With factional fighting and massive displacement continuing in South Sudan, the top United Nations official for that country this morning urged the Security Council to move the warring parties to translate verbal commitments into peace on the ground.
"There is no alternative to silencing the guns and concluding, without further delay, a comprehensive peace agreement in order to return the country towards the path of peace and stability," Ellen Margrethe Lǿj, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said at a briefing that also heard from Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (via teleconference from Geneva), as well as the representative of South Sudan.
Introducing the latest report of the Secretary-General(document S/2014/708), Ms. Lǿj said that skirmishes continued between the two parties to the conflict, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and its opposition, in Northern Jonglei and Upper Nile States. Inter-community violence also continued in Lakes State and other areas.
Due to that fighting, the humanitarian situation across the country remained dire, she said, with over 1.8 million people displaced both internally and to neighbouring countries and some 4 million people facing serious food insecurity.
UNMISS continued to provide protection to around 100,000 displaced persons at nine sites, she said. She described extensive work done to improve physical conditions at those sites, including enhanced drainage, and to relocate persons to sites with such improved conditions.
As of 21 October, Ms. Lǿj said, UNMISS deployment stood at 10,488 troops and 890 police. With the arrival of additional troops, all efforts were being exerted to expand protection of civilians beyond the Mission's premises through proactive patrolling and the establishment of forward bases.
Over 3.2 million people, she said, had been reached with some form of humanitarian assistance over the course of this year; UNMISS, she pledged, would continue to support the humanitarian community to ensure the key needs of the people were met.
On the human rights front, she said that UNMISS continued to receive reports of gross violations and had investigated allegations of civilians killed during hostilities. It was closely monitoring the "aggressive posture of the SPLA" towards persons sheltering in the UNMISS protection site in Bentiu.
Looking forward to the findings of the African Union Commission of Inquiry, she underlined the need for accountability for atrocities. "I must say that since I have been on the ground, I have been shocked by the complete disregard for human life," she added.
Ms. Bangura, describing her first visit to South Sudan, from 5 to 11 October, also reacted strongly to the suffering of displaced persons, particularly women, who she said faced a mix of chronic insecurity, unimaginable living conditions, acute protection concerns and “rampant” sexual violence.
“The character of sexual violence crimes shocked me to my core”, she said, citing remarks by one survivor who had told her, “It is not just about rape — it is done to break your dignity; it is done to cause unimaginable suffering.”
Her visit had borne out reports that sexual violence was widespread and included rape, gang-rape, abductions, forced marriage and mutilation of sexual organs — perpetrated by all sides of the conflict. While the violence predated the December 2013 crisis, attacks had reached an “alarming” level. She was gravely concerned about the ethnic dimensions, as seen in targeting and reprisals between the Dinka and Nuer communities.
She described the “appalling” conditions of life for women across the country, the young age of victims of sexual violence, and the lack of capacity to investigate allegations and to prosecute perpetrators. It was essential, she stressed, to harmonize customary and statutory law. “National Governments hold the primary legal and moral responsibility to protect their citizens from sexual violence,” she said.
In that context, she said she was pleased to announce that she had signed, with the President of South Sudan, a joint communiqué to address conflict-related sexual violence that included commitments for the issuance and enforcement of orders through the military and police chains of command prohibiting such abuse; developing action plans for the SPLA and national police; fighting impunity; and reforming the justice sector.
She urged the opposition to show a similar commitment. “You cannot wage war on the bodies of the women and children of South Sudan,” she implored. “You must put people, not politics, at the centre of your relationships.”
Following those briefings, South Sudan’s representative, Francis Mading Deng, said that despite the devastation of the conflict, the prompt and supportive response of subregional and regional organizations, as well as of the United Nations, was a commendable demonstration of the shared responsibility for peacemaking and the protection of people from physical threats.
“The challenges are formidable,” he said. Society had not only been shattered, but also heavily militarized by arms that had been proliferating for decades. “This cancer needs to be urgently addressed.”
While the conflict was primarily political, he said it had been made ethnic, both in perception and by targeted killings that had divided groups that otherwise had much in common. In addition, the traditional social order and related cultural values were breaking down.
Leadership was critical to restoring peace, unity and reconciliation, he said, and much work was needed to promote a broad-based healing. Recent intra-party talks in Arusha were an encouraging step and a significant complement to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace process.
He urged the international community to support improved relations between Sudan and South Sudan. On the part of UNMISS, he said, capacity-building was critical to helping South Sudan live up to the standards of good governance, human rights and civilian protection.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.