Foreseeing little progress in upcoming peace talks on South Sudan due to continued fighting and lack of political will, the United Nations peacekeeping head this afternoon urged the Security Council to impose consequences if the parties did not immediately cease fire and make necessary compromises in negotiation.
“There is now an urgent need to reinforce the mediation efforts, as well as to impose consequences on the parties if they fail to show willingness to compromise, and continue engaging in a conflict that will result in further loss of innocent lives,” Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said in a briefing that also included Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović and Permanent Representative of South Sudan Francis Mading Deng.
In that regard, Mr. Ladsous underlined the need for accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the fighting that began with a power struggle between leaders and spread into all out, intercommunity fighting. “For the culture of impunity to end, those responsible for continuing it must be brought to justice,” he said.
Introducing the Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS (document S/2015/118), which covers developments from 18 November 2014 to 10 February 2015, Mr. Ladsous described numerous clashes between Government and opposition forces in various states of the country, reporting that the two camps were also mobilizing for new campaigns, with reports of children being recruited.
The volatile security environment, he said, was a direct illustration of the parties’ continued lack of political will, with the talks in Addis Ababa presenting “a serious failure of leadership that remains focused on pursuit of power rather than care of the people”. The talks remained stalled over power-sharing, security arrangements and constitutional reforms; Mr. Ladsous could not envision progress despite agreements signed on 21 January and 16 February.
He expressed concern over proposed bills making their way through the Government-dominated legislature, allowing postponement of elections and extension of current office holders, worrying that the two-year timeline could be another incentive to defer reaching compromises. He also expressed concern over what he called the shrinking of political space and freedoms, with media shut down and harassed, and opposition political parties prevented from participating in the Addis Ababa peace talks.
Describing a deteriorating humanitarian situation, Mr. Ladsous said that UNMISS continued to take every opportunity to move from protection “by location”, at the Mission’s protection sites, to protection “by presence”, through dynamic, integrated patrols, information-gathering, timely response to threats and the establishment of temporary operating bases in key population centres, utilizing Quick Reaction Forces.
He said that 3,468 of the 5,500 newly authorized troops had been deployed, with the full deployment of authorized infantry and enablers expected by April. Six of nine utility helicopters had been deployed, with deployment of tactical helicopters being pursued. UNMISS continued to experience numerous violations of the State of Forces Agreement that hampered its operations.
Detailing the humanitarian and human rights situation in South Sudan as he witnessed it in early February, Mr. Šimonović said that the number of displaced had continued to grow, reaching 2 million. Thousands more had died and further humanitarian and human rights violations had been committed by both sides. The number of those seeking protection at UNMISS sites, mainly women and children, had surpassed 110,000, with many more outside the sites in extremely vulnerable situations.
He relayed the experiences of people whose whole families had been executed primarily due to their ethnicity, women and girls who had been taken as sex slaves after their husbands were killed and survivors of massacres at hospitals. What he witnessed on his mission was not what the people of South Sudan had sought in their decades-long fight for dignity and independence, he stressed. A cultural change based on respect for human life and rights, achieved through inclusive arrangements for the end of the conflict and mechanisms for accountability was needed.
Turning to options for accountability for serious human rights violations following the outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013, he urged the release of the report of the Commission of Inquiry of the African Union, as well as the findings of Government investigations. Together, those reports might form the basis of a process that could help end the cycle of violence and impunity and pave the way to reconciliation and sustainable peace.
To be able to deliver in that respect, however, there was a need to improve institutions of the rule of law, including the formal justice system, which was already very weak and had broken down completely in conflict areas.
In the meantime, to contribute to an atmosphere conducive for reaching a peace, the Council may wish to encourage human-rights-centred, confidence-building measures, including cooperation in the tracing of missing persons and family reunification, and the release of detainees, he suggested.
Mr. Deng, taking the floor last, said the Secretary-General’s report portrayed a disturbing picture that challenged the dignity and value of his country’s independence. It gave the impression that the whole country was in turmoil. In reality, three states were affected by the conflict, while the rest of the country — seven states — was in relative peace and harmony.
The report, he said, also conveyed the impression that the international community, through UNMISS, was virtually managing the situation, with the Government failing to discharge its primary responsibility for protecting and assisting the people. Worse, it was made to look as though the international community cared more about the people of South Sudan then their own leaders.
There was a need to bridge the discrepancy between the primary responsibility of the State and the complementary support of UNMISS, he said. While it was prudent to consult both sides of the conflict to foster national consensus, the United Nations should work in collaboration with the popularly elected and legitimate Government to address practical problems. Condemnation of the leadership and threats of sanctions would only aggravate the situation.
Remedies could be found to restore a constructive basis for partnership in stabilizing and developing the country, he said. It would be “an ironic double jeopardy” to punish a country that was already suffering from an acute crisis. It was in everyone’s interest to improve communication, cooperation and complementarity in addressing challenges within South Sudan, as well as its relations with Sudan, he maintained.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 3:45 p.m.