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Briefing to the Security Council by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General David Shearer

David Shearer, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, briefs members of the Security Council on the situation in South Sudan.






Juba, 16 September 2020

Mr. President and Council Members.

Thank you for the opportunity once again to brief you.

I’ll start with an update on political and security conditions and then touch on changes to the Mission’s operations in response to the evolving situation in South Sudan.

Most critical right now, as we all know, is progress on the peace process.

On the positive side, the transitional government continues to function, and activities are progressing well within the clusters of ministries headed by the five vice presidents.

State governors have been appointed which has dampened the tensions in the regions.  The exception is the historically volatile Upper Nile state, where a deadlock remains with the Government unwilling to appoint the opposition’s preferred candidate, General Johnson Olony.

State ministerial positions were recently agreed but the county commissioners – which is the level below governors – are delayed by the disagreements over the number of counties.

Elsewhere, however, progress has been painfully slow. Cabinet meetings occur irregularly, and South Sudanese want to see the President and vice presidents meeting and working collectively.

There has been almost no movement on the critical area of security sector reform. Forces who have collected for training are yet to graduate and many of those remaining are abandoning camps because of food and other shortages.

Despite the urging of the IGAD heads of state in July, the Transitional National Legislative Assembly is yet to be reconstituted, so necessary new laws are not being passed and progress on the constitution has been delayed.

COVID-19 has slowed implementation of the peace agreement, including meeting key benchmarks, but the pandemic is not entirely to blame. We are seeing a reversion to “business as usual” where progress on the peace agreement itself limps along.  

The continuing delays risk pushing elections out well beyond the timeline prescribed in the agreement. That will add to the growing disillusionment amongst communities about whether the political will exists to give South Sudanese citizens the opportunity to choose their own leaders.

Our experience has been that, without significant international pressure, including regional pressure, political will does wane. So, momentum is urgently needed, particularly to maintain confidence amongst the signatories.

Mr. President.

South Sudan is also facing other pressures.

Falling oil prices, a continuing lack of financial accountability, delays in paying civil servants, and a near doubling in the street exchange rate since March is piling additional pressure on the government and families who are struggling to survive.

With heavy rainfall recently and the Nile River at 60-year highs, flooding has devastated the centre of the country with 500,000 people affected, particularly in Lakes and Jonglei states.

Humanitarians are working incredibly hard to help people living without shelter, food, water, and sanitation in the middle of the rainy season. I’m sure Mark Lowcock is going to touch on this in more detail in his comments shortly.

But, not without cost. This year, seven aid workers have tragically lost their lives and another 144 have been evacuated because of sub-national violence.

There has been an upturn in this conflict stemming from splintering between and within groups.

The difference this year is that external political actors are fuelling these local conflicts with military advice and with heavy weapons.

From January to July, UNMISS documented 575 incidents of subnational violence – an increase of 300 percent compared to the same period last year.

In Jonglei state alone, 600 people were killed in six months, women and children were kidnapped, thousands fled their homes as they were looted and torched.

The three communities - Nuer, Murle and Dinka - were all victims. But all three communities are also guilty of carrying out crimes against others.

While the situation has now calmed, tensions remain high and every effort must be made to stop a resurgence.  

The government has appointed a high-level committee on the Jonglei situation. Last week, UNMISS also organised a meeting with senior leaders to chart a way forward. We were encouraged by their willingness to engage with all participants understanding the cost of going back to war.

UNMISS will provide political and logistical support to build peace in Jonglei, including peacekeepers to monitor buffer zones, increasing capacity of police, and help with infrastructure development.

In Central Equatoria, NAS, or the National Salvation Front, has launched a series of politically motivated attacks. Despite claims that its actions are defensive, civilians and humanitarians are among the casualties of their ambushes. The heavy-handed response of Government security forces has also taken its toll.

All parties are signatories to the ceasefire. They should respect this commitment, stop fighting and pull back.

In response to local appeals for help, UNMISS deployed peacekeepers to the area, but our troops were blocked by Government forces, despite our earlier agreements for the deployment.

In the past three weeks, the usual mechanisms through which UNMISS coordinates its movement have seriously deteriorated. COVID-19 can be partly blamed but the influence of hardliners in the security forces is the principal obstacle.

We continue to work cooperatively with the security forces, but we are impressing on the government that their restrictions on our ability to carry out our mandate are unacceptable. To avoid future confrontation, it is critical that this issue is resolved.

Mr. President.

The political violence of the past has largely subsided despite delays to the peace agreement, as I outlined earlier.

The ceasefire holds and the unified transitional government is up and running. UNMISS is looking at this evolving situation and examining how it can better support peace and protect civilians.

One area of change springs from last year’s report to the Council on the future of Protection of Civilians sites – or POCs, as they are known.

As the report noted, external threats that led to the establishment of POC sites no longer exist today.

For example, the Juba POC site – just a few meters from where I am sitting now - has become more of an outer suburb of the town. Residents move back and forth daily to attend schools and university, to shop and go to work.

Therefore, in consultation with Government, NGOs, donors and IDPs themselves, we have gradually withdrawn troops and police from static duties at Bor and Wau POC sites.

That is likely to occur in the remaining three other sites.

The spike in subnational violence is occurring in remote areas, not near our POC sites. Therefore, we have to deploy our forces to provide protection where there is greatest need.

For example, freeing up troops from Wau and Bor POCs has allowed us to redeploy our forces to hotspots like Tonj and Jonglei where people are in immediate danger.

Following the gradual withdrawal of our peacekeepers, the POC sites will then be re-designated and sovereign control of them will be with the South Sudanese government, not the UN.

Let me be clear. Nobody will be pushed out or asked to leave when this transition occurs. Humanitarian services will continue.

South Sudanese police will be responsible for law and order. UNPOL works closely with them, and has been working closely with them, to build capacity and, in some areas, co-locating with them.

Responsibility must lie with the Government to help its citizens to return home or find other land to settle.

The Government also holds primary responsibility for protecting their citizens – and respecting the rights of those displaced, including in POC sites.

UNMISS, of course, maintains its clear mandate to protect civilians and will intervene if necessary.

With our need to respond to isolated outbreaks of fighting across the country, which has emerged recently, our forces need to be robust, nimble, and proactive.

To do that, we are looking at innovative ways of deploying our troops to overcome the challenging environment, like riverine patrols, rapid air transport, and all-terrain vehicles.

That doesn’t mean more resources. In fact, without tying down large numbers of peacekeepers at POCs, we can be more effective, with less.

It’s about working smarter with the right mix of troops and the right logistics.

The foundations of this change are underway, including reconfiguring our military, police, and civilian components.

It’s why we welcome the independent strategic review of UNMISS requested by the Security Council in March.

It is an opportunity for us to review our mandate and implement better ways to meet the future demands of South Sudan more effectively and efficiently.

No matter where people live and no matter who they are, all South Sudanese hope for peace and prosperity.

Our job is to do everything we can to make that dream a reality.

Thank you.