Top United Nations Official in South Sudan Urges Leaders to Form Transitional Government, Unify National Forces, as Delegates Applaud Respect for Ceasefire

SC/14055
17 December 2019
8689th Meeting (PM)

Top United Nations Official in South Sudan Urges Leaders to Form Transitional Government, Unify National Forces, as Delegates Applaud Respect for Ceasefire

Sanctions Committee Chair Cites Serious Gaps in Implementing Arms Embargo, Urges Neighbours to Cooperate with Expert Panel

Essential tasks in forming a transitional Government to end the tragic conflict in South Sudan must be accomplished with urgency if the parties are to meet their latest extended 100-day timeline, the top United Nations official for the country told the Security Council today.

“Reasons can always be found for further delay”, said David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  “But if the parties want to fully implement the agreement and form a new Government, they can.  It comes down to political will.”

Mr. Shearer introduced the Secretary-General’s latest report on the issue (document S/2019/936), which describes the events leading up to the agreement to extend the pre-transitional period by 100 days effective from 12 November, the previous deadline.  The Secretary-General expresses disappointment at delays in implementing the agreement between the Government, led by President Salva Kiir, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), led by Riek Machar.

The report notes, however, that the extension agreement calmed rising tensions and that the ceasefire continues to hold, except in parts of the greater Equatoria region.  As the humanitarian situation remains dire, the Secretary-General urged the parties to “move forward with the interest of the people at the forefront”.

In his briefing, Mr. Shearer noted that one third of the extension has already passed.  The first test of whether political will exists to form the unified Government will be known when the 50-day review is held.  At that point, there must be measurable progress in training and unifying national forces, transparency in Government funding for such pre-transitional tasks, a resolution of Mr. Machar’s status and determination of state boundaries.

The good news, he said, is that the ceasefire has been largely respected, although a recent spike of intercommunal clashes risks spilling into more serious violence.  Civilians continue to bear the brunt of any fighting.  To their credit, state government, humanitarian agencies and donors responded quickly to the flooding that affected at least 900,000 people.

Given the rise in tensions caused by political delays and flooding, he urged South Sudan’s leaders to make the right choices and swiftly implement the peace agreement.  “The wrong choices could create the circumstances for a perfect storm”, he warned.

Also briefing today, Joanna Wronecka (Poland) spoke in her capacity as Chair of the South Sudan sanctions committee, describing her visit to South Sudan and the region in October, in which she witnessed the terrors of the conflict and serious gaps in implementation of sanctions.  Shipments are not being inspected to maintain the arms embargo, and sanctioned individuals are still travelling unimpeded throughout the region.  She urged Governments in the region, particularly those neighbouring South Sudan, to strengthen their cooperation with the Committee and its Panel of Experts. 

In the ensuing discussion, delegates urged the parties to make progress in implementing the revitalized peace agreement during the 100-day extension period, in coordination with regional facilitators.  Many also urged measures to relieve the humanitarian and human rights situation in the interim, including the establishment of mechanisms for transitional justice.

The representative of the United States, Council President speaking in her national capacity, said many in the international community are losing confidence that South Sudan’s leaders can guide it to peace.  If they cannot not make progress in the next 100 days, a stronger sanctions regime should be considered.

The representative of the Russian Federation, on the other hand, suggested that, though disappointing, the failure to meet the previous deadline should not be dramatized.  The ceasefire is holding, violence has fallen and leaders have been consistently talking to each other.  In that context, regional facilitators should be supported to keep the momentum going and sanctions should be soon reconsidered.

South Africa’s representative, speaking also for Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea, called the revitalized peace agreement a “beacon of hope” that will help rebuild South Sudan and bring about peace and stability.  Extending the pre-transitional period by 100 days will make it possible to address contentious issues, including security arrangements and boundary issues. 

He encouraged the parties to continue dialogue, using the frameworks of the African Union and IGAD to bridge their differences.  The international community should meanwhile continue to support the parties at this critical juncture.  “The people of South Sudan deeply yearn for peace, stability and development to rebuild their lives,” he stated.

Also speaking today were representatives of Germany, France, Dominican Republic, Poland, Belgium, Kuwait, Indonesia, China, United Kingdom and Peru.

The meeting began at 3:08 p.m. and ended at 4:40 p.m.

Briefings

DAVID SHEARER, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), noted that one third of the 100-day extension of the Revitalized Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan has already passed.  He called on leaders to expeditiously form a unified Government and to continue the steep decrease in civilian casualties, sexual violence and abductions that followed the accord’s signing.  There has been no shortage of outside support to encourage South Sudan to follow the right path, he said, citing frequent meetings coordinated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union and a unity of purpose by international partners.  “Reasons can always be found for further delay”, he stated.  “But if the parties want to fully implement the agreement and form a new government, they can.  It comes down to political will”.

The first test of whether the political will exists will be known when the 50-day review is held, he said.  At that point, there must be measurable progress in key areas.  Training and unification of national forces must be accelerated.  In addition, transparency in Government funding for such pre-transitional tasks is needed to quell suspicion — in the form of a trust fund or similar mechanism — and the status of Riek Machar must be resolved, as he has yet to be given a South Sudan passport, despite his presence in Juba for discussions over the past five days.  That State boundary determination issue is critical, he said, calling it a politically charged issue, as power and access to resources is heavily vested in the states, which, in turn, are often linked to ethnic groups.  The matter should not be deferred to a referendum, as it would cost millions and risk deepening ethnic divisions.

“No one I spoke to wants to go back to war”, he said, but privately some admit they will take up arms again if ordered by their leaders.  The good news is that the ceasefire has been largely respected.  Vigilance is needed, however, and a recent spike of intercommunal clashes risks spilling into more serious violence.  Civilians continue to bear the brunt of any violence.  To their credit, he noted, state government, humanitarian agencies and donors responded quickly to the flooding that affected at least 900,000 people.  With much of the food stocks destroyed, however, the $1.5 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020 aims to meet the needs of 5.6 million people.   In just two months, the dry season — historically associated with fighting — will coincide with the deadlines for leaders to choose their path ahead.  Given the rise in tensions caused by delays and flooding, “the wrong choices could create the circumstances for a perfect storm”, he warned, emphasizing the deep responsibility leaders have for ending the crisis.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) spoke in her capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2203 (2015) concerning South Sudan, focusing on her visit to South Sudan, Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia from 6 to 15 October.  She said that, based on her discussions, she remains convinced that implementation of the Revitalized Agreement, and in particular the transitional security arrangements, remain critically important.  She expressed concern over the dire humanitarian and human rights situation, characterized by the pillaging of civilians, particularly women and children, by men in uniform.  The abuse and recruitment of children, and acts of sexual violence against women and girls, remain an ongoing motif in this terrible civil war.  She remarked that in Juba, Bentiu and Yei, she noticed that some of her interlocutors believed that communities in South Sudan do not fully understand the sanctions regime.

“I continue to remain concerned that the region is not taking concrete actions vis-à-vis the implementation of the sanctions regime,” she said, encouraging neighbouring States to carry out inspections, in accordance with resolution 2428 (2018) in connection with the arms embargo.  It is also lamentable that sanctioned individuals are still travelling unimpeded throughout the region, sometimes with passports from the region.  As a result of her visit, the 2203 Committee recommended the possibility of sending a note verbale to all Member States to remind them of their obligations.  Turning to the interim report of the Panel of Experts (document S/2019/897), she urged Member States in the region, particularly those neighbouring South Sudan, to strengthen their cooperation with the Panel and the Committee.  Since her briefing to the Council a year ago, the Committee received four exemption requests to the arms embargo, all of which were granted.  No exemption requests were received concerning the travel bans.

Statements

KELLY CRAFT (United States), Council President for December, spoke in her national capacity, saying that the international community is losing confidence that South Sudan’s leaders will guide it to peace and stability.  The Council visited Juba to support implementation of the peace agreement, only to find leaders blaming each other for the lack of progress.  She expressed concern over the presence of the military in civilian facilities, the Government’s appointment of officials accused of serious human rights violations, and acts of sexual violence by members of the armed forces.  Financial opacity prevails, expert advice is ignored, women are prevented from fully participating in the political process and humanitarian actors face limits on reaching those in need.  An inclusive transitional Government can still be formed before the end of the 100-day extension period, she said, adding that regional engagement will be essential.  In the meantime, a robust arms embargo and sanctions regime remains necessary.  If South Sudan’s leaders cannot implement basic provisions of the peace agreement, the Council should consider stronger sanctions.

XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa), speaking also on behalf of Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea, said the Revitalized Agreement remains a beacon of hope that will help rebuild South Sudan.  Extending the pre-transitional period by 100 days will make it possible to address contentious issues, including security arrangements and boundary issues.  He encouraged the parties to continue dialogue, using the frameworks under the African Union and IGAD to bridge their differences.  The international community should continue to support the parties at this critical juncture.  He called in particular on President Salva Kiir and the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), Riek Machar, to continue forging collegial relations and rebuilding trust to help unify the country.  In addition, the Government and IGAD must address the final status of Mr. Machar in order to facilitate his full and effective role in advancing the peace process.

While progress in implementing the Revitalized Agreement has been limited, the maintenance of the cessation of hostilities is encouraging, he said, calling on all parties to stay on that trajectory and to place the lives of ordinary South Sudanese first.  He encouraged the Government to continue to address conflict-related sexual violence — and all human rights violations — and to hold perpetrators accountable.  On the humanitarian situation, he called on all parties to urgently focus on human lives and invited the international community to continue providing assistance to the vulnerable.  “We all understand the ramifications of the failure of the peace process, and as such, we should tightly guard against any reversal of its progress,” he said.  “The people of South Sudan deeply yearn for peace, stability and development to rebuild their lives.”

JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) fully agreed with the assessment that it is time to demonstrate political will to implement the Revitalized Agreement.  For that purpose, progress must be made on substantive issues.  Regional actors remain absolutely crucial to maintain pressure on the parties and facilitate talks towards consensus, he said, pressing IGAD and the African Union to remain engaged.  He called for IGAD to make the 50-day report available to the Council.  Germany has been supporting community-based work to facilitate the peace process, he noted, calling for unimpeded humanitarian access, as well as an end to attacks on humanitarian workers, the recruitment of children and sexual violence.  Transitional justice must hold all perpetrators accountable.  Commending the Panel of Experts, he called for coordination among all regional and international actors to ensure the sanctions are implemented.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) affirmed the urgent need to ensure that the recent extension of the pre-transition agreement is the last one.  She called for South Sudanese parties to achieve the necessary tasks immediately, noting that accountable dispersal of funds must be ensured and the status of Mr. Machar determined.  Also, a spirit of compromise must be exhibited on determination of states and security arrangements, while the ceasefire must remain the overriding priority.  Following the floods, humanitarian access and the safety of humanitarian workers must be ensured.  She added that the establishment of the hybrid court is critical for ensuring accountability for human rights abuses.  The guarantors should continue their efforts and maintain regional pressure for progress in implementing the agreement.  Good offices and other mediation efforts by UNMISS are also essential to support regional initiatives and ensure that the peace process is not derailed.

JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS YABRA (Dominican Republic), expressing concern over delays in implementing the peace agreement, said all issues must be tackled in a people-centred manner.  He welcomed recent meetings between the two leaders and hoped that the Government’s pledge to disperse funds will be handled properly.  Expressing concern over the humanitarian situation, he called for the launch of programmes to build resilience to natural disasters and mitigate the effects of climate change.  Condemning attacks against humanitarian workers, he called for all parties to end the violence, sexual abuse and recruitment of child soldiers.  He also supported establishment of the hybrid court and called on UNMISS to continue to promote human rights.  Trust, he emphasized, must be built among all stakeholders in South Sudan, and the legitimate needs of the people must be met.

Ms. WRONECKA (Poland), speaking in her national capacity, welcomed last week’s meeting of President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar as an important step towards the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and an extremely valuable confidence-building measure.  However, that cannot replace genuine implementation of the peace accord.  Noting the slow pace of putting necessary arrangements in place, she expressed concern over insufficient political will among the signatories to step up preparations for the successful transition and formation of the transitional Government.  The participation of women in South Sudan’s political process is indispensable, she said, adding that the role of regional arrangements in holding parties to account cannot be overestimated and commending IGAD’s involvement in that regard.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said sanctions are a tool that the Council must not hesitate to use when circumstances call for them.  Noting that scant progress has been made on key issues, he said it is incumbent on South Sudan’s leaders to ensure that their forces respect the ceasefire that is being upheld in most of the country.  With hostilities persisting in some areas, UNMISS must continue to protect civilians, he said, adding that conditions are not yet right for the dignified and informed return of displaced persons.  He expressed concern at reports of the illegal detention of civil society and media representatives, adding that political prisoners and prisoners of war should be released immediately.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) welcomed meetings between President Kiir and Mr. Machar in Uganda and Juba, as well as the fact that the ceasefire is holding in most parts of South Sudan.  He called on the international community to redouble its efforts to ease the humanitarian burden on the population.  Welcoming the reduced number of civilians in UNMISS protection sites, he called for the Mission’s freedom of movement to be upheld, in line with the status of forces agreement and its Council mandate.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) called on parties to the Revitalized Agreement to use the 100-day extension of the pre-transitional period to make substantive progress in resolving issues.  He also called for the transparent disbursement of funds for the Agreement, as well as proactive and continued engagement by IGAD and the African Union.  In recent months, tribal clashes and internal fighting in previously calm areas have demonstrated that the security situation remains fragile.  Impunity will prolong the conflict cycle and jeopardize the credibility of the peace process, he warned, noting that UNMISS plays an important role in strengthening the judicial presence in the country.  As such, he expressed regret that the Mission faces access restrictions, in violation of the Status of Forces Agreement, impeding its ability to protect civilians.

WU HAITAO (China), welcoming the improved security situation, said the top priority now is to assist South Sudan in maintaining the momentum to implement the peace agreement.   The Council should fully respect the responsibility of the country’s leaders in that regard and consult closely with the Government to determine needs.  Coordination among the Council, IGAD and the African Union should be enhanced in efforts to encourage mediation for a consensus solution to outstanding issues.  The international community should increase humanitarian, reconstruction and humanitarian aid, he said, expressing support for the role of UNMISS in all these areas and noting that China has provided significant assistance to South Sudan and stands ready to continue to work for peace and sustainable development there.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), while expressing disappointment that previous timelines have not been met, emphasized that this should not be the subject of drama; positive trends should instead be the focus.  It is important that the parties are willing to engage in dialogue and he welcomed consistent meetings between the two leaders.  Welcoming also a reduction in the violence and rights violations, along with the return of displaced people, he said the most important factor is that the parties are complying with the ceasefire.  He called on them to keep adhering to that agreement.  He expressed hope that they will take the necessary measures to make progress and called on the non-signatory parties to join in building South Sudan’s future.  Unity among IGAD, the African Union, South Africa and other regional actors can lead to African solutions to African problems.  The earmark of funds for the united armed forces in South Sudan underlined the fact that the parties wish to reach an agreement.  Focus should not therefore be placed on sanctions, which have often hampered progress.  The sanctions should be reviewed, with a view to tailoring them to the actual situation on the ground.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said this is the Council’s first meeting since the 100-day extension began, but not the first time that the parties have failed to deliver progress.  The Council must reiterate and reinforce its clear and united message that all parties in South Sudan must agree the steps required to form an inclusive Government.  He paid tribute to the efforts of the Vice President of South Africa on the crucial issue of the number and boundary of states, acknowledging that it may not be resolved by the end of the 100-day period.  While recent meetings between President Kiir and Mr. Machar are welcome, they have not shifted the dialogue, he said, calling for action and results, rather than statements and promises.  He added that he could not understand how Mr. Machar does not hold a South Sudanese passport while negotiating with the Government.  Hopefully that situation can be resolved as a matter of good faith.  He welcomed regional engagement, urging IGAD in particular to redouble its efforts and suggesting that the Council consider how its cooperation with the Authority can be deepened.

LUIS UGARELLI (Peru) expressed disappointment at continued delays in establishing a transitional Government of national unity, which creates uncertainty and fuels violence.  He appealed to all parties to continue engaging in dialogue through a gradual process.  Pointing to ethnic and intercommunal violence, he appealed to non-signatory groups to join the peace agreement.  Moreover, incidents involving human rights violations have claimed the lives of 130 civilians over the past three months and impunity has become the status quo.  As such, he expressed hope that the perpetrators of such violations are held accountable.  He also noted that the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned of a famine in South Sudan that could affect 5.5 million people.  Regardless of such uncertainty, he called for a definitive ceasefire and the allocation of resources for the transparent and effective implementation of the agreement.  The close cooperation of regional bodies is also required, because their leadership will be decisive in ensuring a successful transition and peacebuilding process.

For information media. Not an official record.