South Sudan (UNMISS) - Security Council Open VTC

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03-Mar-2021 02:01:30
South Sudan’s transitional government must build on gains, speed up implementation of peace agreement, mission head says in Security Council briefing.

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The transformation of South Sudan from conflict to recovery is underway, 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 percent 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.”

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