Permanent Representative Urges Lifting of Sanctions, as Civil Society Member Urges Government to Exclude Listed Individuals
Security Council members cautiously welcomed the new power-sharing agreement to end the conflict in South Sudan today, as they heard updates on recent developments from the senior United Nations official in that country and a national civil society representative.
The briefers described the challenges ahead, while emphasizing the importance of ensuring that women are well represented in the newly formed Transitional Government of National Unity and the wider political process, as well as the need for close international monitoring to ensure that the incoming administration adheres to the new political road map.
David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), reported that President Salva Kiir, agreeing to compromise, abandoned the current state system to restore the original pre-2015 10 states while establishing 3 administrative areas. Riek Machar — leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) and its associated Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) — then agreed to join the Transitional Government, taking up the position of First Vice‑President, he said. To their credit, both President Kiir and Mr. Machar put their country’s interests over their own, he said, emphasizing: “We often speak of courage in war and battle, but peace also requires courage.”
On UNMISS, he noted that its mandate is up for renewal, but, in the meantime, it has increased its protective presence as a confidence-building measure in areas where returning refugees are located. In addition, the Mission has prioritized the deployment of its “blue helmets” to those areas and other hotspot locations. At the same time, the mobility of UNMISS peacekeepers has improved, while the United Nations Police and the Rule of Law unit will be expanding their activities, he reported. “Our actions can push South Sudan further towards sustainable peace; our inaction can help condemn it to failure,” he stressed.
Betty Sunday, coordinator of the non-governmental organization Women’s Monthly Forum on the Peace and Political Process in South Sudan, briefed Council members by video-teleconference from Juba, welcoming the growing influence of civil society, particularly women-led organizations. “South Sudanese women have fought hard for the peace agreement to come to life and hold,” she said, emphasizing their role in the peace process, as well as their advocacy for greater female representation in the country’s political life. She pointed out, however, that the Transitional Government has not met the 35 per cent quota for women’s representation in the Cabinet, and that no women are included in the list of prospective state governors.
Underlining the fact that women and girls paid the highest price of previous political failures in South Sudan, she went on to cite the ordeal suffered by the 125 survivors of the November 2018 mass rape at Bentiu. Women remain under serious threat today, she said, underscoring the need for the newly formed Government to use national resources in tackling girls’ education and child marriage. It should also focus on delivery of basic services, she said, highlighting that women and girls are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence while fetching water or food.
Following the briefings, delegates encouraged the Transitional Government to ensure that women fill 35 per cent of positions, while expressing deep concern over continuing violence, humanitarian conditions and the effects of internationally imposed sanctions.
The United Kingdom’s representative emphasized that “the 35 per cent quota should be the floor, not the ceiling” in order to allow truly meaningful participation by women in the country’s political life.
South Africa’s representative expressed concern over intercommunal violence and sub-clan clashes, urging the Transitional Government to address the violence while noting the dire overall humanitarian situation in the country.
The Dominican Republic’s representative noted that more than 7 million people require humanitarian assistance, while over half the population face food insecurity. The effects of climate change are exacerbating the humanitarian situation, he said, citing the effects of flooding, as well as the prevalence of locust swarms spreading across the subregion. He went on to note that South Sudan is a signatory to the Optional Protocol on the Participation of Children in Armed Conflict, yet a broad lack of accountability has hampered its progress in that area.
Estonia’s representative also highlighted the vulnerability of children in South Sudan, welcoming South Sudan’s signing of the Comprehensive Plan of Action to end and prevent all grave violations against children, while calling upon the signatories to implement the Plan in full. He went on to affirm Estonia’s support for imposing sanctions on perpetrators of human rights violations.
Germany’s representative reinforced that sentiment, cautioning against lifting sanctions while stressing that, in order for reconciliation efforts to succeed, there should be no impunity for perpetrators of crimes.
The Russian Federation’s representative, however, stressed that the efforts of regional actors — in the spirit of “African solutions for African problems” — rather than the imposition of sanctions led to the progress witnessed today. He urged the Council to conduct an assessment of its sanctions regime with a view to tailoring it to conditions on the ground.
South Sudan’s representative said that the Transitional Government of National Unity should not have to start its new mandate with such a dividend of coercive measures as its way forward. Tying it down with sanctions will slow its progress, he warned.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the United States, France, Belgium, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, Niger and China.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 11:52 a.m.
DAVID SHEARER, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), reported that positive developments have moved the country further along the road to sustainable peace. On 15 February, President Salva Kiir agreed, against the wishes of many of his supporters, to a compromise, returning the country to having 10 states as it did before 2015, although he added three administrative areas. With that shift, Riek Machar agreed to join a transitional Government in Juba, taking up the position of First Vice-President, although transitional security arrangements were not yet in place. With the deadlock broken, four Vice‑Presidents were sworn in during a ceremony attended by senior leaders from Sudan, South Africa and Uganda, he said, adding that the fifth Vice-President was sworn in the following day.
That progress is attributable to the political willingness of two men who put the interests of their country first, he continued, noting that President Kiir made a critical concession while Mr. Machar agreed to return to the capital. “We often speak of courage in war and battle, but peace also requires courage,” he emphasized. He went on to state that the parties are now negotiating the allocation of ministerial portfolios, while non-signatory groups committed, through the mediation efforts of Sant’Egidio, to cease hostilities in February. Their return to Rome next week is intended to bring them into South Sudan’s latest power-sharing agreement. The new Government can promote positive change, he said, pointing out that the new presidency’s first joint statement last week urged people from civilian-protection sites and neighbouring countries to return home. That message put the onus on the new Government to ensure that areas of return are safe for those coming back.
For its part, UNMISS has stepped up its protective presence to build confidence in areas of return, he continued, noting, however, that the shortage of basic health and education services in rural areas has discouraged returns. Meanwhile, the protection environment has changed, with the ceasefire and the free movement of opposition leaders across South Sudan having lowered the risk of violence. Consequently, UNMISS has prioritized the deployment of peacekeepers to hotspot locations and areas of return, he reported. The new Government faces a daunting array of challenges that will test its unity, he stressed, saying the most urgent is the need for movement on transitional security arrangements. The pre-transitional structures are now redundant, while implementation efforts are lagging dangerously. The new Government also faces a precarious humanitarian situation in many states because the anticipated improvement in harvest levels 12 months ago was quashed by extensive flooding in 2019. Crops were destroyed and livestock was lost, he said, adding that the floods contaminated water supplies, which in turn exacerbated health conditions, particularly for children.
A unified Government heralds the start of a new phase and the power-sharing agreement will be the road map for the coming three years, he noted, while cautioning that South Sudan must address four issues that are the cornerstones of a properly functioning State — ending impunity, ending corruption, ending dependency and ending exclusion. Pointing out that the UNMISS mandate is due for renewal, he said South Sudan is in flux as the new Government is established, and as a result, it is premature to propose significant changes to the mandate. Describing the current mandate as sufficiently broad to continue activities intended to build a durable peace, he noted, however, that there will be a shift in two areas. The mobility of peacekeepers has improved, while the United Nations Police and the Rule of Law unit will expand their activities. “Our actions can push South Sudan further towards sustainable peace; our inaction can help condemn it to failure,” he said, underlining the imperative of not reneging on the power‑sharing agreement or the ceasefire.
BETTY SUNDAY, Coordinator of the Women’s Monthly Forum on the Peace and Political Process in South Sudan, briefed the Council by video-teleconference from Juba, noting that the completion of key elements of the power-sharing agreement just before the 22 February deadline brings South Sudan closer to the vision of an inclusive country “that ordinary citizens have kept alive in their hearts”. She added: “The alternative could have brought war back to our doorsteps had the ceasefire that drastically reduced political violence not held.” While thanking the Council for not having turned a blind eye to South Sudan’s struggles, she emphasized that it was ultimately pressure from the region, the African Union and the international community as a whole that compelled the country’s leaders to put the good of their people first.
She went on to point out that women and girls have paid the highest price of previous political failures, stressing that the threats they face remain extreme today. The 125 survivors of the November 2018 mass rape at Bentiu should convince the international community to vow “never again”, she said, “and to mean it this time”. With the guns recently silenced, the Government can now use national resources to tackle such key issues as girls’ education, child marriage, youth employment and delivery of basic services. Serious challenges lie ahead, she warned, pointing out that violence in parts of the country continues to displace civilians while women and girls are still at risk of sexual and gender-based violence while fetching food and water. “Communities need rebuilding,” she stressed, noting that 1.5 million people remain displaced and more than 2 million refugees are still outside the country.
Turning to the political front, she welcomed the increasing influence that civil society actors, including women-led organizations, have gained throughout the peace process, their support of compromise and their advocacy for increased representation of women. “South Sudanese women have fought hard for the peace agreement to come to life and hold,” she said, emphasizing, however, that they are still far from achieving the 35 per cent quota for women’s representation in the Transitional Government of National Unity, particularly at the state level, where not a single woman is included in the list of prospective governors, which is still under negotiation. Outlining recommendations for the Council, she said members can enhance their support for South Sudan’s people by maintaining full diplomatic engagement and impressing upon the parties that individuals on international sanctions lists should not be included in the new Government.
The Council and UNMISS can also urge the Government to ensure that the armed forces vacate civilian houses without further delay, as required by the power‑sharing agreement, she continued. Expressing hope that the Council will reiterate its support for transitional justice, she said the latter must include accountability for gender-based violence. Grass‑roots organizations are depending on the Security Council to help by urging the parties to respect the space for civil society’s contributions, she emphasized. Meanwhile, the Council should stand with South Sudan’s people as they call upon the parties to materialize the hard-won promise of a 35 per cent quota for women’s representation in the Transitional Government of National Unity, she reiterated. It remains crucial to maintain all existing provisions on women, peace and security, she stressed, urging UNMISS to engage with diverse women’s groups in the country.
MICHAEL BARKIN (United States) welcomed the compromises that led to the formation of a new Transitional Government of National Unity. “We are grateful that the people of South Sudan can now see a glimmer of progress,” he said, emphasizing that the hard work of compromise must continue. As for the underlying causes of the conflict, he said now is a sensitive time for the implementation of security arrangements, cautioning that there is a high risk of renewed conflict. Leaders must be ready to defuse tensions and take steps to end intercommunal violence, he added. With humanitarian assistance still a crucial lifeline, access to the most vulnerable populations must improve and the new Government must remove any bureaucratic impediments, he noted, stressing that resources must be used to support sustainable development in order to consolidate the gains of peace. As the Council saw during its visit to Juba in 2019, there can be no peace without justice. Citing such human rights violations as the abduction of women and girls, as well as the use of starvation as a weapon of war, he called for the prompt formation of a strong justice system, including an African Union hybrid court for South Sudan. He went on to underline the need for UNMISS to have the capacity to support the peace process and to carry out its work without restrictions and urged South Sudan’s leaders to work closely with the Mission while collaborating to tackle their country’s most challenging issues.
ANND GUEGUEN (France) said “an important milestone has now been reached”, adding that the South Sudan’s people should be able to express themselves freely and that their voices should neither be muffled nor reined in. “Only respect for the commitments adopted under the agreement can repair the social fabric torn by this protracted conflict,” she emphasized. Encouraging all stakeholders to remain fully galvanized during the transition, she said the parties will need robust attention from the international community so as not to deviate from the path set out under the power-sharing agreement. It is time for the South Sudanese to enjoy the dividends of peace, she stressed, noting that the humanitarian situation remains dire and calling upon all parties to provide assistance to all those in need. The establishment of a hybrid court, in accordance with the agreement, should help to counter impunity, she said. As for UNMISS, she stressed that its format and mandate should remain unchanged in 2020.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), welcoming the Transitional Government of National Unity’s formation, said putting the people first is a test of leadership. Praising regional efforts to bring the parties together, he cautioned, however, that it is important that the wider population enjoy the dividends of progress, which has not yet happened. He reminded the Council that the conflict has killed nearly 400,000 people and left 7.5 million in need of humanitarian assistance. The United Kingdom will continue to stand by South Sudan and its people in their endeavours, he said, pointing out that his country remains one of the largest humanitarian donors to the country. Recent steps are only the start of the next step in delivering change for the people of South Sudan, he said, emphasizing that one very concrete step would be to ensure the meaningful participation of women in government. “The 35 per cent quota should be the floor, not the ceiling,” he stressed.”
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) welcomed the parties’ decision to set aside their differences and move forward to forming the Transitional Government of National Unity. However, he deplored recent incidents of intercommunal violence and the volatile security situation along the border, emphasizing that the peace process will only succeed if it translates into efforts to address the root causes of the conflict. Indeed, more than half of South Sudan’s people still face food insecurity and more than 7 million require humanitarian assistance to survive, he said, noting that the situation is exacerbated by recent flooding, the ongoing threat of disease and the new swarm of locusts spreading across parts of Africa as a result of climate change. The new Government’s policies must tackle such challenges, he emphasized, also spotlighting the need to end sexual and gender-based violence and to establish a strong justice system. Recalling that South Sudan is a signatory to the Optional Protocol on the Participation of Children in Armed Conflict, he stressed that a broad lack of accountability has held back significant progress in several relevant areas. The Transitional Government must urgently prioritize justice and reconciliation, he added.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) described recent developments in South Sudan as the fruit of a spirit of comprise on the part of the country’s leaders, as well as the hard work of regional leaders. However, the commendable progress notwithstanding, significant challenges remain, such as the integration of armed forces and rapprochement with non-signatories to the power-sharing agreement, among others. Emphasizing that formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity cannot be an end in and of itself, she declared: “There is an urgent need for political progress to be crystalized […] into tangible improvements in the lives of the South Sudanese people.” She went on to spotlight deep-rooted problems, such as high levels of food insecurity, drought and other effects of climate change, as well as sexual and gender-based violence, while underlining the need to make transitional justice mechanisms operational — including by establishing an African Union hybrid court. “We need to remain vigilant,” she said, pointing out that it is too early to reconfigure protection‑of‑civilian sites. The UNMISS mandate should remain largely unchanged, she added, expressing support for efforts to incorporate the regional protection force into the Mission.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), reiterating the importance of implementing the power-sharing agreement in full, called upon the parties to resolve pending issues in a steady manner and in the spirit of mutual trust and understanding. Noting that intercommunal violence remains a serious challenge, he called upon the parties to respect the ceasefire and refrain from actions that might undermine efforts to forge a sustainable peace. Further work is needed to address the root causes of the conflict, he said, emphasizing that the full potential of women is yet to be unlocked. He went on to welcome the efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union, stressing that the former’s role as guarantor of the peace process will remain crucial going forward. Praising the positive economic growth in South Sudan, he reiterated Viet Nam’s view that sanctions should be a tool for promoting sustainable peace and security, and should be targeted so as to avoid negative impacts on the people’s livelihoods, the country’s development or the Government’s effective functioning.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) joined others in welcoming progress in South Sudan’s peace process, while emphasizing that its leaders must understand that “this is not a zero-sum game”. He welcomed the signing of the Comprehensive Plan of Action to end and prevent all grave violations against children, calling upon the signatories to implement it swiftly and fully. He went on to state that the Transitional Government of National Unity is only a first step, stressing that much more remains to be done. Political will is required to move forward on peacebuilding and reconciliation among the parties, especially considering the need to unify armed forces, he added. “Cooperation is the only reasonable way forward.” Expressing deep concern about the dire humanitarian situation, he underlined that combating sexual and gender-based violence — and tackling the culture of impunity — must remain a priority. He went on to reiterate Estonia’s support for imposing sanctions on perpetrators of human rights violations and encouraged the efforts of the Panel of Experts in that regard.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia), while noting the clashes in areas of Western and Central Equatoria, as well as Upper Nile, said such challenges can be overcome, given the parties’ commitment to fulfil their responsibilities. As for the formation of the Transitional Government, much work remains, particularly with regard to security arrangements and the establishment of three administrative areas, he said. Concerning the humanitarian situation, he expressed concern that 1.67 million people remain internally displaced, while commending the signing of the Comprehensive Action Plan to end and prevent all grave violations against children. Indonesia supports renewal of the UNMISS mandate, which maintains the Mission’s role in supporting the peace process, he said, emphasizing that the mandate must reflect the ongoing positive developments.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said that South Sudan’s leaders have presented their country with a dawn of renewed hope “through great sacrifice and compromise”. Welcoming the 22 February agreement, he encouraged the parties to address outstanding issues and sustain dialogue. He also commended the roles of IGAD and the African Union in facilitating the formation of South Sudan’s Transitional Government of National Unity, and of Rome’s Sant’Egidio Community in facilitating the Rome Declaration with non-signatory groups. On the humanitarian front, he welcomed the sustained cessation of hostilities, describing it as a “testament to the political will of the leaders”. However, he expressed concern over continued intercommunal violence and sub-clan clashes in the Jonglei and Pibor regions, which resulted in civilian deaths and displacement. Urging the Government to address the violence, he emphasized that the dire overall humanitarian situation requires collective action by the international community. In that regard, he called upon donors to support the South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020 — which requires $1.5 billion to meet the life‑saving needs of 5.6 million people — and expressed support for maintaining the current capacity of UNMISS.
ISIS AZALEA MARIA GONSALVES (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) applauded the decision to form the Transitional Government, adding that the spirit of compromise exhibited by the parties for South Sudan’s benefit affirms the significance of dialogue in the resolution of conflicts. She said her delegation is mindful that the promise of lasting peace faces daunting challenges, including the lingering obstacles to security arrangements and transitional justice, the recruitment of child combatants and the dire humanitarian situation. Though difficult to address, those challenges are by no means insurmountable, she emphasized, urging South Sudan’s leaders to seize this moment and work together to ensure peace, security and development. A return to conflict and widespread violence, she warned, would cause irreparable damage that would have dangerous ramifications for neighbouring countries and the broader continent.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), describing the present situation in South Sudan as the same as it was in 2016, said it is advisable to remain wary. This time, however, the leaders have put the interest of their country and people first, he noted, urging the Government to keep its promise to ensure that 35 per cent of ministers will be women, and that 35 per cent of governors are women. Transitional security arrangements constitute another unimplemented part of the power-sharing agreement, he said. Citing reports of new regional violence by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), he also noted the impact of climate change on the situation, underscoring the damage that floods caused to crops. Regarding the future of UNMISS, he said its mandate should be maintained and that the Mission must continue to support the peace process. He went on to caution against lifting sanctions, noting that, in order for reconciliation efforts to succeed, there should be no impunity for crimes committed.
ADEL BEN LAGHA (Tunisia) urged the parties to further consolidate trust, dialogue and consensus — and to ensure greater political participation by women — emphasizing also the need for greater attention to borders and transitional security arrangements, among other issues. Noting that all transitions require consensus in order to defuse violence, he urged the parties not to forget the many remaining challenges. He called upon the Transitional Government to study the security situation and facilitate access to justice for civilians, while guaranteeing that international law will be upheld and ensuring unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance. He went on to express support for extending the UNMISS mandate, emphasizing that the Mission still has a critical role to play and that it should carry out its mandate in accordance with its strategic priorities.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said that, in any country, “the path to peace is a long one”. Expressing support for IGAD’s call to revise the composition and role of UNMISS, he voiced hope that the Mission will receive the resources it needs to fulfil its mandate. He went on to describe improvements in South Sudan’s macroeconomic indicators as a positive sign, saying that such progress can help the country tackle the challenges it still faces.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), noting that South Sudan stands at a critical juncture in its young life, welcomed President Kiir’s demonstration of political will and Mr. Machar’s decision to take up the post of First Vice‑President, saying their actions have paved the way for efforts to resolve broader socioeconomic challenges. The parties must be ready to surmount their differences through dialogue, he said, emphasizing that only full and comprehensive implementation of their obligations will bolster mutual trust and prevent a repeat of past mistakes. Noting the general decline of violence since the signing of the 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement, he said it has helped many refugees return to their homes. He went on to urge the parties to continue their compliance with the ceasefire agreement and non-signatories to join the peace process, stressing that the latter should be led, first and foremost, by regional actors in accordance with the principle of “African solutions for African problems”. That approach, rather than the imposition of sanctions, led to the progress witnessed today, he stressed, urging the Council to conduct an assessment of its sanctions regime with a view to tailoring it to conditions on the ground.
WU HAITAO (China), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, welcoming the establishment of the Transitional Government as an important step forward, taken with the active mediation of the international community. The latter should fully respect the Government’s leadership, he emphasized, noting that the parties concerned bear primary responsibility for implementing the power-sharing agreement. He called for maintaining humanitarian and economic assistance to South Sudan, and for help with its development problems, including the return of internally displaced persons. China applauds the important contributions of UNMISS and supports the renewal of its mandate, he said, adding that his country will support the peace process by providing such assistance as is required.
AKUEI BONA MALWAL (South Sudan) said that he welcomed the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in South Sudan (document S/2020/145), while noting that there have been significant developments since it was written. Expressing gratitude that the Secretary-General was able to include in his report President Kiir’s decision to return South Sudan’s federal system to 10 states plus 3 administrative areas on 21 February, he said that, since that decision, five Vice-Presidents have taken the oath of office and Mr. Machar has returned to Juba. Parties to the power-sharing agreement have been in continuous negotiations on the equitable division of ministerial portfolios, and the people of South Sudan are on standby to hear the imminent announcement of a new Cabinet, he said.
As for sanctions, he emphasized that the Transitional Government of National Unity should not have to start its new mandate with a dividend of coercive measures as the way forward, cautioning that tying it down with sanctions means progress will be slow. Amid the celebration of those positive developments, daunting challenges remain, he cautioned, calling upon the international community to provide much-needed assistance and support to the people of South Sudan in order for the agreement to hold. The incoming Government will need technical, material and specialized expertise in order to establish liveable cantonment sites for the orderly and the peaceful return of internally displaced persons and refugees, he said, stressing that this is the most opportune moment for the international community to double or treble its care and support for the people of South Sudan.