The transformation of South Sudan from conflict to recovery is under way, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, as he urged the Transitional Government to build on hard-won gains made during its first year in office and accelerate implementation of the 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement — or otherwise risk a return to widespread violence.
“Slow implementation comes with a cost,” David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), told the Council during his final briefing after four years of service.
While welcoming the formation of the presidency and Council of Ministers, installment of a full complement of State leaders and announcement of lower-level officials, he said the Transitional National Legislature still waits to be reconstituted. There has been minimal progress on constitution-making, transitional justice and economic reform — and perhaps most significantly — the unification of forces is yet to occur despite multiple self-imposed Government deadlines. Thousands of troops fester in cantonment sites without shelter, health care or food.
He cautioned that the power vacuum at the local level has opened opportunities for spoilers and national actors to exploit local tensions and fuel violence, the impact of which was seen in Jonglei in 2020. Today, in Warrap, there is a worrying surge in violence between heavily armed community militia that Government forces have yet to contain. For the moment, conflict in the Equatorias has diminished.
On the humanitarian front, he said subnational conflict and devastation caused by flooding have created places of critical need, notably in Jonglei and Warrap. Humanitarian agencies are providing assistance despite that nine aid workers lost their lives in 2020 while carrying out this work. It is estimated that most of South Sudan requires food aid.
Across the country, UNMISS is supporting people in need, he said. Engineers are building and improving 3,200 kilometres of roads — notably between Bor and Pibor, which the Mission hopes will aid reconciliation between Murle, Dinka and Nuer communities. Work on a road linking the Sudan border to Bentiu and south to Rumbek, meanwhile, aims to increase trade for citizens in the impoverished areas.
“I cannot overstate the tangible impact of this work,” he said, in a country that currently has just 400 kilometers of paved road. Improving roads boosts communication, trade, jobs ——and most critically — fosters peace by linking communities. He went on to stress that the follow-on from the redesignations of the Bor, Wau and Juba protection-of-civilian sites has continued smoothly. “This is all indicative of a changing context,” he assured.
In the long term, he described the goal of creating a protective environment where all citizens benefit from the rule of law, noting that UNMISS is looking to redeploy staff and resources to build the capacity of the courts, justice system and national police. Individual police officers will train and mentor local police, while other initiatives focus on making the mobile courts permanent. These efforts aim to place South Sudanese “in the hot seat” to tackle impunity — particularly sexual violence.
For its part, UNMISS is prioritizing technical support for security sector reform and elections preparations, he said. Its forces have been more mobile, establishing temporary bases and increasing patrols to hotspots. Most of these initiatives involve civil affairs and human rights staff to bring communities together and deter violence. Over the next two years, force numbers will gradually diminish by 7 per cent as the Mission shifts its resources to assets that will boost its mobility.
Turning to issues that require attention, he cited the absence of a financial system that works for the people of South Sudan, stressing that the country’s wealth — notably from oil — is siphoned off with no public accountability for how it is spent. Given the immense pride South Sudanese have in their country, the massive United Nations presence also will inevitably bump up against their hard-won sovereignty.
Yet, South Sudan is one of the most dependent nations in history, he said: Its education and health systems, roads and infrastructure are provided by outsiders. “We have too eagerly stepped in and shouldered responsibilities that should be the job of the South Sudanese,” he said, adding to their dependency, and thus, undermining their dignity. “State-building is a finely tuned endeavour that constantly needs to be re-evaluated and questioned,” he observed.
Offering personal reflections, he described the comfort of witnessing a ceasefire, peace deal, transitional Government, presidency, Council of Ministers, Governors and local leaders slowly being installed. The majority of people who flocked to protection-of-civilian sites have either left or now live in newly transitioned displaced person camps — a result of improved political security.
Overall, he said political violence has reduced “by a power of 10” compared to the number of people who were dying or displaced from conflict in 2016. He cited the upsurge in armed community militia, seemingly in open defiance of State forces, as a caveat. Uniformed and civilian UNMISS staff make a real difference in lowering this kind of violence. “The reality is, though, that the peace process remains extremely fragile,” he said. “Look back four years: that is what failure looks like and it is in no one’s interests to return.”
Jackline Nasiwa, Founder and National Director, Centre for Inclusive Governance, Peace and Justice, said COVID-19 has devastated South Sudan, a country where the health-care system cannot even meet demands for the most basic services. She described flooding in Upper Nile, ceasefire violations — including in cantonment sites — intercommunal violence, sexual violence against women and girls, displacement and an economy collapsing because of revenue mismanagement. “This is South Sudan today.” In the two years since the Peace Agreement was signed, parties have embarked on steps “that appear to be only drops in the ocean”.
While the cantonment process was launched, the formation of a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration commission announced, and bills drafted on security and governance, “much, much more remains to be done”, she said, expressing deep concern over the unacceptably slow pace of implementing the Peace Agreement and lack of political will as people suffer. “Our leaders must be held accountable for implementing key aspects of the Agreement,” she stressed.
Around the country, people are demanding accountability and justice for women and children who have suffered conflict-related violence. They are saying “never again” and insisting upon an end to the war. She called for close monitoring of the Peace Agreement, the establishment of a transitional justice mechanism, adoption of draft laws, operationalization of cantonment sites and support for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts. “Human rights must be the foundation of all these processes,” she asserted.
Pointing out that South Sudan is subject to a binding international framework that supports women’s representation, she said the 35 per cent quota is “far from being met”. The few women who have been appointed comprise less than 20 per cent of leaders at the national and state levels, and only 2 per cent at the county level. She described a male-dominated society in a country with a long history of marginalization, stressing that “the Council must pressure the parties” to ensure the 35 per cent quota is met at all levels of governance.
She urged the Council to partner with civil society in advocating for the freedom of speech and access to information, with strong support for those facing intimidation for carrying out their essential work. “Peace and stability are the only assurance of the future of our communities,” she emphasized. Recalling that 11 South Sudanese women have briefed the Council to date, she said they are tired of sharing the same stories of war and loss. After enduring decades of conflict, resilience is fading. The history of South Sudan is one of struggle for dignity, however, “we can struggle no more,” she said. “We need this Council to act now, before even worse happens.”
The representative of Viet Nam said the progress so far is encouraging, but the implementation of the 2018 Peace Agreement remains limited, calling on the South Sudanese parties to step up efforts particularly in finalizing two key provisions: reconstitution of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and formation of the Unified Forces. The permanent ceasefire must continue to be upheld, he said, urging the Government to put in more efforts to address intercommunal violence to prevent possible adverse impact on the current transitional period. While the country experiences positive economic growth, it is concerning that the high level of food insecurity continues to affect more than half of the population. Reiterating that sanctions measures are subjected to review in accordance with developments on the ground and shall be removed when the conditions are met, he said Viet Nam looks forward to receiving the report of the Secretariat on the proposals of the benchmarks to review the arms embargo and will actively engage Council members on the establishment of such benchmarks. As Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2206 (2015) concerning South Sudan, Hanoi will also continue to foster cooperation and dialogue between the Panel of Experts, South Sudan and the relevant regional States.
The representative of Kenya, also speaking for Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Tunisia, welcomed the overall improvement in South Sudan’s political and security situations. However, the implementation of some key governance activities continues to lag; in particular, the reconstitution of the Transitional National Legislature. Urging the parties to move forward on that front expeditiously, and to finalize the ongoing appointments of state officials, he joined other speakers in spotlighting the crucial principle of inclusivity — including the implementation of the agreed minimum of 35 per cent quota for women. Noting with concern the slow progress in implementing transitional security arrangements, he cited the lack of technical capacity and resources and pointed to a training on leadership, peacebuilding and reconstruction recently held in Nairobi. Continued regional and international support is crucial, including through robust diplomatic and political engagement, technical assistance and financial and logistical assistance. Turning to the upcoming Mission review, he stated: “The expectations of the people of South Sudan and the region is that the new UNMISS mandate should be calibrated to respond to the evolving political and security situation.” It must be also be adequately resourced, he added.
The representative of Mexico expressed cautious optimism about recent developments in South Sudan, including the appointment of key officials. While slow, such strides are encouraging and solidify the governance of the country’s states. However, he expressed concern about the increase of attacks on civilians in 2020, advocating for efforts to address the factors that drive conflict — including the flow of small arms — and called for South Sudan’s weapons collection programme to be prioritized. Any review of the arms embargo must be conducted in light of the situation on the ground, including the country’s capacity to control the flow of weapons. Drawing attention to the appalling plight of women and girls who remain subjected to sexual and gender-related crimes, he underlined the need to adhere to the Revitalized Peace Agreement’s stipulations regarding redress. He also joined other speakers in expressing concern over South Sudan’s humanitarian situation — calling for the free movement of humanitarian personnel to be guaranteed in line with international law — and advocated for the renewal of UNMISS’ crucial mandate.
The representative of China said South Sudan and its people have made many strides since the country’s establishment in 2011. Stressing the need to maintain positive momentum in implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement, he called on all parties to consolidate existing gains and make further strides on security arrangements, while acknowledging that the implementation of the accord faces practical difficulties, including a lack of funding. In that vein, he said, the global community should respond to the African Union’s calls and lift sanctions as soon as possible. Meanwhile, ongoing intercommunal clashes require a mix of support, from prevention to mediation and protection strategies, and more efforts to tackle the underlying drivers of conflict. He also emphasized the need to expand COVID-19 vaccine access, outlining China’s support for South Sudan in that arena. Welcoming the important role played by UNMISS, he voiced support for the renewal of its mandate, adding that the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement — as well as cooperation with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and other regional groups — should be among its prioritized tasks.
The representative of Norway said implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement remains slow, and too limited. While welcoming the appointment of a unified Cabinet, Governors and Deputy Governors in all states — as well as the endorsement by the Council of Ministers of a road map for implementing Chapter 5 of the Agreement — she called for full implementation of the accord. As almost no progress has been made on the Transitional Security Arrangements and security sector reform, parties must take immediate steps towards the unification of forces. She also called for the formation of all state governments and legislatures, the reconstitution of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and Council of States, and launch of the permanent constitution making process, along with preparations for peaceful elections. Parties must adhere to the provision of 35 per cent female representation in political positions, while the Government must implement reforms envisaged in Chapter 4 regarding transparency and accountability. Expressing deep concern over violence across the country, she urged the Government to ensure immediate de-escalation of subnational conflict and to allow unimpeded humanitarian access. Arbitrary arrests and detention of persons exercising their freedom of expression or peaceful assembly are also worrying, she said.
The representative of the United Kingdom welcomed the appointment of a unified Cabinet, Governors and Deputy Governors in all South Sudanese states. “We hope that those appointed can deliver tangible improvements to people’s lives,” he said, also praising the endorsement of a road map for implementing transitional justice mechanisms and urging the Government to sign a memorandum of understanding with the African Union on the Hybrid Court. Nevertheless, he said, overall progress remains too slow and limited. The Council repeatedly expresses its concerns and calls the authorities to act, only to see inaction. “The Government must pick up its feet and show the world that it is serious about peace,” he stressed, pointing out that the representative of South Sudan has not attended a Council meeting in a year’s time, having complained that his country is too often criticized. Indeed, he said, if the Government spent more time listening to other voices than worrying about being criticized, more might be achieved. What is needed now is the reconstitution of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and training and resources for the Necessary Unified Forces, he said, noting that while such action does not require an easing of the arms embargo, the Government is free to submit exemption requests should it wish to do so.
The representative of France welcomed the progress made in implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement and the announcement of a hybrid court to be finalized by the African Union. “This trend should be maintained and continued by new measures,” she said. Calling for the establishment of a Transitional National Legislative Assembly and a truth and reconciliation commission, she said security sector reform is also needed. Recalling the 35 per cent quota for women’s participation, she likewise called for the participation of young people in various decisions. Local violence, often playing out in connection with national players, affects women and children in particular, and she urged all parties to respect their international humanitarian law obligations. Fair access to a COVID‑19 vaccine, in accordance with resolution 2565 (2021), is also essential.
The representative of India described the recent progress made in South Sudan as a welcome departure from months of impasse. However, the country continues to face challenges in implementing its Revitalized Peace Agreement, including political defections, lack of trust at all levels and growing intercommunal clashes. Joining other speakers in citing the lack of a coherent security strategy and funding as major impediments, he called on the parties to work in good faith and set aside narrow political considerations. Recalling that the Council has committed to an ongoing review of all sanctions imposed on South Sudan, he advocated for a clear benchmarking process to assess the arms embargo, assets freeze and travel ban components, in full consultation with the Government of South Sudan and other regional stakeholders. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation remains worrying, marked by intercommunal violence, displacement, flooding, attacks on humanitarian workers and the impacts of COVID-19. The global community should tackle the $1 billion funding gap, he said, noting that India recently provided 70 metric tons of food aid and announced a gift of 200,000 doses of “Made in India” COVID-19 vaccines for United Nations peacekeepers.
The representative of Estonia said that despite some seemingly positive developments, the international community must not turn a blind eye on everything else. The security sector reform is behind schedule due to a lack of a coherent strategy, funding and political will. The establishment of key transitional justice institutions, like the Hybrid Courts, has not been implemented. Serious and widespread violations and abuses continued in 2020. There was a 146 per cent increase in incidents, with the number of documented civilian victims up 120 per cent. “These are the hard facts on the ground, which matter the most to us,” he said. Commending the conviction of soldiers for conflict-related sexual offenses, he expressed hope that this will build momentum towards accountability and that the appointment of state Governors can turn the situation around.
The representative of the Russian Federation said her country will continue to support efforts to stabilize South Sudan, noting that UNMISS sent two infantry companies and two helicopters to strengthen security in neighbouring Central African Republic. The formation of a Transitional Government and conclusion of the pre-transitional period have created the conditions for moving towards stability and reconciliation, she said, also pointing to steady improvement in humanitarian access as proof that Juba has responded properly to international signals to accelerate political settlement and State-building efforts. She welcomed the finalization of executive bodies at state and county levels, the graduation of the first soldiers of the joint armed forces, and that parties have agreed on a candidate for Upper Nile State. She called on those who have not signed the Revitalized Peace Agreement to join the State-building process, expressing concern over intercommunal clashes, and condemning all ceasefire violations and violence against civilians. She called for a review of the sanctions regime to adapt it to realities on the ground, noting that the Council will soon agree on the benchmarks for reviewing these restrictions. On the whole, the Russian Federation agrees with the conclusions outlined in the Secretary-General’s report and will work to extend the Mission’s mandate, she said, calling at the same time on peacekeepers to focus on a political settlement and ensuring that the conditions for facilitating humanitarian assistance are in place.
The representative of Ireland, noting some recent progress in implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement, called for more concrete steps forward, continued engagement by regional bodies and the commitment by all parties to the ceasefire. Voicing concern over the significant bloodshed throughout 2020 as well as continued human right violations — particularly against women and girls — she strongly condemned all acts of conflict-related sexual violence. While it should never happen in the first place, when it does, South Sudanese authorities have a responsibility to protect victims and survivors and provide survivor-centred support services. She went on to call on the authorities to accelerate the establishment of all institutions of Government, implementing the 35 per cent quota for women, and to enact an overall security strategy that provides an inclusive and comprehensive framework for decision-making. She noted the crucial UNMISS function of civilian protection, while also spotlighting the Government’s responsibility to protect its people, including in transitioned camps.
The representative of the United States, President of the Security Council, speaking in her national capacity, said civil society members, particularly women, must be heard during discussions of the 15-member organ. “Their ears are on the ground. They see and understand what no one does. And at times, they suffer as no one else does,” she said, which is why the United States will place civil society representatives at the highest levels of diplomacy and decision-making. She condemned reprisals against those who engage with the United Nations, recounting her visits to South Sudan and work with its leaders. “I care deeply about the forward progress of this nation,” she assured. While welcoming the commitment to form the Transitional Government, she called for more steady progress towards a lasting power-sharing agreement, expressing extreme concern over signs that political actors are involved in subnational fighting. “That is not peace and that is not acceptable,” she emphasized.
With an estimated 7 million people facing severe food insecurity, she denounced efforts by Government officials and others to impede humanitarian access, stressing that “this cannot be tolerated by the international community”. Leaders must ensure an immediate de-escalation of subnational conflict and allow unimpeded aid access. Accelerating implementation of the 2018 Peace Agreement is also essential, as stalling risks a return of widespread political violence. It is “far past time” to establish the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and draft the constitution, she added, expressing alarm over gender-based violence committed by security services and armed groups. Security services must be vetted, trained and unified under a single chain of command. As South Sudan navigates its transition, UNMISS will remain critical to its security, humanitarian and human rights architecture, and in supporting the Government’s implementation of the Peace Agreement. Stressing that restrictions on its movement violate the status of forces agreement and endanger peacekeepers, she urged leaders to stop obstructing its work. Any force reduction should be gradual and conditions-based. “We see the situation in South Sudan as precarious,” she asserted. Leaders must implement the 2018 accord, lower the violence, work with UNMISS and open the gates for humanitarian access.