South Sudan - Security Council, 8987th meeting
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Security Council meeting on South Sudan.

Conditions are not yet in place to enable the holding of free, fair and peaceful elections in 2023 in South Sudan, speakers told the Security Council today as members explored ways to address outstanding issues during the remaining 12 months of the three-year transitional period established under the Revitalized Agreement.

“We are tired of sharing the same stories of rape, child marriage, war, trauma and loss,” said Riya William Yuyada, a human rights and peace activist with Crown the Woman, a local feminist non-governmental organization promoting women’s human rights in South Sudan, in her briefing.

After enduring decades of conflict, “the resilience of South Sudanese is fading”, she noted, adding that since the signing in 2018 of the Revitalized Agreement, there has been “limited to no” progress in implementing crucial provisions related to security sector reform, constitutional and electoral reform, judicial reform and transitional justice.

Turning to the elections, she pointed out that there is general agreement among civil society members and citizens that “the ground is not ripe” for free, fair and peaceful elections. The necessary legal and institutional framework is not in place with less than one year before the planned elections, she said, adding that the current insecurity and lack of confidence South Sudanese have, due to the failure to implement the peace agreement, can only have a detrimental impact on the legitimacy of the outcome, which risks further violence.

Therefore, she continued, any UNMISS support to an electoral process must be geared towards ensuring the process is safe, inclusive and in alignment with international standards. The Council must also clarify that UNMISS, within its civilian protection mandate, is expected to ensure the safety and security of all voters, poll workers, candidates and officials, as well as human rights defenders and activists.

Also briefing the Council, Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) noted an “accumulation of unfulfilled commitments and the imperative to address them in the limited time at hand”.

Key pending benchmarks relate to the necessary conducive political and civic space, a secure environment, and technical and logistical prerequisites along with an agreed timetable for a free and fair electoral process to bring the transitional period to a close, he stressed. While UNMISS stands ready to support the electoral process, the Government has not yet pronounced on the Mission’s role, nor on a time frame for the elections, he added.

Charles Tai Gituai, Interim Chairperson of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), updated the Council on the implementation of the 2018 peace agreement, saying that the accord has entered its fourth year, an indication of comparative success, compared with the previous 2015 agreement, which did not hold due to armed conflict that broke out within one year of signing.

He said the Commission has tasked the unity Government to review implementation status and develop a clear road map and strategy on how to complete the outstanding critical tasks before the transitional period ends in 2023. The road map should be consensus-based, with verifiable benchmarks and timelines, he added.

The Commission recommends that the Council actively engage the unity Government to ensure implementation of the critical outstanding tasks, especially the unification of forces and the permanent constitution-making process as both are fundamental to the holding of free, fair and credible elections, he said.

In the ensuing debate, Mexico’s representative concurred that the conditions are not present to hold elections within the timeline, given the lack of progress in security and the drafting of the constitution. The implementation of the peace agreement cannot be selective, he said, emphasizing that efforts must be concentrated on removing existing obstacles.

Members also examined the role of UNMISS ahead of its expected mandate renewal in mid-March, with the representative of the United States arguing that the protection of civilians and accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse must remain a top priority for the Mission.

Her counterpart from the Russian Federation said the Mission’s mandate should be renewed based on the needs of the country and the reality on the ground. In doing so, her delegation considers it counterproductive to focus on human rights and increase pressure on Juba. Instead, the Council should devote more attention to assisting the authorities in the peace agreement implementation and capacity-building for addressing local conflicts.

Albania’s delegate expressed support for the renewal of the UNMISS mandate, which would retain its four pillars, while making some adjustments. It is important to provide a clear mandate for the Mission to support preparations for free and fair elections, at the request of the Government, to increase the promotion of accountability for sexual and gender-based violence and human rights violations and abuses, and to include stronger language about addressing the effects of climate change.

Injecting an African perspective in the discussion, Kenya’s delegate, speaking also for Gabon and Ghana, reiterated the call to lift sanctions — which are counterproductive to the peace efforts and have had the unintended consequences of undermining the country’s potential for economic investments. He expressed hope that the Security Council and all those who have imposed unilateral coercive measures will heed the call by the African Union and IGAD in this regard.

Commending UNMISS and the troop-contributing countries for their work, he said it is essential to provide technical assistance, capacity-building and logistical support to national and local institutions across the four mandated Mission tasks.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Ireland, Brazil, United Kingdom, Norway, China, France, India and the United Arab Emirates.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:45 a.m.