With September’s Revitalized Peace Agreement
Behind Schedule, Permanent Representative Blames ‘Technical Challenges’ for Delays
A window for peace has finally opened in South Sudan, with more political progress made in the last four months than over the last four years, the head of United Nations peacekeeping said today, telling the Security Council that the fragile situation in the country will continue to require international support.
Jean-Pierre LaCroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the 15-member Council on the situation in South Sudan following the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in September. Since then, the country’s general security situation has improved significantly and the number of incidents involving the signatory parties has declined.
Among other factors, parties long in opposition to each other have agreed to work together to ensure unhindered movement for civilians, he said, adding that local authorities are allowing opposition fighters to return home, and opposition parties formerly suspicious of the national dialogue process have begun to indicate a possible willingness to engage.
However, he cautioned that sporadic clashes and continuing attacks against civilians reveal that the situation on the ground remains fragile. Citing a week-long spate of rape and sexual assault cases near the town of Bentiu, he added that the overall humanitarian situation is also of grave concern. Outlining priority benchmarks to be achieved before May 2019 – when South Sudan will formally enter a political transition phase – he urged the parties to reach a comprehensive agreement on the security sector, establish transitional security arrangements and appoint a new chair of the Joint Monitoring Evaluation Committee, tasked with shepherding negotiations and preparing for the transition.
In a second briefing, Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, expanded on the harrowing reports of the Bentiu mass rape in November. The brutal attacks occurred as the female victims were on their way to a food distribution site, she said, describing the events – which sent shock waves around the world – as part of a systemic pattern of sexual violence that escalated dramatically in 2018. Emphasizing that severe violence could result in deep physical, psychological and social scars, she called upon the international community to use all the compliance tools at its disposal to signal “zero tolerance” for such crimes.
Meanwhile, Joanna Wronecka (Poland) – speaking in her capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015) concerning South Sudan – outlined that body’s recent efforts to ensure compliance with the sanctions imposed on South Juba. Reporting on her June visit to South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, she underlined her intention to further clarify to South Sudan’s leadership that the sanctions regime is in place to support the political process.
As delegates took the floor, several speakers took issue with those sanctions, with Ethiopia’s representative recalling that the Council failed to heed African opposition to the timing of their imposition. Emphasizing that the progress made so far would not have been possible without strong unity of purpose among regional partners, he stated: “It is unfortunate that the same cannot be said of the Security Council.” The organ failed to pronounce itself on the Revitalized Peace Agreement, but now ironically demands its implementation and asks the region to do more. “It is not too late for the Council to come on board and be a constructive partner,” he said, noting that recent developments require that all stakeholders redouble their efforts to ensure the Agreement’s implementation.
The United Kingdom’s representative described the drop in South Sudan’s overall violence in 2018 as a sign that the Revitalized Peace Agreement is beginning to make life better for the country’s people. However, continued attacks on civilians and the parties’ slow progress in implementing some elements of the Agreement remain concerning, he said. Calling for unity among Council members to maintain the current momentum, he declared: “We must not divert our attention from South Sudan.”
However, the Russian Federation’s delegate was among speakers underscoring the importance of regional leadership and the need for African solutions to resolve African problems. The signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement demonstrated the readiness of the parties to compromise and engage in negotiations, he said, welcoming the recent drop in violence and human rights violations, while urging Council members “not to repeat the mistakes of the past” as they continue to support South Sudan’s peace process.
South Sudan’s representative, meanwhile, said that although implementation of the Agreement is behind schedule, “it is not because the parties are not committed to what they have signed”. In fact, the delays are due to technical challenges requiring greater international political will, he said. In the meantime, the Government of South Sudan takes recent reports of sexual attacks seriously and has dispatched an investigative team to Bentiu. Led by the Minister for Gender, Child and Social Welfare, it will soon make public its findings after its visit.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Kazakhstan, Peru, Poland, Equatorial Guinea, Bolivia, United States, Netherlands, Kuwait, China, Sweden and Côte d’Ivoire.
The meeting began at 3:11 p.m. and ended at 5:23 p.m.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Council on the contents of the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in South Sudan and that country’s revitalized peace process (document S/2018/1103). He reported that since the signing of the revitalized agreement in September, there has been a significant improvement in South Sudan’s general security situation and incidents between the signatory parties have been reduced. Roads are being reopened and there is greater freedom of movement among civilians, he said, adding that some displaced persons are returning to their homes. In Maban County, for example, the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces – formerly known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – met with their SPLA- in Opposition (SPLA-IO) counterparts and agreed to work together to ensure the unhindered movement of civilians in their respective areas of control. Among other positive developments, some local authorities in Bahr El Ghazal-Ghazal allowed opposition fighters to return, he added.
Despite such trends, however, sporadic clashes reveal that the situation remains fragile, he cautioned. Attacks against civilians continued unabated, while cases of rape and sexual assault along several roads near Bentiu increased. “Inter-communal violence as well as criminality continue to affect the civilian population in general and women and children in particular, the latter being the most vulnerable,” he said. In response to the horrific rape cases in Bentiu, the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) held urgent meetings with authorities in the area to help them undertake urgent protective action, he added. The Mission also sent peacekeepers to patrol the area and a human rights team launched an investigation into the incidents. Noting that the overall humanitarian situation remains of grave concern as a direct result of the conflict, he said attacks on humanitarian workers and obstacles to their work also continued during the reporting period.
Expressing concern about the arrest of two UNMISS staff members in 2014 – the whereabouts of whom remain unknown – he said it is incumbent upon all parties, particularly the Government of South Sudan, to ensure a safer and more conducive environment for humanitarian efforts. Emphasizing that the responsibility to sustain the present momentum in implementing the revitalized peace agreement lies solely with the parties, he outlined some progress, while noting that the National Pre-Transitional Committee has met but failed to raise a quorum. The Independent Boundary Commission charged with settling the critical issue of state boundaries has yet to meet, although the Technical Boundary Commission did convene. Meanwhile, security-related committees have made little visible progress. “The initial pessimism and outright rejection of the national dialogue by the opposition has transitioned into cautious optimism since President Salva Kiir stepped down as Convener,” he said, adding that, as a result, opposition parties suspicious of the process have started to indicate a possible willingness to engage.
Calling upon all parties to take part in efforts for national dialogue and continue to build confidence, he said two critical benchmarks must be accorded top priority in the pre-transition period, which ends in May 2019. First, the parties must reach a comprehensive agreement on the security sector and on establishing transitional security arrangements. Encouraging the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to prioritize those negotiations, he said the second critical benchmark is the urgent appointment of a new chair of the Joint Monitoring Evaluation Committee, who will be tasked with shepherding the crucial pre-transition negotiations and beginning substantive preparations for the transition. He noted that the UNMISS Regional Protection Force stands ready to support transitional security arrangements – when agreed by the parties – while stressing that the Mission’s possible reconfiguration must be preceded by the conclusion of an agreement on transitional security arrangement and the definition of clear tasks for UNMISS.
“The unity of command within all ‘Blue Helmets’ cannot be compromised,” he said, emphasizing that only one chain of command can be recognized. In addition, all future troop-contributing countries must satisfy United Nations standards in terms of training, equipment, human rights vetting, political neutrality and impartiality. In light of the dire humanitarian situation in South Sudan and the plight of civilians, there should be no addition of tasks to the mandate of UNMISS at the cost of its protection functions, he stressed. While the chance for peace in South Sudan has been created - with more progress made in the last four months than in the previous four years – the peace process is neither fully sustainable nor irreversible, he cautioned, stressing that it will require positive engagement, compromise by the parties and support from regional and international partners.
PRAMILA PATTEN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said the harrowing November reports of brutal mass rapes perpetrated in Bentiu while the female victims were on their way to a food distribution site sent shock waves around the world. Although the investigations are still ongoing, this latest attack is part of a systemic trend and pattern of sexual violence that has escalated dramatically in 2018 despite recent re-commitments by South Sudan’s leaders to the cessation of hostilities and the revitalized peace agreement. The number of victims of conflict-related sexual violence in 2018 has already reached 1,157, making it the highest number recorded in the last three years, she said, contrasting that figure with the 196 cases documented by UNMISS in 2017, which affected 128 women and 68 girls.
Severe violence leaves deep physical, psychological and social scars, she said, stressing that the international community must be prepared to use all the compliance tools at its disposal to signal “zero tolerance” of these crimes. In terms of those believed to bear command responsibility for sexual violence in the southern Unity offensives of July 2018, she said United Nations-verified reports attribute responsibility mainly to the SPLA national army and the pro-Taban Deng faction and youth militia of the SPLA-IO. It is believed that three senior officials are among those who bear command responsibility, she added. As for the offensives of October 2018 in Western Equatoria, three commanders of the SPLA-IO pro-Machar faction, identified by victims and witnesses, are believed to bear command responsibility.
She went on to urge the Government of South Sudan to rigorously and expeditiously investigate all incidents of sexual violence, share the results with the United Nations, and hold all perpetrators accountable, regardless of rank or seniority. Furthermore, she urged the Government to establish the hybrid court without delay, and to ensure that it prosecutes all cases of sexual violence. Urging the Security Council to consistently apply sanctions for sexual violence crimes as a critical aspect of deterrence and prevention, she emphasized the importance of providing comprehensive services to survivors, especially medical and psychosocial care, urging all parties to the conflict to grant unhindered access to humanitarian organizations and UNMISS to reach victims and displaced civilians. Given the scale and consequences of the violations, conflict-related sexual violence should be addressed as a central aspect of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, she stressed, including by ensuring there is no amnesty for sexual violence crimes, and that victims receive the reparations and livelihood support they need to rebuild their lives. “Sexual violence considerations should be part of any peacebuilding, reconstruction, transitional-justice and truth-and-reconciliation arrangements,” she stressed.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), speaking in her capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015) concerning South Sudan, reported on her visit to that country and to Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya from 16 to 26 June. She said the need to resolve the crisis in South Sudan was reinforced by seeing how the next generation is growing up and by seeing the effect of unfathomable acts of sexual violence on the victims and their communities. Expressing support for calls by community leaders for accountability in that regard, she pledged to continue efforts to further strengthen the Committee’s cooperation with her own Office and that of the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives for Children and Armed Conflict, among others.
Encouraged by the progress made on the political front since her visit, she reiterated the need for support from the region and the broader international community for the sake of lasting peace and stability. In that regard, she expressed her intention to clarify to South Sudan’s the leadership that the sanctions regime has been put in place to support the political process. She proposed to continue efforts to encourage regional States to keep the Committee abreast of efforts to implement the sanctions, including by submitting implementation reports on the targeted measures, inspection reports in connection with the newly imposed arms embargo, and by observing procedures in place for notifying and seeking requests for exemption from sanctions measures. “Without full implementation, the sanctions regime risks losing its significance and impact,” she warned. The Council agreed to send a note verbale reminding all Member States of their obligations and inviting them to a briefing in January, she added.
Turning to the interim report of the Committee’s Panel of Experts (document S/2018/1049), she said it recommends further outreach on guidelines for implementation, including a press release reiterating the obligation of all Member States to enforce the travel ban and asset freeze imposed on designated individuals. The Committee acted on both those recommendations and took note of others intended to discourage the misappropriation and diversion of public resources, she said. The Committee is also seeking the immediate release of all child soldiers and better coordination among all those working for their demobilization, she added. Recounting the consultations and briefings in which the Committee engaged, she welcomed the increased engagement by countries in the region seeking clarification on the sanctions and related exemption procedures. Signalling that the Committee will continue to convene “informal informals” for interested Member States, she said that it intends to return to South Sudan in 2019, expressing hope of seeing improvement in the daily lives, safety and security of South Sudan at that time.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) emphasized the need to strengthen accountability for atrocities in South Sudan, while maintaining the sanctions regime as a key pillar of efforts to improve the situation. Stressing that his delegation remains deeply concerned about the lack of response by the Government of South Sudan to attacks against civilians, he welcomed the drop in the number of armed clashes and the increased contacts between the parties, calling upon South Sudan’s leaders to commit fully to meeting their responsibilities in implementation of the agreements reached. He called also for the release of all political prisoners and condemned restrictions on the movement of United Nations personnel. UNMISS and humanitarian personnel must have full and unhindered access across the entirety of the country, he said, underlining also the need to waive taxes and fees on such organizations. Noting that his country has imposed sanctions on three individuals who threatened peace and human rights, he called upon all stakeholders to bring their influence to bear on actors in the country, pledging that the United States will continue to do what it can to encourage South Sudan’s leaders to allow their people’s aspirations to become reality.
TAYE ATSKE SELASSIE (Ethiopia) condemned recent incidents of sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan and expressed hope that the commitments undertaken by the parties to combat such crimes will be translated into action. “Pondering who to blame or dwelling on the failures of the past attempts at peace will not get South Sudan out of the quagmire or bring a sigh of relief to its people, who have suffered so much for far too long,” he said, adding that the Revitalized Peace Agreement now provides an “unparalleled opportunity” to end the conflict. Urging Member States to support its implementation, he emphasized underlined the steadfast efforts of the African Union, the region and the United Nations in pursuit of peace. The progress achieved so far would not have been possible without unity of purpose among those three organizations, he said, adding: “It is unfortunate that the same cannot be said of the Security Council.” Recalling that the organ failed to heed the region’s opposition to the timing of its imposition of an arms embargo on South, he said it also failed to pronounce itself on the Revitalized Peace Agreement. Ironically, its members are now the first to demand the resolution’s implementation and ask the region to do more, he noted. “It is not too late for the Council to come on board and be a constructive partner,” he stressed, adding that recent developments require that all stakeholders redouble their efforts to ensure the Agreement’s implementation.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the peace process in South Sudan must be given every chance to work, but she acknowledged the hard work ahead in that regard. For progress, transitional arrangements must be put in place in a timely manner, she stressed, encouraging parties to resolve their differences on the arrangements through dialogue. Expressing indignation at the humanitarian and human rights situation in South Sudan, she said greater efforts must be made to protect humanitarian workers and to ensure accountability for heinous crimes. France will remain closely engaged with those issues. She condemned all use of sexual violence, warning that it could be considered a war crime, and called on the international community to become fully mobilized against it. The hybrid court for South Sudan must remain a priority in that context. While acknowledging the interest of IGAD members in providing troops for protection of civilians, she underlined that the safe return of opposition leaders can only occur with a political agreement, and stressed that a single chain of command must exist in military forces.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan), describing the signing of South Sudan’s revitalized peace agreement as a major step forward, called upon IGAD, the African Union, the United Nations and neighbouring States to continue efforts to build trust among the parties. Expressing grave concern about attacks against civilians, he said all parties must permanently cease such hostilities, bring their forces under control, halt attacks against humanitarian workers and strictly comply with international humanitarian law. Strongly condemning the serious attacks against women in Bentiu in November, he called on the Government to investigate them and hold the perpetrators accountable. Donor countries, meanwhile, should continue to provide sustained funding for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan’s population, which is necessary to genuinely address South Sudan’s fragile situation and the roots of its conflict. Voicing concern that violations of the Status of Forces Agreement related to restrictions on the movement of UNMISS personnel persist — along with interference in human rights monitoring — he called on all parties to ensure the safety, security and freedom of movement of Mission personnel.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said 2018 has seen significant progress in South Sudan following years during which thousands of lives were lost. The drop in overall violence is a sign that the Revitalized Peace Agreement is beginning to make life better for the country’s people, he said. However, continued attacks on civilians and slow progress by the parties in implementing some elements of the Agreement remain concerning. “We must not divert our attention from South Sudan,” he emphasized, calling for unity among Council members to maintain the current momentum. The horrific sexual violence committed against women and girls as young as eight years old near Benitu must be investigated, with survivors providing support, he said, calling for the establishment of a hybrid court to hold perpetrators accountable. South Sudan’s culture of impunity - which has endured for too long - must be broken, he stressed, noting that humanitarian workers also continue to face obstruction from all sides in conducting their work. Noting that some 7.1 million people will require aid in 2019, he said all parties must allow unimpeded delivery of assistance. Meanwhile, IGAD must continue to engage fully with the Council on any proposal to deploy troops in support of the Peace Agreement, and any such deployment must fall under a unified United Nations command, he said.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) expressed concern that the Revitalized Peace Agreement is not being fully respected in some areas of South Sudan, where confrontations still claim civilian lives. Calling upon opposition groups to engage in the national dialogue, he urged all parties to prioritize transitional security arrangements and the formation of a national unity Government. Emphasizing that Deputy Defence Minister Malek Reuben Riak Rengu must be held accountable for atrocity crimes, he condemned the recent cases of sexual and gender-based violence as well as the continued recruitment of children into armed forces. He went on to express hope that South Sudan will draw up a compressive action plan to address human rights violations, restore the dignity of women and girls, and hold perpetrators to account. Concerned also about violations of the Council-imposed arms embargo, he said the Council and its regional partners must remain fully united.
Ms. WRONECKA (Poland) said the peace process remains fragile and clashes between parties to the conflict still occur. He called on South Sudan’s actors to immediately observe the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement of December 2017, and disengage and separate forces. Expressing deep concern about recent reports of civilian targeting and serious human rights violations, he called on all parties to hold the perpetrators accountable and ensure that transitional justice and accountability mechanisms are put in place. The Security Council should stand ready to impose targeted sanctions against those who threaten the peace and stability of South Sudan, he emphasized. The revitalized peace agreement provides an opportunity for its leaders to rebuild the country and demonstrate real commitment and political maturity. By proving that they finally place the people of South Sudan first, they also have a chance at restoring the international community’s confidence, he observed.
PROTASIO EDU EDJANG NNAGA (Equatorial Guinea), welcoming recent joint visits to the field by the parties in South Sudan, encouraged further efforts to promote peace and reconciliation. He also praised the positive political environment taking shape there. At the same time, he forcefully condemned continued sexual violence and called for accountability, emphasizing the importance of meeting the people’s humanitarian needs. For that purpose, humanitarian operations must be facilitated and protected, he stressed, paying tribute to UNMISS and other organizations in that regard. He also praised IGAD and all those facilitating the peace process.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia), while welcoming the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and the ensuing ceasefire, noted, however, that reports of sexual violence throw cold water on all optimism. There can be no peace, no justice and no future when such acts are allowed to continue, she said, emphasizing that the crimes must be investigated and those responsible brought to justice. On the political front, she called for united Security Council support for IGAD and other actors helping to build a sustainable peace with respect for human rights, particularly the rights of women and girls. Women must have at least the same level of representation in the peace process guaranteed by the Agreement, she insisted, calling also for a protective environment for women. The creation of a hybrid court is important in that light. She went on to underline the need for coordinated action between the Council and regional organizations in all areas, while paying tribute to the work of UNMISS.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) said the strength of the peace agreement will be determined by its ability to deliver safety and stability to the people of South Sudan. She expressed concern over ceasefire violations, particularly around Greater Baggari. Recent attacks on civilians near Bentiu — where at least 125 women, including those elderly, pregnant and minor were raped within the space of one week — can only be described as “cowardly and disgusting”. Moreover, such events constitute a serious setback for the peace process, she warned, calling for an immediate end to fighting and the finalizing of negotiations for transitional security arrangements. There is a clear need to demonstrate consequences for those who continue to attack civilians, use sexual violence or violate human rights. The Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, and the Hybrid Court for South Sudan are essential to guarantee justice and reconciliation. Ongoing sexual violence is a painful reminder that UNMISS remains the primary source of protection for the people of South Sudan, she observed, inviting the Secretary-General to share steps the Mission is taking to implement lessons in this regard.
TAREQ M. A. M. ALBANAI (Kuwait), expressing hope that compliance with the Revitalized Peace Agreement will continue, emphasized the people’s primary role in forging a lasting peace, with the United Nations and others playing a complementary role. At the same time, the international community must fully support political progress and development. Kuwait was planning its cooperation with South Sudan before violence broke out and hoped to resume the partnership when conditions permit, he said. Condemning sexual violence, he demanded accountability for all crimes, saying he looks forward to the establishment of a hybrid court, and paid tribute to all those working for peace in South Sudan. He went on to note that today is the International Day of Arabic, marking its designation as an official United Nations language. Kuwait pays tribute to the Organization’s interpreters, he added.
WU HAITAO (China) said that in order to overcome the remaining challenges to long-term peace, the international community must continue to support the peace process. However, South Sudan’s leadership must be respected, as must the efforts of IGAD and the African Union, he emphasized. He called upon the international community to provide resources for the Special Fund for South Sudan and assistance for the country’s development so that its people can enjoy a peace dividend. Reaffirming China’s position that sanctions are a means and not an end in and of themselves, he stressed that the Council must be prudent in imposing such measures and, in South Sudan’s case, only maintain them if they are helpful. Outlining his country’s assistance to South Sudan, he pledged that China will remain a partner in its quest for peace and sustainable development.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict was a watershed moment in returning South Sudan to the path towards peace and stability. What is needed now is sustained political will by the parties to implement what has been agreed on and engage in peacebuilding and reconciliation. Preventing sexual and gender-based violence requires accountability. The transitional justice mechanisms of the Peace Agreement, including establishing the hybrid court are important in this regard. Gender issues are central to peace and security, he said, calling on the parties to ensure that the 35 per cent quota for women is met not only at the national and State level, but for all pre-transitional and transitional structures. Sweden chaired the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, which today adopted relevant conclusions on the situation in South Sudan welcoming the peace agreement as an opportunity to turn a corner and make the protection of children a priority.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIT (Russian Federation) said the signing of South Sudan’s Revitalized Peace Agreement demonstrated the readiness of the parties to compromise and engage in negotiations. Underlining the region’s critical efforts in bringing them to the table, he emphasized that African solutions must be applied to resolve African problems. Expressing readiness to consider proposals from IGAD countries regarding the deployment of a readiness force, he welcomed the recent drop in violence and human rights violations as well as the increased engagement of the opposition, urging Council members “not to repeat the mistakes of the past” as they continue to support South Sudan’s peace process.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, echoing other speakers in spotlighting the increased political will demonstrated by South Sudan’s parties. That momentum should be seized as the country proceeds into the transition period, he said, calling for the urgent formation of a national unity Government and the full inclusion of women in that process. On security matters, he urged the parties to consolidate and build upon the recent ceasefire agreement in order to end the violations and attacks that continue in some parts of the country. Agreeing the terms of security arrangements will also contribute to stability, he said. Calling for the urgent deployment of the UNMISS Protection Force, he condemned all violence against humanitarian workers, the looting of their equipment – as well as sexual violence and other attacks against civilians – joining others in calling for the prompt establishment of a hybrid court.
AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan) welcomed the Secretary-General’s report covering historical events in his country, including the signing of the revitalized peace agreement. “The implementation is behind schedule, but it is not because the parties are not committed to what they have signed,” he said, adding that the delays are due to technical challenges. As such, implementation of the agreement requires international political will to overcome such challenges. In the meantime, his Government takes seriously reports of sexual attacks against 150 women. The investigating team, led by the Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, has just returned to Juba from Bentiu and will soon make its findings public, he reported.