Briefing Security Council on Mission in South Sudan, Assistant Secretary-General Voices Concern over Politicization of Civilian Protection Sites

SC/13228
27 February 2018
8192nd Meeting (PM)

Briefing Security Council on Mission in South Sudan, Assistant Secretary-General Voices Concern over Politicization of Civilian Protection Sites

Briefing the Security Council today on the outcome of a recently completed review of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), officials voiced concern over such challenges as the politicization of the peacekeeping operation’s protection of civilian sites, urging the 15-member organ to consider those elements in the upcoming renewal of — and possible adjustments to — its mandate on the ground.

Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, presented a special report of the Secretary-General on the renewal of the mandate of UNMISS, noting that it contained the findings of the independent review conducted between November 2017 and January 2018.  While the Mission had been created as a capacity-building tool to assist a Government that lacked critical capacities, she said that, since the outbreak of violence in December 2013, UNMISS had evolved to focus largely on the protection of civilians.  Since then, tens of thousands had been killed, more than 4 million displaced, and some 200,000 continued to be protected on UNMISS bases.

Underlining the need to hold the warring parties to the terms of the 2015 peace agreement they had signed, she also voiced concern that some protection of civilian sites had become highly politicized.  Describing those sites as a point of friction with South Sudan’s Transitional Government of National Unity, she said the latter claimed they provided refuge to the armed opposition, and refused to investigate and prosecute crimes perpetrated on their premises.

Ismail Wais, Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) Special Envoy for South Sudan, briefed the Council on the ongoing Authority-led high-level Revitalization Forum of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.  The Forum’s goals were to restore both the permanent ceasefire and the full implementation of the 2015 peace agreement while developing revised, realistic timelines towards a democratic election at the end of the transitional period.  Among other things, he asked the Council to consider how to make non-compliance with the ceasefire and the peace agreement costlier to spoilers and violators, and how to guarantee the security of the opposition members upon their return to Juba.

As Council members took the floor, many expressed concern about South Sudan’s precarious security and humanitarian situation.  The representative of Equatorial Guinea, raising alarm that South Sudan remained “balanced on a knife’s edge”, said the international community should ramp up its support for a genuine political process.  Urging the parties to refrain from further action that could worsen the situation, and to honour the agreements they had signed, he said Member States must not let up in their support for the IGAD-led dialogue process.  While harsh measures should be applied where necessary, other parallel tracks of action should also be considered, and the civilian population must remain “front and centre” in all the Council’s efforts.

Bolivia’s representative, echoing concerns over the complex situation in South Sudan, the slow pace of the country’s political progress and its deteriorating humanitarian situation, urged the international community should “row in the same direction” with the same goals.  The only way forward was an inclusive and frank political process, leading to the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement.  The parties to the conflict must come together on such critical matters as the protection of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian assistance, he said, noting that an estimated 60 per cent of South Sudan’s population would require humanitarian aid in 2018.

South Sudan’s representative, also addressing the Council, said that while his country’s Transitional Government of National Unity acknowledged its primary responsibility to protect civilians, it could not perform that function while it remained constrained by sanctions.  Warning Council members to stay mindful of those that sought shelter at protection sites not due to insecurity but instead for their own political and economic agendas, he nevertheless voiced support for the reinstatement of capacity-building into the UNMISS mandate and reiterated his Government’s support to the peace process.

Also speaking were representatives of Kazakhstan, Peru and Côte d’Ivoire.

The meeting began at 3:13 p.m. and ended at 4:20 p.m.

Briefings

BINTOU KEITA, Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, presenting a special report of the Secretary-General on the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) (document S/2018/143) — containing the findings of an independent review of it conducted between November 2017 and January 2018 — recalled that UNMISS was created in 2011 as a capacity-building tool to assist a Government that lacked the capability to deliver services to its people.  However, since the outbreak of violence in December 2013, the Mission had evolved into one tasked with protecting civilians, including from national security institutions.  That focus, unfortunately, remained valid.

“The situation in South Sudan continues indeed to remain a cause of grave concern,” she stressed, noting that tens of thousands of civilians were estimated to have been killed since the start of the conflict in late 2013.  More than 4 million people had been displaced, half of which were now refugees in neighbouring countries, she said, adding that some 200,000 internally displaced persons continued to be protected on UNMISS bases with the assistance of humanitarian partners.  Meanwhile, the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry had recently published a report indicating that human rights violations and abuses, including horrific acts of sexual violence, had reached alarming levels.  Since May 2017, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), supported by the African Union and the United Nations, had been working to revive the political process.  A new cessation of hostilities agreement had come into force on 24 December 2017, but it had been breached repeatedly by the parties.

“We need to ensure that the signatories [to the Agreement] are held accountable and are also deprived of the means to continue fighting,” she stressed, also underlining the need to remain aware of South Sudan’s deteriorating economic situation.  Civil servant arrears were accumulating and many public sector employees were no longer reporting for work.  Voicing concern that some protection of civilian sites had become highly politicized — witnessing, in some cases, the activities of competing gangs and the smuggling of goods — she said those sites remained a point of friction with the Government, which claimed that they provided refuge to elements of the armed opposition and was refusing to investigate and prosecute crimes perpetrated on their premises.  The UNMISS review had found that 50 per cent of the Mission’s uniformed personnel were currently devoted to protecting those civilian sites, she said, noting that they would remain its responsibility “until the hosted population feels safe enough to leave them”.

Turning to the UNMISS Regional Protection Force, she said that since the adoption of resolution 2304 (2016), security conditions in Juba had changed significantly.  Today, while the risk of instability and violence remained, the threat of military conflict in that city had diminished considerably.  Therefore, she said, there might be some adjustment to the Regional Protection Force mandate, as currently scripted.  “The most effective way to protect civilians in a sustainable way is to reach a political solution to this conflict,” she said, adding that such an agreement would also be the Mission’s only viable exit strategy.  Without political progress, UNMISS was likely to have to remain deployed for a considerable amount of time at a significant cost to the international community.  In addition, to effectively fulfil its mandate, it required unfettered freedom of movement and the full cooperation of the Government, both of which currently remained insufficient.  The Council should pronounce itself on the repeated violations of the status of forces agreement as well as the continued restrictions and impediments imposed on humanitarian partners.

As communicated by UNMISS on 24 February, she continued, an allegation of sexual exploitation involving several police personnel belonging to a Ghanaian Formed Police Unit had been documented at the Wau protection of civilian site.  Emphasizing that Mission leadership and Headquarters officials remained fully committed to the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy, she said that immediately following the preliminary results of the investigation the Mission took immediate action by removing the entire unit of 46 police officers from duty at that site and transporting them to Juba.  The Office of Internal Oversight Services had now commenced its investigation into the allegation, she said, adding “it is very disappointing that the behaviour of some police officers risks staining that record of service as well as the Mission’s reputation.”

ISMAIL WAIS, Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) Special Envoy for South Sudan, updated the Council on the ongoing Authority-led high-level Revitalization Forum of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.  Encapsulating achievements, key observations and recommendations, he said the Forum’s goals were to restore both the permanent ceasefire and the full implementation of the 2015 Peace Agreement and to develop revised, realistic timelines towards a democratic election at the end of the transitional period.

Concluding the first phase of the Revitalization Forum in December 2017, the parties signed the agreement on cessation of hostilities, protection of civilians and humanitarian access, he said.  A follow-up workshop in January had assisted the parties and the ceasefire and transitional security arrangement monitoring mechanism with tools to implement key provisions of the agreement.

Continuing, he said that the Forum’s second phase, in February, had aimed on ways to restore a permanent ceasefire and developing implementation schedules towards elections, but had focused on deliberating on a declaration of principles, signed by all parties except the Transitional Government of National Unity, to guide discussions on revitalizing the peace agreement.  Parties also agreed on some provisions on governance during a new transitional period and on elements of the permanent ceasefire and transitional security arrangements.

However, parties had significant differences, including on articles 5 and 7 of the transitional security arrangements and the unification of forces, respectively, he said.  Opposition groups wanted to see practical measures to guarantee their security if they returned to Juba, even if provided by a third party.  Efforts were ongoing to engage the parties bilaterally to ensure that they reached a realistic consensus sooner rather than later.  Outstanding contentious issues would be presented during the Revitalization Forum’s next phase.

Raising concerns about violations of related agreements, he said fighting had disrupted the Forum’s February meeting and provocative statements against the ceasefire monitoring body had continued.  The Security Council must, in collaboration with the region and the African Union Peace and Security Council, consider urgent measures for holding accountable violators that had been identified by the monitoring mechanism.

In closing, he asked the Council to consider how to make non-compliance with the ceasefire and peace agreement costly to spoilers and violators.  He also asked the Council how to guarantee the security of the opposition members in Juba upon their return and how to avoid a repeat of the July 2016 fighting.  “These questions demand policy decisions that would prevent a relapse to armed conflict in South Sudan,” he said, reiterating an appeal to the Council for its continuous support to the region and continent in ensuring that the revitalization process reached a successful conclusion that restored peace and stability to South Sudan.

Statements

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), voicing alarm that South Sudan’s political and security situation remained “balanced on a knife’s edge”, reiterated his country’s support to Juba’s peace process.  The whole international community should ramp up its effort to support a genuine political process in South Sudan, which was the only realistic way of reaching a lasting solution to the ongoing conflict.  Urging the parties to refrain from further action that could worsen the situation, and to honour the agreements they had signed, he said those would allow for the protection of civilians, the delivery of aid and an immediate return to the negotiating table.  Member States must not let up in their support for the IGAD-led dialogue process, he stressed, calling on Council members to speak with one voice — not only on South Sudan, but also on other crises where people were suffering.  While harsh measures should be applied where necessary, other parallel tracks of action — such as those proposed by United States Ambassador Nikki R. Haley during her trip to Juba in 2017 — should also be considered.  The civilian population must remain front and centre in all the Council’s efforts.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia), echoing concerns over the complex situation in South Sudan and the slow pace of political progress, as well as the country’s deteriorating humanitarian situation, said the international community should “row in the same direction” with the same goals.  The only way forward was an inclusive and frank political process, leading to the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement, he said, citing IGAD’s hard work in that regard.  While differences remained between the parties on issues including governance or transitional security arrangements, they must come together on such critical matters as the protection of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  Noting that some 60 per cent of the country’s population would require humanitarian aid in 2018, he said the international community should work with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to support the delivery of assistance and with the parties to ensure unfettered access to UNMISS and to humanitarian partners.  Other top priorities included combating impunity and establishing a hybrid tribunal court under the auspices of the African Union, he said, also calling for a review of the mandate of the Regional Protection Force so as to ensure that it was properly adapted to the situation on the ground.

DIDAR TEMENOV (Kazakhstan) voiced concern that despite a 9 November 2017 presidential decree ordering the free movement of humanitarian actors, those in greatest need were still not receiving assistance and aid workers had been killed in many parts of South Sudan.  Urging the parties to strictly adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law, he welcomed regional dialogue efforts and urged the Council to remain united behind it.  Political negotiations should be accompanied by intercommunal reconciliation and confidence-building among the local population as well as comprehensive economic development and resilience-building strategies.  Turning to the upcoming reconfiguration of UNMISS, including the Regional Protection Force, he voiced support for the recommendations laid out in the Secretary-General’s independent review, which had found that the Mission remained relevant.  Its mandate, however, should be modified to resume capacity-building and the training of both South Sudanese armed forces and State institutions.  He also agreed with the special report’s conclusion to the effect that the concept, mandate and configuration of the Regional Protection Force should be adapted to the current political and security environment.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), dismayed by the humanitarian situation, violence and atrocities in South Sudan, said it was critical to bring perpetrators to justice and to revitalize the peace process.  Peace could only be achieved through a political solution engaging all parties.  Underscoring the importance of efforts made by IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations, he supported the call for all parties to accept responsibility for their actions.  The African Union and the Government of South Sudan must begin setting up the proposed hybrid court.  Expressing support for UNMISS, he said the new mandate should focus on the most pressing issues facing the country.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire), commending IGAD-led efforts to advance peace through constructive dialogue between the parties, said the crisis could only be resolved through a political solution.  Turning to human rights violations, he raised concerns about current allegations, particularly against women and children, and called on South Sudan’s authorities to investigate charges and bring perpetrators to justice.  His delegation also supported the call for the creation of a hybrid court to address those charges and its rapid integration within South Sudan’s legislative branch, thus contributing to the country’s reconciliation efforts.  Lamenting the obstacles keeping UNMISS from discharging its mandated activities, which violated the status of forces agreement, he said his delegation supported the work of the Mission, which was contributing to stability and to civilian protection.

JOSEPH MOUM MAJAK NGOR MALOK (South Sudan) said that while the Transitional Government of National Unity acknowledged its primary responsibility to protect civilians, it could not perform that role while it was constrained by States calling for sanctions and an arms embargo that denied his nation external support.  Recalling that his country had been founded with extremely limited institutional capacity in areas of governance and Government services, he nevertheless said the situation in South Sudan was not black and white.  Development took time, something that South Sudan lacked, having fallen into conflict less than three years into statehood.  Warning Member States not to compare South Sudan to countries whose development had evolved over decades, he stressed that the Transitional Government of National Unity would be a partner for meaningful development going forward.

Noting that protection of civilian sites had not been designed to last for the long-term, he said some had been a source of friction between the Government and UNMISS.  South Sudan expected the Mission and various other humanitarian actors to work in a more coherent manner to avoid duplication and maximize their resources.  Noting that the Transitional Government of National Unity was working to build confidence among the civilian population through such initiatives as a national dialogue, so they would feel safe enough to return to their homes, he also warned Council members to remain mindful of those in protection of civilian sites who did not seek shelter due to insecurity but instead for their own political and economic agendas.  Voicing concern over allegations of sexual misconduct by UNMISS personnel, he called for a credible investigation into that incident and went on to propose joint patrols including UNMISS and the Government, which would help build trust in the population.

While the Transitional Government of National Unity supported the reinstatement of capacity-building into the UNMISS mandate, he nevertheless disagreed with the notion that that would contribute to the conflict.  On the contrary, strengthening such institutions as the police, the army and the judiciary would help promote the rule of law.  Proposing the deployment of the Regional Protection Force into other areas currently experiencing instability, he cautioned against unrealistic and unhelpful demands by opposition groups, reaffirming the Government’s commitment to the peace process and working alongside UNMISS, IGAD and the international community.

For information media. Not an official record.