Delegates Urge National Leaders to Accelerate Implementation of Peace Agreement
Three years after the signing of its historic Revitalized Peace Agreement, halting political strides in South Sudan should now infuse the country’s transition with a fresh urgency, officials told the Security Council today, citing an expanding raft of humanitarian and security challenges still plaguing the young nation.
Nicholas Haysom, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), presented the latest report on the situation (document S/2021/784) and outlined the latest developments — including the reconstitution and inauguration of South Sudan’s Parliament in August. In addition, the country made history with the appointment of its first female Speaker of the National Legislative Assembly and a female Deputy Speaker of the Council of States.
“These positive steps must now be complemented by the reconstitution of the subnational state legislatures,” he said, adding that it will pave the way for a much-delayed charge on the legislative programme envisaged by the Revitalized Peace Agreement. In particular, launching the Constitution-making process is both a critical benchmark of the 2018 Peace Agreement and an important step in its own right. UNMISS is supporting preparations for the country’ elections — a timeline for which no consensus has yet been reached — and ensuring that consultations are inclusive. “Unless there are adequate technical and political preparations, [the election] could be a catastrophe instead of a national turning point,” he warned.
Outlining additional challenges, he cited an increase in subnational violence, the proliferation of weapons and a recent fracture within the group known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) — a signatory of the Revitalized Peace Agreement — which has only exacerbated the imbalance between the main parties. He also expressed concern over increasing restrictions in South Sudan’s civic space, and the detention of journalists and leaders of civil society groups, as well as the shutting down of Internet service providers following recent calls for non-violent protests. A deteriorating humanitarian situation, coupled with rising attacks on aid workers, is also worrying, he said.
Reena Ghelani, Director for Operations and Advocacy at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said South Sudan is facing its highest levels of food insecurity since its independence in 2011. More than 60 per cent of its people are severely food insecure amid conflict, climate shocks, displacement, COVID-19 and lack of investment. Over 8.3 million people, including 1.4 million children, need assistance. Noting that humanitarian actors have been able to avert famine so far, she said attacks by non-State armed groups continue to hamper their access to vulnerable populations. There is also pressure from widespread displacement, and with more heavy rains expected in the coming months, thousands of additional people will be forced to move, she warned.
Also briefing the Council was Merekaje Lorna, a South Sudanese human rights defender, civil rights activist and peace advocate. Welcoming steps taken towards implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement, she nevertheless said they have been slow, “minimal, inconsistent and intermittent”. Many citizens believe the delays only serve the interest of the political elite while prolonging the suffering of the masses. Citing the steady increase in the scale and intensity of intercommunal conflicts in the years following the signing of the Peace Agreement, she said women and girls are most affected. She warned against the tendency by the Government to postpone addressing critical issues, such as managing diversity and embarking on reconciliation, declaring: “The citizens don’t know who to trust anymore.”
In the ensuing discussion, several Council members echoed the Special Representative’s call on South Sudanese leaders to accelerate the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement — especially its security-related provisions — as the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. Many also called on the new Parliament to expeditiously enact laws to speed up dealing with insecurity, improve governance and provide much-needed public services to a population suffering from a broad and growing list of urgent challenges.
The representative of the United States joined other speakers in calling on all the South Sudanese parties to urgently follow through with the Revitalized Peace Agreement’s implementation — including preparations for elections that are free, fair, peaceful and reflect the will of the people. Voicing concern about recent efforts to limit political opposition, free speech and freedom of assembly, he urged the country’s leaders to take immediate steps to protect civilians and humanitarian workers, as attacks against the latter have led to the suspension of crucial humanitarian deliveries.
Kenya’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, called for an immediate end to violence and urged all the parties to implement the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) — the main regional player monitoring the situation. He called for the prompt deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces and other critical transitional security elements. On the humanitarian situation, he welcomed efforts by the Government to provide protection to internally displaced persons and returnees, while urging the international community to extend its own generous support.
The representative of China, echoing support for regional leadership from IGAD and the African Union, spotlighted considerable progress in South Sudan and called for efforts to finally lift the sanctions imposed on the country. To mitigate the challenges of food insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic and large-scale humanitarian needs, he urged the international community to provide financial and technical support, with particular investments in agriculture, education and health care.
Mexico’s representative was among those speakers who drew attention to the threat posed to the Revitalized Peace Agreement by the splintering of the SPLA-IO group, while urging its various factions to resolve their differences peacefully and protect civilians. Leaders in Western Equatoria and other states affected by recent clashes should work closely with UNMISS to reduce violence, in strict compliance with international human rights standards. Among other things, he also called for efforts to address the needs of those suffering from displacement, malnutrition, flooding and the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.
The representative of South Sudan, responding to points made by Council members, said his country’s many challenges would be overcome faster with the international community’s redoubled efforts and commitments. Highlighting several notable recent achievements, he pointed out that South Sudan’s delegation to the General Assembly’s forthcoming high-level debate will be led by Vice-President Rebecca Nyandeng Garang de Mabior and will include five female cabinet ministers. “This is a source of pride,” he stressed, encouraging delegates to engage in bilateral meetings on the debate’s margins to hear more about the situation in South Sudan.
Also participating were the representatives of India, France, Russian Federation, Viet Nam, Norway, Estonia, United Kingdom and Ireland.
The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 10:46 a.m.