Thank you for the opportunity to address the Security Council today on the situation in South Sudan.
Allow me to focus on the priorities for this critical phase of the implementation of the Peace Agreement, to share progress and reflections on the implementation of UNMISS’ mandated objectives.
In a recent press briefing, the Transitional Government confirmed its commitment to implement the Peace Agreement in accordance with the timelines contained in the agreed Roadmap.
In that same briefing, the government stated clearly that there would be no more extensions of the timelines. UNMISS welcomes in this public commitment, acknowledges the limited progress achieved during the reporting period, but notes also the slippage in meeting the timelines set out in the Roadmap. Neither the stakeholders nor the international community are of a mind to contemplate further extensions.
Accordingly, we see 2023 as a “make or break” year and as a test for all parties to the peace agreement.
We believe there are some key hurdles that the parties must clear in order to successfully position South Sudan to complete the final leg of the transitional phase next year.
First, is the drafting of a new constitution. It is a critical opportunity for the South Sudanese to agree on the arrangements by which they can live together harmoniously, avoiding a repeat of the two civil wars that have defined the last decade. It will allow South Sudanese to consolidate their identity and establish how they want to be governed.
This is intended to be an inclusive process that gives a voice to all South Sudanese, including the holdout groups, but especially IDPs and refugees, women, youth, persons with disabilities and other marginalized communities.
We therefore call on the government to immediately reconstitute and fund the National Constitutional Review Commission and to fast-track the establishment of the Constitutional Drafting Committee and for Parliament to end its lengthy recess.
This sets the foundation for the second challenge that is the preparations for inclusive and credible elections due next year.
I can confirm that the United Nations has received a government request to assist the South Sudanese owned and administered elections. Noteworthy is the request to support an enabling environment for elections, working with civil society, political parties, and the media.
There is a need to fast-track all preparatory work now, including the immediate constitution and operationalization of the Political Parties Council.
Most critically, UNMISS urges the finalization of the legal framework and the reconstitution of the National Elections Commission. The National Elections Commission has been a largely defunct body for nearly ten years, lacking human resources and material infrastructure. Key electoral choices must be determined soon. These steps cannot be shelved until 2024.
Following the recommendations of the United Nations’ needs assessment mission in 2021, such United Nations electoral support will firstly focus on creating the appropriate architecture and environment in which elections can take place. It will only then be able to decide on the modalities of further and concrete electoral assistance in managing the elections itself.
The third priority is the expansion of civic and political space. This will be a defining legacy of the transitional period, as it constitutes the finishing line, the ultimate criteria by which the credibility of the electoral process will be judged, and more importantly will set the foundation for a stable democracy which can avert further conflict.
In support of this expansion of civic and political space, UNMISS is engaging non-governmental organizations and political parties to ask the critical questions which must be expected of an appropriate political environment. We have taken note of the sentiments expressed at the recent International Conference on Women’s Transformative Leadership held in Juba, which has insisted on the space for women and girls to embrace their role as change agents.
We believe that the visit of the Ecumenical pilgrimage for peace led by his Holiness the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland have served to echo the message of peace, tolerance, reconciliation, and civic participation so often called for by the South Sudanese themselves.
The fourth hurdle is the consolidation, strengthening, and deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces. I welcome the completion of Phase One of the graduations and encourage the parties to finalise a formula for rank structures and harmonization, proper equipment, welfare, and deployment of the graduated troops.
This will enable these forces to meet their responsibility to protect civilians, humanitarian personnel and their assets. The Necessary Unified Forces can either be an asset or a liability during the transition. We appeal for the urgent commencement of Phase Two of this process.
The fifth challenge is tackling the sub-national violence that is manifesting itself through hotspots across the country, such as Upper Nile, Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, the adjacent areas to Abyei, and the legacy of the conflict in Tambura, as well as cattle-related violence in the Equatorias.
All of these conflicts increasingly present an ethnic or tribal dimension, and, as President Kiir noted in his New Year address, they threaten to unravel hard-won peace gains achieved so far. We have been shocked at the recent cycle of revenge killings in Kajo-Keji, and elsewhere, the unacceptable practice of abductions of women and children, and the use of gender-based violence as a weapon of war.
The sixth challenge that South Sudan must face down is the economic and humanitarian situation in South Sudan caused by climate shocks and conflict primarily. This year, an estimated more than two-thirds of the population including refugees, are projected to need humanitarian and protection assistance. This represents an increase of half a million people compared to last year.
In December 2022, the humanitarian community in South Sudan released the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2023. The plan requires US$1.7 billion to reach 6.8 million of the most vulnerable people with urgent vital support. Sadly, the plan is only 3% supported as our colleagues in OCHA will brief. The efforts of humanitarians to reach affected people with life-saving support are continuously hampered by insecurity, criminality, operational interference and attacks against humanitarian personnel and assets.
From our vantage point, all of these priorities are mutually reinforcing.
Undoubtedly South Sudan is challenged by the need to secure the finance necessary for implementing the peace agreement. I have conveyed to senior government officials that the international community would likely be more forthcoming in assisting South Sudan were it to demonstrate political will, demonstrable progress in the implementation of the agreement, and a visible contribution of its own resources to this task.
Against this backdrop, UNMISS is following the recent developments relating to the removal of the Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs and we call on the parties to exercise restraint and engage in a collegial spirit in order to resolve such sensitive national issues.
In the last mandate cycle, UNMISS released seven public human rights reports, including the joint special reports with the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, on Tambura and Southern Unity. These provide recommendations to the parties, authorities, and other stakeholders for improving the overall environment of justice, accountability, and reconciliation.
In this context, UNMISS is of the view that the four pillars of our mandate remain valid and that the three-year strategic vision has given us a solid foundation to move ahead. I affirm that the protection of civilians is the heartbeat of this Mission and, alongside the Women, Peace and Security agenda, the common cross-cutting elements of all our tasks.
We take seriously our responsibility to continuously interrogate whether we are fit-for-purpose. With the upcoming electoral cycle, and the heightened political and security tensions that will accompany it, we are considering whether there is a case for strengthening our uniformed deployment overall within our authorized ceiling. After conducting an internal review, I have now requested headquarters to carry out a capability study to assess our capacity to adequality protect civilians and support the implementation of the peace agreement.
The principle of partnerships underpins our strategic vision to prevent a return to civil war and to build durable peace. We value the support and engagement of the Troika, the EU, the African Union, IGAD, as well as the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC).
UNMISS engages continuously with the neighbors of South Sudan, most recently Kenya, with regard to the obligation to support the South Sudanese in their transition. The recent visit of the African Union Peace and Security Council is a demonstration of its consistent effort to deepen the continent’s capacity to leverage helpful outcomes in South Sudan.
The leadership of South Sudan is now facing a stark choice. They can embark upon a path of mutual cooperation and reconciliation, in the urgent implementation of their peace agreement or they can take a low road which privileges self-interest and conflict over nation building. There is still sufficient time to achieve the ideals, goals, and timelines as set out in the peace agreement. We would want to believe that the South Sudanese would make the most of this fast-closing opportunity.
I thank you.