31 March 2016 – Senior United Nations officials today cautioned that the humanitarian and human rights situation in South Sudan remains dire, and asked the Security Council to call on the parties to the conflict and armed actors to uphold their obligations under international law to protect civilians and aid workers, and grant free access for delivery of life-saving supplies.
“The challenge in South Sudan is an increasing disconnect between the assurances of national and the actions of local groups,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Stephen O’Brien.
He noted that civilians continue to be “targeted, attacked and displaced” and that “acute humanitarian needs persist” worsened by the recurrent lack of access.
Despite a Presidential Statement on 17 March, in which the Council urged the Government of South Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) to allow people to move freely and aid to get to those in need, more than 17 incidents of obstruction of access have been reported.
These comprise of interference “by parties from individual armed actors through to national authorities,” Mr. O’Brien said.
He noted illegal exactions and taxes, and demands at check points for payments to cross: “Such extortions are unacceptable and must stop.”
Aid workers and humanitarian supplies are targeted, with at least two worked killed since December 2013, and a conservative estimate of humanitarian losses since the beginning of this year of around $10 million.
In addition to the ongoing violence, the deteriorating economic situation is further driving instability. The monthly cost of food and clean water for an average family now amounts to 10 times the salary of a teacher, Mr. O’Brien said.
Despite such obstacles, the UN and partners were able to reach more than 4.5 million people with assistance, often in the most remote areas.
However, a critical lack of funding is hobbling future efforts, Mr. O’Brien warned. Of the required $1.3 billion earmarked to reach over 5 million people, only 9 per cent of the funding has been received from the international community.
Human rights violations
Briefing the 15-member Council on the rights situation in South Sudan, Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said violations and abuses against civilians “continue unabated.”
“Since December 2103, all parties to the conflict have committed gross human rights violations and abuses, along with serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the Deputy High Commissioner said. These include killing civilians, widespread sexual violence against women and girls, pillaging and destruction of civilian property such as homes, humanitarian infrastructure, schools, and medical facilities, including hospitals.
In addition, both the Government and opposition forces have forcibly conscripted children.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad shares the view of the AU Commission of Inquiry, which found that the allegations of gross violations, including a number committed in 2015, constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity, Ms. Gilmore said.
She noted “alarm” that the violence and insecurity was spreading to Western Equatoria and other areas that previously that been less affected by the conflict.
The senior UN official also expressed concern about the shrinking space for free media and civil society.
“The legacy of violence and revenge underscores South Sudan’s urgent need for accountability for both past and present day human rights violations and abuses as well as for violations of international humanitarian law,” she said. “Yet, in spite of the repeated public and formal commitments given by the parties to the conflict to end the violence and punish its perpetrators, no evidence has been found of any genuine efforts by either the government or the opposition to live up to their undertakings.”
She echoed the calls of the High Commissioner for the formation of accountability and transitional justice mechanisms for South Sudan, including the creation of a Hybrid Court with a designated unit to support the witnesses and victims subjected to crimes such as sexual violence, and children.
Urgent need for transitional government
Sustained progress in the country will require both parties to form a transitional government of national unity without further delay and demonstrate the courage to compromise for the sake of peace, said Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (UNMISS), Ellen Margrethe Løj.
In February, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed a peace deal agreeing to run a unity government which would culminate in Government elections.
Addressing the Council via videoconference from the South Sudanese capital, Juba, the Special Representative said that despite the signing of the peace agreement, violence continues in many parts of the country.
For example, tensions between the Dinka and Shilluk communities in the Upper Nile continue to be high since incidents in February, which included an outbreak of violence in the UN Protection of Civilians facility in Malakal.
“Since that incident, UNMISS has been supporting humanitarian partners to re-establish facilities and restore service delivery within the site, while also providing force protection for food delivery,” Ms. Løj said.
Measures are also being taken to increase parameter security and the UN is engaging with local officials and community leaders to prevent further violence.
The UN Headquarters has launched an inquiry into whether UNMISS did all it could to protect civilians.
The next report of the Secretary-General will be available in the coming weeks, she said.
The Council also heard from the Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, Festus Mogae. He said implementation of most aspects of the agreement has been “delayed.”
However, he said both sides confirmed willingness to implement the Agreement and he has faith that the transitional government of national unity will be in power soon.