With South Sudan poised to sign a peace agreement aimed at quelling ongoing violence in the country, the political situation on the ground remained tense and the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate, top officials told the Security Council this morning.
Briefing the 15-member body, Ellen Margrethe Løj, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), said that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir was expected to sign the “Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) Plus” peace agreement tomorrow. That agreement had been partially signed by opposition leaders and other actors on 17 August.
“As we welcome the signing of the agreement by the Government, I reiterate my call to the leaders of South Sudan to place the interests of their people above their personal ambitions and to implement the peace agreement in good faith,” she said.
That included an immediate end to all hostilities, said Ms. Løj, stressing that the situation on the ground remained “volatile and tense”. Fighting in the Greater Upper Nile region had remained intense and further escalation of hostilities in southern Unity State had had increasingly severe consequences for the civilian population.
Describing clashes between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the South Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A) in Upper Nile State, as well as the further deterioration of the security situation in the Bahr El-Ghazal and the Equatoria regions, she said that people from conflict-affected areas had been flooding into UNMISS protection sites. The Mission now was providing protection to over 200,000 internally displaced persons.
That large influx, she said, as well as the resulting rise in political, ethnic and tribal tensions, as well as criminal activity in the camps, underscored the unsustainability of those protection sites for the longer term. UNMISS had expanded its reach outside of those sites in order to increase security for the local population, as well as facilitated conditions for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In particular, it had scaled up its protection of civilian efforts in Unity State.
However, capacity and resource constraints and deliberate obstruction by the parties had limited those efforts. She urged troop- and police-contributing countries, along with other Member States, to help equip and accelerate the deployment of UNMISS personnel and resources to provide additional necessary resources.
She went on to say that she was “deeply shocked” by the parties’ utter disrespect for human life. UNMISS continued to receive reports of gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict. Reported violations included indiscriminate killings, rape and other sexual violence, abductions of civilians, and the destruction of civilian objects, property and livelihoods. The deliberate targeting of innocent civilians, including women, children and the elderly, must stop immediately, and the culture of impunity must end.
She was also concerned by the recent restrictions placed on press freedom in the country, including through the detention of and threats and violence against journalists. The recent killing of Peter Moi, a journalist of the New Nations newspaper, raised serious concerns; she urged swift and thorough investigations into that incident.
Following the hopefully successful conclusion to the peace talks, she said, it would be necessary to keep in mind that implementation would have significant resource implications. The agreement included a number of important tasks for the Mission, as well as several implied tasks that the Mission would need to support. In orienting UNMISS to assume those functions, it would be important to ensure that resources were not diverted from key mandated tasks, particularly the protection of civilians. The agreement was only a first step, she stressed, adding that peace, stability and prosperity would not come to South Sudan overnight.
Stephen O’Brien, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefing the Council on his first visit to South Sudan as Emergency Relief Coordinator in late July, described a “very deeply harrowing experience” of having witnessed the consequences of over 20 months of brutal conflict on the lives of men, women and children.
The humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate sharply, with 2.2 million people having been displaced, an increase of 200,000 since the beginning of the year. Over 1.6 million people had been displaced internally and more than 616,000 had fled to neighbouring States, he said, adding that almost 200,000 people had sought refuge in UNMISS bases, compared with 121,000 just four months ago. Severe food insecurity had affected 4.6 million people this year, compared to 3.8 million at the height of the lean season last year. The lives of more than a quarter of a million children were at risk. The situation was particularly alarming in areas affected by armed conflict, in particular in Unity and Upper Nile States.
The scope and level of cruelty characterizing the attacks against civilians suggested a “depth of antipathy” that went beyond political differences, Mr. O’Brien said, stressing that there had been evidence of deliberate ethnic targeting of and reprisals against women and girls. While needs were increasing, aid workers faced severe restrictions in reaching people in a timely manner. At least 29 humanitarians had been killed since the start of the conflict and many more hand been wounded or abducted.
“This is unacceptable,” he said, reminding all parties of their obligations to protect and respect humanitarian personnel and supplies. Despite the increasingly difficult environment, humanitarian workers had reached 2.3 million people with food and livelihood assistance, and over 1.6 million people with water, sanitation and hygiene services.
To address the persisting humanitarian challenges, there was a need for a credible cession of hostilities with stepped up protection of civilians. Anyone with influence on the parties should ensure that humanitarian efforts were not impeded. Adequate funding for humanitarian operations was critical, he said, noting that only half of the requirements for the 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan had so far been met. Without timely and sustainable funding, the international community would not be able to deliver on its promise to enable the people of South Sudan to realize their basic right to be safe, live with dignity and be free from want.
In his briefing, Cristián Barros Melet (Chile), speaking as Chair of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee, reiterated the Panel of Experts’ observation that the precipitous deterioration of the situation in South Sudan had posed a significant threat not only to the country’s citizens but also to the peace and security of the region.
In that context, he said the Panel had recommended that designations undertaken by the Committee include those decision-makers with the ability to either perpetuate or end the war, or those who reaped the economic and political benefits of the conflicts, as well as others responsible for serious crimes. In light of the continuing supply of arms and ammunitions to all parties, which had prolonged and escalated the war, the Panel recommended that the Council impose a complete and general arms embargo on South Sudan.
He said the Panel also had recommended that the Council urge the African Union to publicly release the report of its commission of inquiry on South Sudan without further delay, as it would give insight into those responsible for violations. During the Committee’s meeting on 20 August, the Panel coordinator had noted that, by every measure, the situation in South Sudan had deteriorated since the Panel had submitted its interim report to the Committee. The Committee had taken note of only the recommendations addressed to it: that it consider additional designations of individuals, Mr. Barros said.
Since his last briefing on 14 May, the Committee had held an exchange of views with the Panel on 22 May, he said. On 19 June, the Committee had held its second formal meeting with the representatives of South Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda on the implementation of resolution 2206 (2015).
Finally, Mr. Barros said, the Panel had submitted its first monthly report on 26 June, and the Committee on 1 July had approved the listing of six individuals as subject to the travel ban and assets freeze set out in resolution 2206 (2015). He would visit South Sudan in November and assured the Council of his utmost efforts to ensure that the Committee made a significant contribution to its work.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 10:45 a.m.