Remarks from Hilde F. Johnson Special Representative of UN Secretary- General and Head of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)
Press Conference on South Sudan – Wednesday 1 January, 2014
SRSG HILDE F. JOHNSON: Thank you on this first day of the New Year 2014, I want to remind us all of the past. On 5-6 December almost 800 businessmen and women from all over the world convened in Juba, for a major Investment conference. There was huge interest, a lot of enthusiasm, and I think everyone present felt that now things are moving in the right direction for South Sudan.
Just 10 days after, the country was thrown into peril with a situation where political struggle took a violent turn and then spilled over into the communities. Today on this first day of the New Year, we would have and should have, looked back at 2013 with satisfaction and with content. But we are not. It has been a tough year overall for South Sudan, but the past two weeks have been devastating for the country.
What has happened since December 15 is a tragedy. These two weeks have brought back the nightmares of the past, for so many South Sudanese citizens, who have revisited feelings they had thought they had buried a long time ago.
We have seen people fleeing for their lives, other people being killed and thousands and thousands having their lives and livelihoods uprooted.
So what started as a political struggle, then permeated into major incidences of violence. There also forces who have exploited this situation where members of one community have been pitched against the other, whether here or there. Those who have done that have a lot to answer for.
This is where we are on January 1 2014. The country is at a cross roads, it’s at the fork in the road. But it can still be saved from further major escalations of violence.
It is up to the leaders of this country and the two parties. Both President Salva Kiir Mayardit and former Vice President Riek Machar who is leading the forces against the government have both said to me and to others that they want to talk, to have a dialogue and to give peace a chance. They still can pull the country back from the brink.
The leaders of the region, IGAD the regional organization, neighboring countries have been engaged as we know, in active efforts to bring the two parties to the table. So have many many leaders of the world, and many of us have engaged. I am pleased to say that today both parties are sending delegations to Addis Ababa. The Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, to whom I have just spoken to on the phone, told me they are expected to arrive this afternoon.
The IGAD-leaders as we know have called for a cessation of hostilities, the release of political detainees, political dialogue and humanitarian access. Those four demands were put on the table squarely in the Communique of Friday past.
We on our part in the United Nations have joined hands with them in calling for the same.
Now, when the two parties are coming we expect delivery on these critical demands of IGAD. We urge that the fighting stops immediately.
We call for both parties to use this first day of the New Year to take a decisive step for peace. To cease all hostilities from today, and to mark the beginning of the New Year 2014 as the day the fighting stopped. We want to make this day, the day that the fighting stopped.
But as we know, and this is my second point, violence may still continue in its own way, because we have seen terrible acts of violence in the past two weeks. There have been killings and brutality, grave human rights violations and atrocities committed. We have seen evidence of apparent targeting of South Sudanese citizens on ethnic grounds.
This can lead to a perpetual cycle of violence that can destroy the fabric of the new nation. We need to do everything possible to prevent such a cycle of violence between the communities of South Sudan.
I condemn in the strongest possible terms the atrocities committed against innocent civilians of different communities by elements from both sides who have exploited this crisis. There is no excuse for these terrible acts of violence. All perpetrators must be held accountable.
And we know that if no one is held accountable there is a major risk that the violence continues.
I have issued a statement on this issue yesterday and it is in the package for you. So for violence to stop accountability must happen.
That is also why I welcome the decision of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council they met at the Heads of State level, on the South Sudanese crisis on Monday and they decided to establish a Commission under the AU to investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed, and make recommendations on ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities.
Accountability is also critical for reconciliation to happen so that trust can be rebuilt between communities; and where trust has been broken healing and reconciliation needs to happen for the country and communities to move towards peaceful relations.
Peace is also only possible when it is accompanied by reconciliation and healing.
The negotiations in Addis are at a political level and as we have said before, this is a political struggle that can only be resolved politically, through the negotiations at the negotiating table.
But the negotiations in Addis need to be accompanied also by something else – by a deeper process that focuses on national reconciliation, and reconciliation between the communities.
Deep rooted tensions and wounds of the past have actually made the situation worse. And we have seen that the violence that happened in the last two weeks have exacerbated already deep
rooted tensions. These wounds, these tensions, and what has happened in the past two weeks, these feelings need to be healed.
As the political process starts we need to see also very soon a process of reconciliation happen.
But first the fighting has to stop and the political talks have to proceed then we will be in a position to move forward in support of such a process.
This of course is again a decision of the leaders of this country, and it is in their hands to start such a process.
At the same time UNMISS will continue to protect civilians. The scale of the crisis has challenged an already overstretched Mission. We now have approximately 68, 000 people that have sought refuge in our camps. And they are in 13 different locations all over the country or in the three major states first and foremost.
The numbers fluctuate, so we have been up to 75,000, and in some places people are returning and in other places people come in, so they go back and forth.
It is very clear to us we must not only protect civilians in our compounds and in our camps, we must be also able to protect them out there where they are at risk. That is why we are getting reinforcements from other countries, both with additional police and with additional forces.
This is essential because at this point in time, all capacity is now concentrated on protecting the camps, the security of them as well as internal, and as well as external.
We have also taken decisions to move most of our contingents into the concerned areas, so virtually all peacekeepers in South Sudan now under the United Nations are surrounding or in the relation to the camps, and working to protect the camps internally and externally.
We are at OCHA the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator’s Office. I want to assure you all our humanitarian colleagues have been working around the clock to assist in this crisis.
And they are also providing assistance to the more than 180,000 displaced nationwide. I want to underline that this is not only therefore people in camps, significant efforts are made to protect and help and provide assistance to internally displaced elsewhere in the country.
There are very many IDPs out there that are now being assisted, and I want to mention in particular Awerial, which is a location south of Bor.
There are thousands and thousands of IDPs, there has been missions flying in yesterday and today. We believe the numbers might be as high at 60,000 but we need to register first and see.
The humanitarian coordination is in charge of this with humanitarian partners, Toby Lanzer, and as far as his information comes, food distributions have already started.
Totally US$166 million are needed immediately for immediate response to be able to assist the internally displaced in relation to the crisis.
We urge all donors to come forward and assist because the conditions of the IDPs are not good, they are in desperate need for help on all fronts. Water, shelter, sanitation food, health services—a significant effort needs to be made to assist them.
The UN stands together with all the people of South Sudan on this very day and the leaders of this country have a historic responsibility to the future and people of this young and new nation.
We hope today marks the beginning of a peaceful era for South Sudan and that this New Year can become a happy new year.
So my new year’s greetings to you and the people of South Sudan, let us all hope and pray that this is a year of peace. And the babies that were born in the camps, the past two weeks, and there are very many, that on their first birthday, their one year birthday, they will look back at 2014 that actually on January 1, 2014 that is when we turned a new page and that this has been peaceful year for the country.
Thank you to all.
Questions and Answers
CNN: Are you getting any indication at this stage that there could possibly be a ceasefire today? and how many of the UN peacekeepers are in country and when they do all arrive will they have a more robust mandate to be able to implement any cessation of violence?
SRSG: On the first question with regards to numbers, what we have got in the country so far is primarily formed police unit, or police officers that have more robust equipment. We are getting in 240 today, within the next two weeks additional ones will come. These are essential to provide protection in the camps. Security in the camps is a big issue and we need to make sure there are no weapons and no other ways and means in which security can be threatened. They are essential and will be deployed to the different camps. For the troop that takes a little longer before, for example a battalion can be moved. So the additional assets on air we are beginning to receive, these are additional planes to be able to move equipment and forces.
On your second question it has been today, if we look at Bor, it seems that it is actually quite quiet, we are monitoring it it very carefully, whether that continues to be the case. We have seen that the large scale fighting that took place in Malakal, that has stopped, and so far we have not received any other indications this morning of fighting. If this holds, this might a positive indication.
As regards the mandate of the mission we have a Chapter Seven mandate which means we are in a position to use force in protection of civilians, so it is not about strengthening the mandate we have it is about the capacity to do so. Because all our resources are now used to strengthen security and protect the IDPs in camps and in our compounds. That of course isn’t enough which is why we need the reinforcements. I think that is the response to the question.
AP: First could you describe what UNMISS saw in Bor yesterday, did you have any security problems there? Also you probably saw Riek Machar tell AFP that he would continue marching troops toward Juba, I would like to ask your take on that, is that a political positioning or real threat that you guys are evaluating?
SRSG: On the first question there has been of course a situation where our people have been mainly in the camp and to a lesser extent out there monitoring what’s happening in north of Bor and in Bor. But observations indicated around the camp and in northern parts of the town that there were anti-government forces moving in, they were not in any way threating our camp or UN facilities. They were left alone, which is also in accordance with my call, which has been consistently to both Riek Machar and to all forces; any irregular forces as well of course government forces that we need to see the UN facilities and UN bases protected. And that the UN has to be able to implement its mandate and in particular in situations like these.
As regards your second question, I think we need to take quotations with pinches of salt at this point in time. I think the mediators have most lately been in contact with both sides, there was contact of course with regard to sending the delegation, and the appeal for cessation of hostilities is very strong and very clear. So I don’t think that when a delegation is on its way, this afternoon landing in Addis Ababa I think the expectation IGAD heads of states, as well as all leaders that have been in contact, the expectation is clearly that one doesn’t now foresee that there is movement towards a major offensive. So far it seems that what is happening in Bor is the positions seen taken up seem to be defensive, meaning that we don’t see movement. Whether that holds during the day and tomorrow remains to be seen, but certainly the call from the region and from world leaders is very strong and we hope that he is heeding to them.
AFP: Could you try to give us the latest about the White Army mobilization, two days ago there were reports there were mobilization and don’t know if it is the group that launched the fight in Bor yesterday or not. Based on the monitoring what is the latest on the White Army, because we understand those that were taken back, there are others that are still on the move? Last question, it may appear repetitious could you shed more light on the deployment of peacekeepers in the country or various areas where fighting is taking place?
SRSG: On your first question in the UN we don’t normally use the term White Army, because it is not clear there is a clear link between the historical White Army of the early 1990s and the current mobilization of youth. The numbers have been very difficult to get a full overview and they have been fluctuating also it seems while they have mostly likely been gathering in Gadiang area in Jonglei state and moving towards Bor its not clear how many actually did move in that direction and how many were participating in the fighting of yesterday and the day before. We are also assuming some returned to their communities, as there were a lot of calls from community leaders to have their youth return back but the numbers is absolutely not possible to give because they are fluctuating all the time, we have different sources saying different things, but it seems to be that the mobilization was quite significant, but we cannot confirm the figures what have been out there from different sources in the media.
UNMISS have 7,000 peacekeepers in South Sudan, but only 4,900 are infantry, meaning soldiers that are in a position and in an infantry contingent that can protect civilians under imminent threat. These numbers are exactly the same today, the Security Council has mandated an increase of 12, 500, but we have not received any additional contingents yet. We are hopeful that within a short time frame we might be able to get two battalions, but still this is not clear and I do not want to say now which countries because this is work underway in New York with possible troop contributing countries and they are clarifying the speed and ability for them to deploy quickly to South Sudan as we speak. So at this point in time what we have done is to move the infantry soldiers we have to the locations where the camps are so they have been moved to Juba, Bentiu, Bor and to Malakal. So we have reconfigured so that virtually every peacekeeper in this country are now focusing on the task of protecting the camps and civilians in the locations, and as I said there is no capacity to do patrolling at this point in time because this is such a significant task. So that is why we need additional forces that can come in most likely they will be used for stationary protection of the camps and UN installations and of course protection of humanitarian actors when they are requesting that and that will allow the current troops to move out and do more patrolling so they can be in a position to create a more protective environment for civilians.
Sky News: You have mentioned you have evidence against atrocities along ethnic lines are and you are talking about accountability, have you got any idea about names for those responsible for these atrocities and how they are going to be held accountable?
SRSG: I have taken note of very strong messages from the President of South Sudan saying very very clearly that what has happened in the 19 days of, this now 19 days since the violence started, but I think the statement came after two weeks of the violence saying this is totally unacceptable, unheard of and has to stop, and he has said very clearly that those responsible will be held to account. I am familiar with arrests having been made, but I am not in a position to say more. This
is information the government will have to reveal itself, when they are ready to do that, and it is the government that has to be the addressee of your question. We are conducting investigations with our Human Rights Division, that are investigations that are not of criminal nature which leads to arrest, because that the UN doesn’t do. That’s a government responsibility and we do human rights investigation so that we can have clarity on exactly what has happened, so it is not about identifying culprits it’s about document all the violations of human rights that have happened. So that is what our team is doing, and has been doing since the beginning of the violence.
CTV: The President of Uganda visited South Sudan, and he said maybe he can help Salva Kiir fight against Machar, so what is the position of UNMSS with protection if the Ugandans bring their soldiers?
SRSG: The responsibility of the UN is to protect civilians under imminent threat whoever the perpetrator is, and at this point of time we are doing that, particularly with sheltering the civilians that are under threat. As I mentioned, we are not in a position now to patrol and be out there because of the lack of resources. The scale of the crisis is too big simply, and so in this context what we are then doing is to tell everyone involved in the fighting that they have to protect the UN and its installations from any threat, so that we are in a position to protect the civilians that are being sheltered on our premises. That’s basically my response to your question.
CNN: You talked about protecting civilians not only in the camps, but elsewhere where there are problems, but people in Juba in particular are saying that when elements of the armed forces started killing civilians UN did not do enough to protect the civil population, what is your comment on that?
SRSG: It’s very simple and that is in a situation when you are getting 15,000 into your camp, you can imagine the security challenge. We have probably 14,000 here and 11,000 up there now, but we are still working the numbers. In such a situation our main focus is to protect the civilians that are coming in. Our capacity to go out into patrols at that time during the crisis was absolutely not there—it would not be possible, physically it was not possible. So what we are doing now, in Juba we are patrolling, so our UN contingents are patrolling in the streets of Juba, they are trying to assist both day and night in creating a more protective environment, because we know that very many civilians are very afraid of moving back to their homes and they don’t feel safe. So, one of the most important issues is to try to increase the safety and security of people in their neighborhoods, and through our presence to assist in that respect. But as I said we are totally overstretched so it is when we can get more forces in, that we can be able to do more. But during the violence is was absolutely not possible for us and so we need more resources to be able to do more.
Spokesperson: The 14,000 figure refers to civilians gathered in our compound next to the international airport, and 11,000 refers to civilians gathered at the headquarters of the mission near Jebel Kujor.
OponiaMedia: Just clarification on the question in regard to cessation of hostilities, so as far as I understand there are currently no terms for cessation of hostilities, it’s just based on the outcome of the talks and in regards to that how much influence does the UN or any other international parties concerned have in regards to the talks exactly; because I understand it is just the two parties going for the talks in Addis Ababa, and I’m not sure when cessation will stop if it is not being monitored currently
SRSG: So the IGAD Summit, the heads of state for IGAD, in their communique they referred to the need for a monitoring and verification mechanism meaning that a cessation of hostilities or a ceasefire needs to be monitored independently. They have not identified who they would request, that would undertakes that monitoring and verification. So I expect that to be one of the first
issues to be discussed by the mediators with the two parties. Hopefully the two delegations when they arrive in Addis will go for this issue as their first point on the agenda so that we can see the fighting stop. And as I’ve said, that we see this as the day when the fighting stopped, January 1 2014. Whether the UN will be used in this regard has to come out of the talks, this has to be discussed between the mediators and the parties.
CNN: How worried are you about inter-tribal violence within the camps themselves? We’ve heard some very worrying accounts from various IDPs who have come in from Bor or Malakal to Juba saying that they have been targeted, ethnic killing within the camps themselves.. That’s obviously a very worrying development
SRSG: With regard to the situation in the camps, as I mentioned security is a big issue, which is why we have requested for urgent assistance of police officers that have much more robust equipment and that are experts in crowd control and tasks like that. So far there has been a lot of rumors and stories about incidents as the one you are mentioning, but we have not through our contacts, or State Coordinators who are running the camp, the humanitarian partners, are working very closely in each location with community leaders. The community have been if not elected, have been selected by the community and there is a continuous dialogue between them and the camp management and our state coordinator. Whenever we hear stories like this, and we have heard many, we go back to ask to verify. We have not yet had any confirmation of any such incident anywhere. We had an unfortunate incident two days ago in one of our camps but that was not related to this. So what we are trying to do now is to prevent any risk of this happening, that is why we need to have reinforcements as quickly as possible, and that is also why we have moved our troops in so that they, and they are not supposed to do policing tasks, but we are using them to patrol in the camps and to assist. For example one of the things we are obliged to do is to search for any weapons to make sure there is safety and security in the camp.
CNN: Just another question, don’t you think these negotiations set a very dangerous precedent that rebel fighting can bring a democratically elected government to talks with an anti-government force; does this not set a dangerous precedent?
SRSG: I think the IGAD Summit address this in a way that clearly strengthens the point of a democratically elected government, but at this point in time the main task for everyone is to stop the fighting. We all know that in any conflicts, domestic or internal conflicts, for parties to stop the fighting, they need to come to the table and so that doesn’t mean it has to be interpreted in a particular way. It means if you are going to get the fighting to stop you need both sides to be there, simply it doesn’t indicate any legitimization or anything other than that’s the way to stop the situation from escalating further.
Eye Radio: You talked of pushing for the release of the what has been the main response from the government about release of the detainees. If they are saying the law should take its course, so for how long can this process take in order for the public to know when these people will be released.
SRSG: I think the IGAD countries, and other leaders in the world that have been engaging to bring the parties to the talks they have all engaged on this issue and I think the expectation of everyone is to see this issue be solved as quickly as possible. We will now see whether the start of the talks will indicate movement or not, but I am not in a position to give you an answer to your question you will have to ask the government and not me about that.
Spokesperson: One more question, and it will go back to Wakhe
Wakhe: You did talk, that Salva Kirr already spoken to you and wanted to talk, and the Ethiopian Foreign Minister communicated the delegations of the two parties have arrived in Addis this afternoon. Are we seeing a mode of breakthrough in their talks? Also secondly there is fears of intervention of foreign support by the President of Uganda did, may probably jeopardize the peace talks and what is your say on this? Finally clarification, you did mention a figure earlier on 180,000 people (inaudible)?
SRSG: On the first question, just to say that time today and tomorrow will show, it’s too early to say whether we are heading for a breakthrough but it is a very positive sign that they are sending delegations. That clearly indicates that there is movement and there is willingness to give peace a chance and to stop the violence. Now we need to see within the next few hours and maybe tomorrow exactly what the parties will agree on. As regards the IDPs there is a 180,000 total but we’re still now with humanitarian partners, under the leadership of my deputy and humanitarian coordinator, Toby Lanzer still trying to get an overview of the situation in Awerial, because there are so many, so that can up the numbers quite quickly. So 180,000 originally has been the number we have operated with yesterday that included both within the camps as well as outside.
However, the Awerial situation indicates that the numbers will be higher. So we’ll get back to you with that. And then I think it is not my task to comment on other heads of state engagement in here or elsewhere, that’s not belonging to the mandate of the UN.