Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council on South Sudan, in New York today:
I thank His Excellency Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom, for his presence here today for this important meeting on South Sudan.
Before we turn to today’s agenda, I would like to once again extend sincere condolences to the people and Government of the United Kingdom on the loss of life and injuries suffered in yesterday’s terrorist attack in London. The United Nations stands with the people of the United Kingdom as we do with all those who have suffered from the menace of terrorism around the world. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.
The conflict in South Sudan continues to generate profound suffering. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the opposition are conducting military operations in a number of areas, with devastating consequences for civilians, who face seemingly endless violence and are being forced to flee their homes. At present, the situation is especially alarming in the Greater Upper Nile area, with military clashes along the banks of the River Nile in and around Malakal, in the famine-affected counties of Unity, and in previously stable areas of northern Jonglei.
In the past three months, the Greater Equatoria region also continued to see high levels of fighting and insecurity, with retaliatory operations by the SPLA and its allied militias against suspected rebel groups and the communities perceived to support them. Civilians continue to be subjected to horrendous attacks, including rape and the recruitment of children. More than 1.9 million people are displaced internally, more than 220,000 of whom are seeking safety in protection sites of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Some 1.6 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
The humanitarian crisis continues to deepen. One hundred thousand people are enduring famine, 1 million are on the verge of that fate, and 5.5 million may be severely food-insecure by this summer. At least 7.5 million people across South Sudan, almost two thirds of the population, need humanitarian assistance. Three years of conflict have eroded livelihoods and disrupted farming, including in the Equatorias, the country’s breadbasket. Humanitarian compounds and supplies have been looted repeatedly. The Government continues to impede deliveries of life-saving assistance, including through access denial and bureaucratic impediments. Most recently, the Government decided on a massive hike in the price of work permits for aid workers.
Yet despite the alarm sounded by the United Nations and the international community over this crisis, the Government has yet to express any meaningful concern or take any tangible steps to address the plight of its people. On the contrary, what we hear most often are denials — a refusal by the leadership to even acknowledge the crisis, or to fulfil its responsibility to end it.
The peace process remains at a standstill. While President [Salva] Kiir’s statements regarding his intention to hold a national dialogue are welcome, they are not convincing in the context of ongoing hostilities, the absence of consultations with key stakeholders, the systematic curtailment of basic political freedoms and restrictions on humanitarian access, and the growing fragmentation of both sides of the conflict.
Under-Secretary-General [for Peacekeeping Operations] Hervé Ladsous returned just yesterday from a trip to South Sudan, where he visited the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and acknowledged the important work our courageous staff are undertaking in the country. He was accompanied by the Under-Secretary-General-designate for Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who will take up his duties after 1 April. And Under-Secretary-General Ladsous met with President Kiir, the First Vice President and Cabinet Ministers, and emphasized the critical importance of an inclusive political process in ensuring the well-being of the country’s people.
Indeed, credible dialogue cannot take place at the point of a gun. When civil society and opposition members cannot meet or speak freely; when a significant proportion of the population cannot participate in the discussions; and when numerous communities are displaced or facing starvation, dialogue efforts are unlikely to succeed. And the same holds true for elections, which can only take place once stability has returned.
The United Nations is working with the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to reinvigorate the political process and to resolve long-standing intercommunal disputes in South Sudan and the subregion. We support both the Chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, President Festus Mogae, and the African Union High Representative, President Alpha Konaré, in their respective roles. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the United Nations country team are supporting intercommunal dialogues and local peace conferences. We also continue to work for the deployment of a Regional Protection Force, despite continuing obstacles imposed by the Government of South Sudan.
But no such force, and no amount of diplomacy, can substitute for the lack of political will among those who govern the country. There is a strong consensus that South Sudanese leaders need to do more to demonstrate their commitment to the well-being of the country’s people, who are among the poorest in the world. If there is to be any hope of those leaders changing their current calculations, greater pressure is needed. This means first and foremost that the region and the Security Council must speak with one voice.
Let us not underestimate the dangers of South Sudan’s trajectory. Atrocity crimes have occurred with impunity, and the potential for serious deterioration remains very real. Credible mechanisms for accountability are a must. For every child who dies, for every woman or girl raped with impunity, for every young boy conscripted into fighting and fed only hatred, angry mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, plunged into sorrow, feeding the cycle of vengeance.
To pull the country back from the abyss, and back from a widening famine, we must collectively focus our energies on three immediate objectives: first, achieving an immediate cessation of hostilities; second, restoring the peace process, and this means ensuring the representation and consultation of the opposition, civil society and all South Sudanese, regardless of ethnicity, in the transition and in the proposed national dialogue; third, ensuring unrestricted humanitarian access, including freedom of movement for UNMISS and for the future Regional Protection Force.
In two days, the IGAD Heads of State will meet in Nairobi. I urge the members of the Security Council and the leaders of IGAD to unanimously declare their support for these three objectives, and to press the South Sudanese parties to implement them.
All the optimism that accompanied the birth of South Sudan has been shattered by internal divisions, rivalries and the irresponsible behaviour of some of its leaders. As a result, a country that had seen a brief glimmer of hope for a better future has plunged back into darkness. We have to do everything in our power to change this.
Thank you very much.