unity would continue to work with IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations to find lasting peace.  That could only be achieved through a political process that was accepted by the South Sudanese.

For information media. Not an official record.