Drop in Violence Reveals ‘Glimmer’ of Possibilities for Peace, Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan Tells Security Council

SC/13857
25 June 2019
8560th Meeting (AM)

Drop in Violence Reveals ‘Glimmer’ of Possibilities for Peace, Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan Tells Security Council

Permanent Representative Says Implementation of Revitalized Peace Agreement Will Require Major Funding, Technical Support

The reduction of violence in South Sudan, while fragile, has revealed a “glimmer of what’s possible with peace”, the senior United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today, as delegates urged the belligerents to use the time afforded by the extended period in which to form a transitional Government to resolve thorny outstanding issues.

Briefing the 15-member Council, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) declared:  “The drop in political violence […] has meant hundreds, if not thousands, of people are alive who would not otherwise be.”  Noting that the ceasefire is largely holding, he said many displaced families are returning home, humanitarian partners are seeing improved access and — for the first time in years — the relative calm will allow some households to resume the cultivation of food crops.  “The desire for peace is palpable and there is fierce aversion to any renewal of fighting,” he said, while warning that the latest food security analysis remains dire, with 7 million people facing crisis or worse.

Also briefing, was the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, who said UNMISS has documented a significant and welcome decrease in the overall number of human rights violations and abuses — with the major exception of a recent spike in sexual violence in the town of Bentiu.  “The peace remains fragile and requires constant vigilance,” he said, adding that the Revitalized Peace Agreement signed in September 2018 does not address all divisions at the root of the conflict, with their increasingly ethnic dimensions.  Emphasizing that the real guarantee of lasting peace lies with efforts to end impunity, he expressed concern that, despite evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, no significant action has yet been taken against the perpetrators.

Striking a similar tone, the representative of the civil society group Peace Implementation Monitoring Initiative told members that South Sudan has one of the world’s highest rates of violence against women and girls.  Entrenched discrimination prevails, harmful practices, such as early and forced marriage, as well as payment of bride price, are common and most people displaced by the conflict are women and children.  The continued occupation of civilian areas by military forces puts women and girls at higher risk of sexual violence, she pointed out, warning that delays in professionalizing the army mean delays in properly protecting women.  The Council recently mandated UNMISS to work more closely with civil society — especially women-led non-governmental organizations — she recalled, stressing:  “We now expect you to fulfil this mandate.”

Taking the floor, several Council members urged the parties to make intelligent use of the extended pre-transition period by prioritizing key tasks and addressing sticking points.  While welcoming South Sudan’s delicate progress, many reiterated their condemnation of persistent human rights violations and called for the urgent establishment of a hybrid court, among other justice-related provisions of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.

However, other members — including the representative of France — deplored the delay in moving beyond the pre-transition period.  “It is imperative that this is the last postponement,” she emphasized.  Citing a report by the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, she said new violence — including grave rights violations — could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, and urged the establishment of a hybrid court.  “The perpetrators of these violations cannot go unpunished,” she insisted.

Echoing those points, Germany’s representative said the levels of sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan remain shocking.  Calling for the setting of sexual and gender-based violence as a “stand-alone” criterion for sanctions, he stressed “this Council must act on this now”.  Fundamental freedoms must be guaranteed, and human rights defenders must be able to do their job, he stressed.

South Africa’s representative told the Council:  “It’s important that we all rally behind the peace process and encourage the implementation of all outstanding provisions.”  While acknowledging the positive strides made, she said the situation remains fragile, progress slow and resources available for the peace process insufficient.  International partners should support implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and help to ensure that the current momentum is maintained in order to prevent a backside into conflict, she emphasized.

China’s representative urged the Council to lend greater support to the parties as they seek peace — including by ensuring full respect for the Government’s ownership of the peace process.  In addition, international partners should provide the necessary funding, technical and material assistance; support the building of mutual trust; prioritize efforts to address food insecurity; support the return of refugees; and bolster education and health care, among other services.

South Sudan’s representative said confidence-building measures among signatories to the Revitalized Peace Agreement are improving steadily, but the accord’s implementation requires major funding support.  He expressed hope that the international community will provide the technical assistance and expertise needed to move forward.

Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, Dominican Republic, Poland, United Kingdom, Equatorial Guinea, Russian Federation, Indonesia and Kuwait.

The meeting began at 10:40 a.m. and ended at 12:25 p.m.

Briefings

DAVID SHEARER, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement continues to progress and the ceasefire continues to hold, except in Central Equatoria.  “The drop in political violence […] has meant hundreds, if not thousands, of people are alive who would not otherwise be,” he said.  Many displaced families have now decided that it is safe to return home, he added, noting that more than half a million people – including some 210,000 who fled to neighbouring countries – have returned since the peace agreement was signed.  Meanwhile, humanitarian partners report that access to areas of need have improved, although bureaucratic impediments continue to hinder some operations.

Outlining other progress, he said many roads have been rehabilitated, enhancing the ability to move food to remote locations before the rainy season and reducing reliance on expensive air drops.  However, the latest food security analysis remains dire, with 7 million people facing crisis or worse.  “But for the first time in years, some counties will see slight improvements where relative calm has enabled households to resume cultivation,” he said.  Describing those developments as a “glimmer of what’s possible with peace”, he said more than 110 rapprochements have taken place around the country since the signing of the peace agreement.  Describing his recent visit to South Sudan, he declared:  “The desire for peace is palpable and there is fierce aversion to any renewal of fighting.”

The pace of dialogue and peacebuilding at the grass-roots level is much faster than among the elites negotiating nationally, he continued, emphasizing that South Sudan’s politicians must listen to the mood of the people and follow their lead.  “It is a shame that the national dialogue process has so far failed to achieve the inclusivity required for a true consultative process,” he said, warning that the fighting only halted because the leaders ordered their soldiers to stop and could resume just as easily.  Recalling that the parties decided unanimously in May to extend the pre-transitional period and delay the formation of a transitional Government until 12 November, he said that although that is disappointing, and the pace of implementation is frustratingly slow, the new time frame provides a chance to resolve outstanding issues that might otherwise derail the peace process.  Similarly, the pace of security-sector reform and unification of the armed forces has been sluggish despite regional efforts, he noted.

Citing the lack of regular face-to-face meetings between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and opposition leader Riek Machar as a fundamental challenge, he emphasized:  “If at the local level former bitter enemies can put the past behind them and reconcile, their national leaders must do the same.”  The Government must meet its commitment to release funding it has pledged for the peace agreement’s implementation, while the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the United Nations continue to support the peace process.  He said the peace agreement should be viewed as a living document – “not set in stone” – adding that decisions made collectively will be more transparent and accountable to citizens.  He went on to describe the 2013 decision by the United Nations to open its gates to people fleeing for their lives as one of the noblest actions ever taken by the Organization.  “It saved tens of thousands of people and it remains at the heart of our protection-of-civilians mandate.”

That mandate also includes ensuring the conditions needed for the safe, informed, voluntary and dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees, he continued, noting that, so far, the number of returnees is small in comparison to the total of 2.3 million refugees and 1.9 

million internally displaced persons.  However, it reflects a growing trend, he said, pointing out that, while some have returned on their own, thousands of others will require assistance.  A key challenge ahead is the lack of basic services available to them, he said, adding that, in that context, UNMISS is shifting its focus from the static duties of guarding protection-of-civilian sites to more long-range patrolling, concentrated on areas of return.  Early next week, the Mission will release a human rights report on continuing fighting in Central Equatoria, he said, adding that it has stepped up its patrolling presence in Yei.

ANDREW GILMOUR, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said the Mission’s human rights division has documented a significant and welcome decrease in the overall number of human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by Government forces and organized armed groups since September 2018.  However, a major exception has been the continued prevalence of sexual violence by parties to the conflict, which reached a peak between November and December 2018 in Bentiu.  “The peace remains fragile and requires constant vigilance,” he said, emphasizing that the Revitalized Peace Agreement neither addresses all the divisions at the root of the conflict, with their increasingly ethnic dimensions, nor the staggering corruption that continues to undermine sustainable peace and justice in South Sudan – as well as the economic and social rights of the entire population.  Citing continued clashes between Government forces and non-signatory opposition groups in Central Equatoria, he reported that violence in other parts of the country has shifted primarily to actions perpetrated by community-based militias and other armed elements.  Frequently referred to as “cattle raids” or “intercommunal violence”, such incidents have largely evolved from traditional practices into acts of political violence, he noted.  The progressive restriction of political and civic space is also a worrying trend, he said, pointing out that freedom of expression in particular is constantly under attack.

He went on to report that surveillance, intimidation and arbitrary arrests are commonly used to restrict the activities of human rights defenders, critics and journalists.  The real guarantee of lasting peace in South Sudan lies in efforts to end impunity, he said, stressing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that gross violations of international law, as well as serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights crimes have been committed by all parties to the conflict.  However, no significant action has been taken against the perpetrators and a general culture of impunity persists despite the existence of a body of evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity have taken place.  Underlining the need to break that long-standing cycle by ensuring the activation of transitional justice mechanisms, he expressed concern that, despite repeated assurances, the Government has not yet signed the memorandum of understanding with the African Union on the establishment of a hybrid court.  “UNMISS has supported the State in its efforts to deliver justice at the local level, offering a few glimmers of hope amid the myriad of challenges facing South Sudan,” he said.  Mobile courts supported by the Mission have convicted at least three members of the organized armed forces for the crime of rape in Bentiu and Malakal, and a national action plan has been launched to address conflict-related sexual violence.

LYDIA MINAGANO, Project Manager, Peace Implementation Monitoring Initiative and member, Strategic Defence and Security Review Board, briefed by videoconference from Juba, providing a civil society perspective on the situation of women and girls in South Sudan.  Emphasizing that the country’s conflict is deeply rooted in gender inequality, she said that has resulted in widespread violations of the rights of women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence, forced displacement and denial of access to livelihoods.  With one of the world’s highest rates of violence against women and girls, South Sudan has entrenched discrimination, she emphasized, pointing out that such harmful practices as early and forced marriage, as well as payment of bride price, are common.  The continued military presence means that women and girls are at increased risk of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence, she stressed.

Meanwhile, the majority of people displaced by the conflict – often lacking basic services and exposed to preventable diseases - are women and children, she continued.  Underlining the importance of ensuring women’s meaningful participation in the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, she said that although they fought to secure a 35 per cent quota for women’s inclusion, no such stipulation has been effectively implemented.  Security-sector reform – also essential for South Sudan’s long-term peace and stability – must ensure that all security actors are competent, professional and responsive, and that they uphold anti-corruption efforts, as well as human and women’s rights, she said.  An urgent outstanding issue is the slow progress on integrating the armed forces, she said, urging the parties to ensure that major security-sector reform milestones are achieved.  “Delays in professionalizing the army mean delays in proper protection of women and girls,” she stressed.

Turning to the role of civil society organizations such as her own, she said they are not only instrumental in the delivery of life-saving humanitarian services, but also in implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement.  In March, the Council responded to the call for UNMISS to work more closely with civil society by mandating that the Mission engage with women-led non-governmental organizations and civil society more generally, she recalled.  “We now expect you to fulfil this mandate,” she said, also calling upon the Council to ensure that the Government supports implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement with reliable and adequate financial resources.  She also called upon the parties to realize the 35 per cent quota for women; encouraged donors to support local civil society groups; encouraged UNMISS to continue to engage with diverse women’s organizations while creating safe spaces; urged the parties to vacate all civilian areas; and called for protection and support for women and girls at risk.

Statements

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said that with the recent reduction in violence, humanitarian workers are better able to carry out their work.  However, some restrictions on their movements remain, as the Government continues to restrict many important civic and political freedoms.  He also stressed the importance of stepping up face-to-face meetings between the top political leaders.  Calling upon countries of the region and the broader international community to uphold the sanctions imposed on South Sudan, he said they should strive to “make peace more profitable than war”.  Meanwhile, the parties in conflict should use the extension of the pre-transitional period to make progress on key issues, such as implementing the transitional justice provisions of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, creating a hybrid court and moving the armed forces into cantonment.  While that will not be simple, there is evidence that the parties are able to compromise, he said, stressing that the alternative – a return to conflict and more loss of life - is intolerable.  He called for the appointment of a permanent chairperson for the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission.  In addition, he underlined that developments in Sudan should not be allowed to hinder events in South Sudan.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) noted that on 9 July, eight years will have passed since South Sudan’s independence, five of which have been marked by civil conflict.  Despite some recent progress, some 860,000 children under 5 are still expected to suffer malnutrition in 2019, he said, adding that women and children still suffer the brunt of the conflict – including degrading treatment and sexual violence.  “No one is spared.”  While the international community supports the decision to extend the pre-transitional period, the clock is ticking, he said, emphasizing that the parties must make a significant political commitment to meet the new deadline.  He called upon them to agree on security mechanisms, a new security road map, face-to-face meetings between political leaders, and the disbursement of funds committed by the Government.  Non-signatory parties should refrain from inflammatory rhetoric, he added.  Noting the recent increase in intercommunal violence, he warned that no peace will be possible unless human rights violations are urgently addressed, cases of abuses investigated, and perpetrators held to account.  Meanwhile, he warned that a country cannot flourish without a diverse and active civil society and a free press, calling upon the authorities to immediately release information on the whereabouts of two UNMISS staff detained and missing since 2014.

WU HAITAO (China) said that although the overall situation in South Sudan continues to improve – including the agreement to extend the pre-transitional period and the return of refugees – the priority must nevertheless be for all stakeholders to continue to support the parties in making peace.  The Council must lend greater support in that regard, including by ensuring full respect for the Government’s ownership of the peace process.  International partners should provide the necessary funding, technical and material assistance, while supporting IGAD’s role as the main mediator, he said.  They should also support greater building of mutual trust, with stronger efforts to push non-signatory parties to sign up to the peace process as soon as possible.  On the humanitarian front, he said priority should be given to addressing food insecurity, supporting the return of refugees and bolstering education, health care and other services.

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), expressing concern over delays in implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement, noted an “appreciable” drop in political violence.  However, progress towards the formation of a national unity Government has fallen short of international expectations, he said, emphasizing that the parties must seize the opportunity afforded by the six-month extension of the transition period.  Encouraging them to “rise above partisan interests” and make the needed changes, he expressed hope that they will focus on determining the number of states, borders and draft laws, while both training and redeploying the armed forces.  He called for making transitional security arrangements operational, and for reforming the security sector.  A national dialogue that includes women’s voices is essential, he said, encouraging strong regional ownership of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.  Indeed, the efforts of UNMISS will bear no fruit unless the parties commit to resolving the conflict, he emphasized, expressing hope that the unity demonstrated during the spiritual retreat organized by the Vatican will prove helpful.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), expressing disappointment with the pre-transition period’s extension, emphasized:  “It is imperative that this is the last postponement.”  She encouraged the parties to compromise on the thorny issues of border demarcation and security arrangements, urging them to “invest in seeking agreement”.  Underscoring IGAD’s fundamental role, she stressed that the African Union and the United Nations must support its efforts.  Furthermore, non-signatory groups must sign up and women must be able to participate meaningfully at all levels of the peace process.  Noting that half the population suffers food insecurity and that intercommunal violence is causing new displacements, she cited a report by the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan which found that new violence, including grave human rights violations, could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Urging the parties to engage with the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, she called for establishment of the hybrid court for South Sudan, insisting:  “The perpetrators of these violations cannot go unpunished.”

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) welcomed the drop in political violence accompanying the entry into force of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.  “This is just a starting point that should encourage further progress in the peace process,” he added, urging a priority focus on forced cantonment, training, unification, deployment and border demarcation.  Expressing concern over the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence, including by Government forces, he called for actions that would lead to “zero victims”.  Displaced people must be allowed to return safely and provided with basic services, he said, welcoming the provision of $11 million in emergency funds from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for 270,000 people throughout the country.  He also commended attempts to reconcile the leaders, as well as IGAD’s efforts to help South Sudan transition to the next stage in the peace process, reiterating the need for political monitoring.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement has so far been characterized by its slowness.  In the context of ongoing political uncertainty, he welcomed the fact that the ceasefire continues to hold, as well as the growing number of rapprochements and the strong support provided by IGAD.  However, there are also escalating threats posed by food insecurity, continuing clashes in some areas and cases of Ebola in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, stressing that humanitarian actors must be able to move freely.  Expressing concern about continuing impunity, he called for the launch of an accountability process to ensure that violators of human rights, including sexual violence, are held accountable.  All avenues must be pursued to put a full stop to South Sudan’s culture of impunity, he stressed, urging the parties to make intelligent use of the new deadline for the pre-transition period.  “There are no shortcuts or expressways” to peace, he stressed, calling on the parties to demonstrate diplomatic creativity and on the international community to provide full support.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) emphasized critical transitional issues, including the need to agree on transitional security arrangements.  The participation of women and civil society in the political process is indispensable.  Expressing concern that serious human rights violations and abuses persist with impunity – as do violations of international humanitarian law – she called upon the Government to spare no effort in bringing the perpetrators to justice.  Meanwhile, millions of South Sudanese remain displaced and more than half the population suffers food insecurity, she noted.  Emphasizing that the country’s people urgently need support and stability, she said IGAD, its member States and the African Union have a critical role to play in enforcing and Monitoring the Revitalized Peace Agreement, adding that the Council should stand ready to support those efforts.

AYANDA NAMHLA NATASHA BEKWA (South Africa) echoed expressions of support for implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, while also asking the Council to encourage opposition leader Riek Machar to return to Juba.  “It’s important that we all rally behind the peace process and encourage the implementation of all outstanding provisions,” she stressed.  Acknowledging the positive strides made to date, she noted, however, that the situation remains fragile, progress is slow and the resources available for the peace process are insufficient.  International partners should support implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and help to ensure that the current momentum is maintained in order to prevent a backslide into conflict, she said.  Urging the parties to continue efforts to resolve the issue of boundaries, she called upon South Sudan’s partners to mobilize the resources and expertise needed to enable the parties to implement the security-sector reform aspects of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.  Turning to the humanitarian situation, she welcomed recent improvements in access while urging international partners to make meaningful contributions to post-conflict reconstruction and development programmes.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said sexual and gender-based violence is at a shocking level, and such abuse should be a stand-alone criterion in a sanctions regime.  “This Council must act on this now,” he insisted, urging signatories to step up efforts to finally meet the 35 per cent quota for women’s participation in the committees of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.  Noting that UNMISS efforts continue to be obstructed, he urged the Government to ensure that the Mission can carry out its work.  The six-month extension of the pre-transitional period must be the final one, he said, welcoming comments about reconciliation at the local and national levels.  He underscored the importance of close cooperation among IGAD, the African Union and the United Nations, also citing the Holy See’s efforts to foster reconciliation.  Fundamental freedoms must be guaranteed, with human rights defenders able to do their job.  “Appalled” by the conviction of economist Peter Biar Ajak for granting interviews to foreign media after his arrest on charges that were subsequently dropped, he said “if you put all journalists that are critical of Government in jail, you will not have enough jails”.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) expressed unwavering support for the people of South Sudan as they seek peace.  “They cannot be expected to wait any longer from implementation of a lasting peace,” he said, especially those facing acute food insecurity.  He urged parties to make the compromises needed to make progress on security sector reform, as well as agreement on borders and State forces.  While the United Kingdom had supported extension of the pre-transition period, he now echoed calls for leaders to meet and redouble efforts to ensure a Government is formed in November.  “There need not be more delays,” he said, underscoring the Government’s primary responsibility for creating an environment conducive to the safe, durable and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons.  Also, progress on justice and accountability continues to stall, with security forces threatening perceived critics.  He urged the Government to take steps to end the culture of impunity, and to sign the necessary agreements with the African Union to establish the hybrid court.  The two main actors have a responsibility to their people to resolve outstanding issues and the Council must support them.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) expressed support for the six-month extension of the transition period, pressing parties to shoulder their responsibilities and demonstrate the necessary political will to implement the peace agreement “in letter and spirit”.   An inclusive political solution is the only way to achieve peace and he expressed hope that they would refrain from acts that would worsen the tenuous situation.  He encouraged the Government to disburse the $11 million pledged in a timely and transparent manner and regretted clashes between Government and opposition groups, as well as the prevalence of sexual violence.  Parties must spare no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice, he said, calling attacks against humanitarian and UNMISS personnel unacceptable, and welcoming IGAD’s mediation efforts and the African Union Commission’s efforts to achieve peace.

ALEXANDER V. REPKIN (Russian Federation) expressed support for the decision to extend the pre-transition period by six months, and in particular, IGAD’s efforts to mediate as an illustration of the principle “African solutions to African problems”.  He also welcomed the reduction in armed violence and incidence of human rights violations, encouraging the Government to focus on security questions and to end the process of amending the Constitution.  He also urged South Sudanese parties to do their utmost to carry out the outstanding tasks called for in the revitalized agreement.  “South Sudan deserves to live in peace,” he asserted.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) called the revitalized peace agreement “the best and only option” for South Sudan.  Commending efforts by IGAD to bring non-signatories to the peace process, as well as the convening of a spiritual retreat, he said the extension of the pre-transitional period must be used to expedite all pending tasks.  Stressing the imperative of protecting civilians and respecting international humanitarian law, he expressed concern over an increase in intercommunal violence and continued rights violations across the country.  Movement restrictions repeatedly prevent UNMISS from carrying out its tasks.  Accountability in such violations must be upheld, he said, calling also for greater humanitarian assistance for the 1.9 million internally displaced persons and 2.3 million refugees, and stressing that South Sudan needs resources to prevent and anticipate the possible spread of Ebola from neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, urging South Sudan’s leaders to seize the opportunity presented by postponement of the pre-transitional period to build trust and make progress on priority issues.  Welcoming regional mediation efforts led by IGAD, as well as the initiative of the Holy See to gather the country’s leaders together, he voiced support for improvements in humanitarian access and reiterated his delegation’s condemnation of child recruitment and sexual violence in conflict.  The international community should continue to support the people of South Sudan in pursuing a peaceful future, he stressed.

AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan) emphasized that confidence-building measures between signatories to his country’s Revitalized Agreement are improving steadily and meetings in Juba continue as scheduled.  However, the Agreement’s implementation requires major funding support.  The Government has pledged to allocate $100 million to jump-start the process, with $2 million already spent on food distribution and cantonment preparation activities.  However, challenges remain, and the process requires technical assistance and expertise.  He expressed hope that the international community will provide them.

For information media. Not an official record.