‘You’re Allowing President Kiir to Do What He’s Doing,’ Says United States, as Russian Federation Questions Fairness of Blaming Government
While the political process in South Sudan was not dead, it would require “significant resuscitation”, the senior United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today, as it considered the recent security, humanitarian and political developments in the world’s youngest nation.
Virtually no part of South Sudan was immune from conflict, yet there had been no concerted effort by any party to adhere to a ceasefire, said David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Warning that the conflict had intensified over the past month, he said the Mission was now directly protecting more than 220,000 displaced civilians in six different locations across the country. More than 125,000 people were camped at the largest site in Bentiu, making it South Sudan’s second-largest urban area, he added.
In the face of escalating violence in past months, UNMISS had increased its protection activities, including its integrated patrols to the most conflict-affected areas, he continued, saying the aim was to deter violence, to monitor and report on human rights and to engage politically with local parties. Deployment of the Mission’s Regional Protection Force would free up resources to project its presence beyond Juba, he said, while emphasizing the need to keep international expectations realistic. Nevertheless, the humanitarian consequences of the violence had been disastrous, he said, declaring: “This is a man-made disaster, unlike other countries in the region experiencing famine brought on by drought.”
Also briefing was Fodé Seck (Senegal), Chair of the Security Council South Sudan Sanctions Committee, who reported that the Committee’s Panel of Experts had documented widespread violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all sides. It had also reported that at least 100,000 people were dying of starvation and a further 1 million were at near-starvation. Furthermore, South Sudan had become the world’s deadliest country for humanitarian workers, he said, noting that, in that context, the Panel of Experts recommended that the Security Council impose an arms embargo on South Sudan.
The representative of the United States, Council President for April, said it was clear that the warring parties lacked the political will to end the conflict on their own, emphasizing that responsibility therefore fell on the Security Council. It must move forward with further sanctions and an arms embargo, she urged, declaring: “You’re allowing President Kiir to do what he’s doing.”
However, the Russian Federation’s representative welcomed the President’s announcement of a national dialogue and said it was unfair to lay all blame for the violence on the Government alone. Citing “duplicity”, he said some Council colleagues called for an arms embargo inside the chamber, but when outside, they were involved in providing arms to South Sudan. Peace would not come about through a Security Council arms embargo, he said, emphasizing the critical importance of listening to regional voices.
Ethiopia’s representative pointed out that regional countries were being “inundated” by thousands of refugees and therefore had a stake in resolving the conflict in South Sudan. They could play an important role in seeking a lasting solution to the conflict, but nothing could be achieved unless the parties were ready and willing to stop fighting and seek peace through reconciliation and dialogue.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Egypt, France, Japan, Italy, China, Sweden, Senegal, Uruguay, Bolivia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12 noon.
DAVID SHEARER, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said the operation directly protected more than 220,000 displaced civilians in six different locations across the country. More than 125,000 people were now camped at the largest site in Bentiu, making it South Sudan’s second-largest urban area. Now, more than ever, the 12,000 “Blue Helmets” and 2,000 United Nations police officers were vital for the protection of civilians, he emphasized. Noting that the security, economic and humanitarian situation had worsened markedly since last July, he said the currency had devalued dramatically in just the past few days, leaving the Government struggling to meet its financial obligations. There was a risk of instability as frustrations mounted, he cautioned.
Virtually no part of the county was immune from conflict, yet there had been no concerted effort by any party to adhere to a ceasefire, he continued, noting that, instead, the conflict had intensified over the past month. In early April, the killing of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers by opposition forces had triggered retaliatory attacks by Government forces in and around Wau town, he recalled, pointing out that multiple witnesses had reported to UNMISS that the SPLA had shot many victims after asking the ethnic group to which they belonged. He said that, to the south in the Equatorias, opposition attacks had focused on vehicles along major supply routes. Following an ambush by suspected members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) on a Government convoy in Eastern Equatoria, Government forces had responded by torching houses, looting shops, hospital and schools, and almost invariably by perpetrating sexual violence.
Once again, boys and men had been targeted along ethnic lines, he said, adding that 60,000 civilians had fled from the Equatorias into Uganda each month since the beginning of 2017. Noting that significant military offensives were linked to gaining the tactical advantage over opposition positions before the onset of the rainy season, he said that, in the face of escalation in the past months, UNMISS had increased the robustness of its protection activities. It had increased its integrated patrols to the most conflict-affected areas with the aim of deterring violence, monitoring and reporting on human rights and engaging politically with local parties. Nevertheless, roadblocks and the denial of flight-safety assurances severely restricted the Mission’s ability to reach key locations as quickly as it would have wished, he said.
He went on to report that he was proud that troop-contributing countries had stood their ground. Additionally, deployment of the Regional Protection Force would free up UNMISS resources to project its presence beyond Juba, he said, while cautioning that international expectations should remain realistic. An additional 4,000 troops would boost capacity, but function largely under similar rules of engagement, he said. The humanitarian consequences of the violence had been disastrous, he said, adding: “This is a man-made disaster, unlike other countries in the region experiencing famine brought on by drought.” Three years of conflict had eroded basic livelihoods, preventing planting and harvesting, and causing cattle rustling on a grand scale.
Despite massive logistical hurdles, humanitarian workers had managed to deliver life-saving support to most isolated communities, he said, while pointing out that there had been three attacks on aid workers in the past month, resulting in 10 deaths. Despite apparent attempts by the parties for military victory, a political solution was South Sudan’s only way forward, he stressed, warning that military offensives were intensifying ethnic divisions to a degree that would hinder reconciliation. Regrettably, no party had shown interest in reviving the Peace Agreement, he noted. An independent convener was essential, as was the need to bring in all constituencies, including those outside the country. To generate the political will necessary for the parties to cease hostilities and build peace, the international community must speak with one voice, he said, underlining that the political process in South Sudan was not dead, but required “significant resuscitation”.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal), current Chair of the Security Council South Sudan Sanctions Committee, said the political arrangement between President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Taban Deng Gai had not meaningfully included significant segments of the opposition. The current arrangement was not nationally unifying and had not arrested the security and humanitarian crisis, he said, noting that the largest military campaigns undertaken throughout 2016 and the first quarter of 2017 had been planned and executed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) under President Kiir’s leadership.
He reported that the Committee’s Panel of Experts had documented widespread violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all sides. It had also reported that at least 100,000 people were dying of starvation and a further 1 million were at near-starvation. Meanwhile, South Sudan had become the world’s deadliest country for humanitarian workers, he emphasized. The Panel recommended that the Security Council impose an arms embargo on South Sudan, he continued.
The Panel also proposed, he continued, that the Council write to the President of the Human Rights Council and to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to request that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan receive the full legal and forensic support necessary to execute its mandate. Recalling that the Committee had recently visited South Sudan, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda, he said it had held informal consultations on children in armed conflict and sexual violence in conflict with various high-level United Nations officials. At the time, Leila Zerrougui, then Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, had stressed that those responsible for violations against children must face the consequences of their actions.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) expressed concern at the recent escalation of violence, describing the situation as dire. The lack of progress since last month’s presidential statement was “deafening”, he said. The fighting and violence had never been so widespread and the apathy shown by the parties in seeking a solution was evident. It was always difficult to deliver aid in highly insecure environments, although it was the perpetual contravention of international humanitarian law, including the recent murders of international aid workers, that made the situation in South Sudan particularly difficult. The violence in Wau was an example of the chronic obstacles placed in the path of UNMISS by the Government, and the continuing lack of cooperation had prevented deployment of the Regional Protection Force. At least 1 in every 4 South Sudanese had been forced from their homes since the outbreak of violence in December 2013, he said, describing that figure as a “damning statistic”. While pointing out the Council’s collective failure to end the conflict, he declared: “Yes, we have all pledged to do more”, yet the people of South Sudan were “fed up” with pledges and needed action. Dialogue was needed, but so was pressure, he said, emphasizing that targeted sanctions would remind those in power that peace was the right alternative to the killing and rape of civilians.
MAHLET GUADEY (Ethiopia) said her country was extremely concerned by the worsening security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan, describing the daily events in that country as deeply disturbing and deteriorating. The humanitarian situation required urgent attention, and all necessary measures must be taken to save lives and forestall famine. The need for unity among the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union and the United Nations in seeking lasting peace, security and stability in South Sudan could not be overemphasized, she said, noting that regional countries were being “inundated” by thousands of refugees fleeing the country. “Therefore, they have a stake in resolving the South Sudanese conflict and can indeed play an important role in the search for a lasting solution to the conflict,” she said, adding that more must be done to consolidating unity in the region. Nevertheless, nothing could be achieved without the readiness and willingness of South Sudanese parties to stop fighting and find a lasting solution through reconciliation and dialogue.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABDOULATTA (Egypt) said that, despite efforts by regional parties and international figures mandated with following up on South Sudan, “nothing had yet crystalized”. A comprehensive political solution required urging the Government to immediately cease hostilities for at least three months to allow for national dialogue. Further delay would lead to further deterioration, he said, warning against Council meetings on the matter becoming routine. Such debates were at danger of becoming isolated from the reality on the ground. As well, the continued obstruction of humanitarian efforts had only led to more suffering and would continue to undermine regional efforts to achieve a political settlement. Emphasizing the need to continue to work with the Government of South Sudan, he underscored the importance of guaranteeing the necessary capacity and training needed by international forces. The Council had a responsibility to prevent the collapse of South Sudan, which would “only be filled by chaos”.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), recalling the recent presidential statement setting out actions to stabilize the situation, noted that those demands had not been complied with. Hostilities had hardly ceased and the humanitarian situation remained a disaster. Humanitarian workers continued to be subjected to horrific attacks. Relative calm in Juba must not distract from the spike of human rights violations in other parts of the country, particularly against women and children. Full support must be provided to UNMISS, he said, underscoring the negative impact of bureaucracy on the Mission’s mandate. On the arms embargo, he expressed support for its potential to create conditions conducive for political dialogue. Recent spikes in clashes between the Government forces and armed groups was the type of behaviour that “makes it abundantly clear” that forces would rather engage in violence than dialogue. National dialogue was only valuable in as much as it included all stakeholders. Sanctions remained a viable tool to change the mind of peace spoilers.
KORO BESSHO (Japan), highlighting the presidential statement on South Sudan, said it was very disappointing that there had not been concrete action thus far. Despite having personally participated in the March IGAD summit, President Kiir had not yet announced a unilateral ceasefire as agreed upon in the summit’s communiqué. Regional engagement was increasingly important in sending a clear message to South Sudan. He voiced his support for the neighbouring countries that were hosting nearly 1.7 million South Sudanese refugees. It was encouraging that UNMISS had enhanced its capabilities to protect civilians, including through more robust patrols and bolstered contingency planning and staff safety, although that progress was still not sufficient.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), acknowledging the deteriorating situation since the presidential statement and the IGAD communiqué, underscored that a ceasefire had not been announced. The ongoing clashes were contributing to the exodus of the civilian population from the country and military actions continued along ethnic lines. The result was that the Peace Agreement was continuously violated, with South Sudanese women and children the first victims of the non-compliance. There could be no peace without accountability, he warned, adding that the only result would be a divided country filled with resentment, a situation that would weigh on the population for generations to come. Over the next few weeks, the Council would need to carefully examine the options available in order to convince South Sudan that stability must be restored in the country.
WU HAITAO (China) pointed out that the situation in South Sudan was highly complicated, with the famine making it ever-more difficult to achieve peace. The international community must continue to advance a political settlement in South Sudan, which was the only viable solution. China supported the efforts of IGAD, the African Union and all parties that wished to contribute to the political process, and hoped those bodies would enhance their cooperation. UNMISS must be enabled to better fulfil its mandate. In that context, a proposed reform of the peacekeeping system could help the Mission to better carry out its duties. It was important for the Council to send out more positive and enthusiastic messages and it must encourage all parties to actively engage in a dialogue of peace. Actions taken by the Council must be cautious and conducive towards supporting the political process.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said the belligerents continuing their war of attrition must realize by now that only a political solution could resolve the conflict. Urging an immediate ceasefire, he said a political process must be closely supported by the United Nations, the African Union and IGAD. It must revitalize the comprehensive and inclusive political dialogue, he said, emphasizing that it must always have the full participation of women. Stressing also that innocent civilians trapped in the nightmare of South Sudan could not wait any longer, he described the country as the most dangerous place for humanitarian workers. Warning that any manipulation of access to humanitarian aid was unacceptable, he called upon all sides to meet their obligations under international law, underlining that those responsible for violations must be identified and held accountable. Although the region had a critical role to play in resolving the conflict, that did not absolve the Security Council and the United Nations of responsibility, he emphasized.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said IGAD must play a leading role in the political process, adding that the African Union and other regional organizations, with relevant support from the United Nations, should seek “African solutions to African problems”. Expressing concern about the humanitarian situation, he called on South Sudan to grant access to food-insecure regions. He commended neighbouring Sudan and Uganda for providing humanitarian assistance to South Sudan and taking in refugees. It was important to note, however, that climate and weather patterns were among the root causes of the hunger in some areas of South Sudan, just as in neighbouring Somalia and Kenya. Welcoming President Kiir’s announcement of a national dialogue, he said it was unfair to lay all blame for the ongoing violence on the Government alone. Peace would not come about through a Security Council arms embargo, he said, stressing that it was also critical to listen to the voices of regional actors. The Russian Federation also noted the duplicity of some colleagues who called for an arms embargo inside the Council, but were involved in providing arms to South Sudan when outside.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said the situation had been further compounded by famine in several regions of the country, urging the international community to help those in need. Calling upon all parties to resume the national dialogue and implement the Peace Agreement, he said the process launched in December, if inclusive and transparent, could play a key role in restoring peace. Regarding UNMISS, Senegal welcomed the progress made in preparing the deployment of the Regional Protection Force, but called for greater cooperation on the division of duties. The Government of South Sudan should take the necessary steps to help in the deployment of international troops, he said, but unfortunately, it continued to enact a policy that hindered progress. A single service window could serve well in handling visas and permits for UNMISS, he said.
LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) expressed his alarm at the security, humanitarian and economic crises that South Sudan was currently experiencing. The conflict could not be resolved militarily, and the Government of South Sudan had the primary responsibility for the protection of its people. There must be progress on reaching a peace agreement based on genuine, transparent and inclusive dialogue. In the month since the adoption of the presidential statement, headway and compliance had been painfully slow, and in fact, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. As a direct result of the conflict, the humanitarian situation in South Sudan had reached a breaking point and various parts of the country were now experiencing famine. “For how much longer will we sit by and idly wait?” he questioned. The situation in South Sudan was in fact an example of what should not happen in any country.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said the current situation in South Sudan was one of the most alarming around the world, with a huge portion of the population facing unacceptable levels of insecurity. Furthermore, the country was grappling with its worst humanitarian crisis since its independence. Calling upon the Government to implement the ceasefire and for all actors to work together, he stressed that only an inclusive process of dialogue would guarantee that all voices would be heard. One of the key aspects for achieving peace would be addressing the issue of transitional justice so that acts of violence not go unpunished. He welcomed the progress that had been made in the deployment of the Regional Protection Force and called on the international community to provide the necessary aid so that the United Nations could respond to the country’s humanitarian situation.
BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) stressed that UNMISS was not a substitute for a political process. Only an inclusive and transparent dialogue, including the implementation of the Peace Agreement, would result in genuine reconciliation. It was concerning that UNMISS encountered regular obstructions, bureaucratic impediments and restrictions on its operations and freedom of movement while implementing its mandate; the Mission would be greatly enhanced by the speedy deployment of the Regional Protection Force. Unhindered humanitarian access, especially to famine-affected locations, should be ensured both by the Government and all non-State actors. South Sudan had become the most perilous country in the world with an alarmingly high death toll of humanitarian workers. Children were also severely affected by the unprecedented violence, as they were killed, maimed, raped, abducted and recruited by the hundreds into a conflict that had now spread across the entire country.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine), strongly condemning the recent spike in fighting, said that, despite numerous promises from the Government, UNMISS was still experiencing restrictions on its movements. The Transitional Government of National Unity had to fulfil its commitments under the joint communiqué of September 2016. It was critical to ensure the freedom of the Mission’s movement. Ukraine, being a troop-contributing country, welcomed significant efforts undertaken to enhance that ability. Inclusive political dialogue was the only way to settle the conflict in South Sudan.
NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for April, spoke in her national capacity, saying that the famine in South Sudan was not the result of drought, but rather the result of ongoing conflict and of denying starving people access to food and medicine. Thousands of civilians continued to pour out of the country as the Government continued to obstruct UNMISS from reaching those most in need. More humanitarian workers died trying to help in South Sudan than in any other country. The Government had yet to take any measures to hold violators accountable. It was clear that the warring parties did not have the political will to end the conflict alone. The responsibility therefore fell on the Security Council to end the conflict, she stressed, urging the need for the United Nations to achieve a ceasefire and the international community to respond with the appropriate urgency. The Security Council must move forward with further sanctions and an arms embargo. The Government must abide by the ceasefire and change the way it treated humanitarian workers. “You’re allowing President Kiir to do what he’s doing,” she said, urging Council members to take action.