With Millions Displaced, Facing Famine in South Sudan, Senior Peacekeeping Official Urges Security Council to Seek Removal of Obstacles Blocking Aid

Despite assurances from the Government of South Sudan, violence and governmental restrictions continued to prevent peacekeepers and humanitarian workers from fulfilling their respective mandates to protect civilians and deliver aid to those badly in need of it, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations told the Security Council today.

Briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s 30‑day report relating to South Sudan, Bintou Keita said those obstacles to the free movement of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) were being erected against a backdrop of a continuously dire humanitarian situation, she said, noting that 4 million people had been displaced and 6 million faced food insecurity, including 1.7 million living on the brink of famine.  While President Salva Kiir had issued a new order on 9 November, calling for unhindered humanitarian access, a genuine and concerted effort must ensure that the decree trickled down to levels on the ground where obstructions frequently occurred.

To address those concerns, she asked the Council to urge the Government to end the restrictions and adhere to its obligations to the status‑of‑forces agreement.  She expressed concern about the Government’s push to assert military dominance across the country, notably when faced with continued resistance by armed opposition groups.  “New military offensives would seriously undermine the political process and cause further civilian casualties and displacements,” she stressed.

Providing updates on other developments, she said the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) Regional Protection Force was getting ready for deployment.  On the political front, opposition forces had agreed to participate in the high-level revitalization forum.  While all groups consulted so far appeared to have stated their full and unconditional support for the IGAD initiative, they had also raised a number of questions to influence the forum’s outcome in their favour, which may make for arduous discussions.

When the floor opened, Council members shared concerns about the fragile security and humanitarian situation.  Sweden’s representative, expressing alarm that civilians were caught up in a seemingly endless nightmare of conflict, displacement and hunger, called for an immediate cessation of hostilities by the Government and armed groups.  “Time is running out for millions of South Sudanese,” he said, cautioning that every day that the conflict continued made peacebuilding and reconciliation more difficult.

Many delegates voiced support for IGAD efforts, with Ethiopia’s representative noting that his country’s battalion would soon be ready for deployment in the Regional Protection Force.  Welcoming President Kiir’s decree ordering the free movement of humanitarian organizations, he said implementing it would facilitate the delivery of assistance to affected populations.

Expressing a different view, the delegate of the United States emphasized that words were not enough and that the Government bore the responsibility to end the ongoing violence.  Given that reports had shown that South Sudan armed forces were in fact impeding humanitarian efforts, the United States was prepared to pursue additional measures if the Government failed to pursue the peace process and continued to harass humanitarian organizations.

However, the representative of the Russian Federation said it was unjust to place all blame for the state of affairs on Juba alone.  The Government had played its role and the opposition must reciprocate and adopt a more constructive position.  Moreover, it was counterproductive to impose sanctions or an arms embargo because such measures would not help break the deadlock and would only exacerbate the crisis, he said.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Japan, United Kingdom, Bolivia, Uruguay, France, Egypt, Senegal, China, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Italy.

The meeting began at 11:06 a.m. and ended at 12:32 p.m.

Briefing

BINTOU KEITA, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefing the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s 30‑day report on South Sudan, said the deployment of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) Regional Protection Force was making good progress, with the main body of Rwanda’s battalion expected to be completed by the end of 2017 and the Ethiopian battalion’s advance company completing its deployment on 22 October.  However, certain operations of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) continued to be impeded by national authorities, with the Government’s push to assert military dominance particularly when faced with resistance by armed opposition groups at a time of risks of escalating violence at the onset of the dry season.  “New military offensives would seriously undermine the political process and cause further civilian casualties and displacements,” she said.

Elaborating on security concerns, she said the Equatorias remained volatile and two forces had clashed in Karika in early November.  Continued fighting in the Greater Upper Nile had caused the death of a national staff member of an international non-governmental organization (NGO), curtailed humanitarian operations and led to UNMISS extracting aid workers.  On 4 November, shots had been fired directly at UNMISS troops, who had subsequently returned fire.  In addition, despite repeated assurances from the highest levels of Government, UNMISS uniformed personnel patrols and human rights officers continued to face frequent restrictions on their freedom of movement.  Such obstructions prevented the Mission from fully implementing its mandate to protect civilians, she said, requesting that the Council impress upon the Government that it should end restrictions and uphold its obligations under the status‑of‑forces agreement.

She said the dire humanitarian situation continued, compounded by widespread armed conflict, intercommunal violence, displacement and restrictions preventing aid deliveries.  A total of 4 million people had been displaced and 6 million faced food insecurity, including 1.7 million living on the brink of famine.  While President Salva Kiir had issued on 9 November a new order calling for unhindered humanitarian access, a genuine and concerted effort must ensure that the decree trickled down to levels on the ground where obstructions frequently occurred.  Clashes between armed groups and other sources of insecurity also continued to negatively affect aid deliveries, forcing 89 workers to relocate in September.

On the political process, she said subnational consultations continued in the Government-controlled areas of Central Equatoria, Northern Bahr El Ghazal and the Upper Nile, with plans to soon reach other parts of the country.  The national dialogue must be transparent and genuinely inclusive of all political viewpoints.  Ahead of the IGAD revitalization forum, opposition forces had agreed to participate in the process with a unified delegation and a common position.  As the forum entered its final phase of preparations, all groups had stated their unconditional support for the initiative, but raised a number of procedural and substantive questions to influence outcomes, which could make discussions difficult.  Meanwhile, the IGAD Council of Ministers was meeting in Abidjan to draft recommendations to be discussed formally during a meeting on 11 and 12 December prior to the forum’s opening.

Statements

NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) recalled taking a recent trip to South Sudan, where a traumatized civilian population faced living under tarps on mud floors, some being victims of repeated rapes and various aggravated abuse.  Resentment for those heinous conditions could already be seen growing among younger generations and their plight must be addressed now.  President Kiir had recognized that situation, she said, emphasizing that acknowledgements were not enough and that the Government bore the responsibility to end the violence.  Going forward, the United States would judge the President by his actions, not his words.  Steps must include honouring the ceasefire, reinvigorating the peace process in an inclusive manner, ending the violence and allowing the Mission to fulfil its mandate.  Given that reports had shown that Government forces were impeding humanitarian efforts, the United States was prepared to pursue additional measures if the Government failed to pursue the peace process and continued to harass humanitarian organizations.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said that unless hostilities ceased, the humanitarian and economic situation would continue to worsen.  Welcoming President Kiir’s decree ordering the free movement of humanitarian organizations, he said implementing it would facilitate the delivery of assistance to affected populations.  A sustainable peace agreement was the only viable way forward and IGAD had presented an opportunity to pursue lasting stability.  The Prime Minister of Ethiopia had met with President Kiir recently, reaffirming his country’s support for South Sudan, he said.  Turning to IGAD efforts, he said complications could arise as there was no “magic wand to create miracles in South Sudan”.  The support of the international community would be essential, he said, encouraging the United Nations and IGAD to forge ahead with ongoing initiatives.  Additional progress would be made with the deployment of a Regional Protection Force, he said, noting that Ethiopia’s battalion was ready to be deployed as early as December.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) said the Government must take concrete actions to protect and alleviate the suffering of its civilian population.  Pointing to persistent violations of the status‑of‑forces agreement, he said the Government also had a responsibility to provide humanitarian convoys with unimpeded and unhindered movement.  A genuinely inclusive political process was the only way to achieve a political solution, as true peace would never come from fighting.  Expressing strong support for the IGAD revitalization forum, he urged all parties to “leave behind political games”.  At the same time, he looked forward to concrete results and a revised time frame for the implementation of the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, which represented a unique window of opportunity and also a last chance for parties to truly achieve peace and stability.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said one third of the population had been displaced, while parties to the conflict, including the Government, continued to mount attacks on innocent civilians, making it more important than ever before for the international community to act together to work for peace, even if South Sudan’s leaders did not do so.  Humanitarian workers were being prevented from reaching those most in need because of physical and bureaucratic restrictions.  His delegation was particularly troubled by the harassment, threats and physical assaults against United Nations staff, which must stop immediately.  “South Sudan is at a crossroads,” he said, and its leaders were being offered a last chance to demonstrate that they cared for their country.  The revitalization forum offered hope, he said, expressing support for that effort.  The United Kingdom also welcomed the African Union Peace and Security Council’s clearly worded September communiqué.  All parties must engage meaningfully and constructively and there must be consequences for not engaging in that regard.  The Council must revisit the issue early in 2018 and must be ready to take appropriate action if necessary.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said the crisis had been exacerbated by large-scale migration.  Clashes were continuing unabated and against that backdrop, it was impossible to talk about making genuine headway.  As such, the lack of political determination and leadership was evident.  A lasting solution must lie in a credible political process and inclusive dialogue in line with the 2015 Peace Agreement.  “All of this lives and dies by the involvement of the Government and all the groups in South Sudan,” he said.  The revitalization forum was the only tangible alternative on the table, and the fact that it had been able to maintain consultations with all the stakeholders was a good sign.  In that regard, he urged all parties to continue because the forum represented a unique opportunity in pursuing peace.

LUIS HOMERO BERMÚDEZ ÁLVAREZ (Uruguay), endorsing conditions discussed at the latest Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission meeting, said he eagerly awaited the convening of the IGAD revitalization forum, which offered an opportunity to restart the peace process.  Emphasizing that the international community must support humanitarian efforts, he regretted to note reports that the Government had restricted Mission operations.  States could not unilaterally delay the functioning of a mission, he said, adding that some actors’ efforts to hold on to control was not productive and should not be given priority over the well-being of the civilian population.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden), expressing alarm that civilians in South Sudan were caught up in a seemingly endless nightmare of conflict, displacement and hunger, called for an immediate cessation of hostilities by the Government and armed groups.  Only a political solution could resolve the conflict, he said, adding that the legitimacy and success of the revitalization forum would be strengthened by ensuring that the process was transparent and inclusive, with the effective participation of women and civil society.  Restrictions on access to health care, attacks against medical facilities and transport and widespread looting of medical facilities were unacceptable.  “Time is running out for millions of South Sudanese,” he said, cautioning that every day that the conflict continued made peacebuilding and reconciliation more difficult.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said it was unjust to place all blame for the state of affairs in South Sudan on Juba alone.  The Government had played its role and the opposition must reciprocate and adopt a more constructive position.  It was counterproductive to impose sanctions or an arms embargo because such measures would not help in breaking the deadlock and would only exacerbate the crisis.  Pleased about the deployment of the Regional Protection Force as well as studying its mutually acceptable modalities, he called on the Government and troop-contributing countries to help facilitate and ensure its operational readiness, noting the importance of mediation efforts in that regard.  It was equally important to maintain regional tracks, he said, pointing out that parochial approaches could have detrimental effects.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the revitalization forum in July had been a significant step and the subsequent outcome agreement represented a cornerstone of the political process.  If fully implemented, its measures could make the positive contribution that South Sudan needed.  Welcoming consultations between parties to set up an inclusive process, she underlined the importance of making substantial progress and of engaging in discussions in good faith.  Otherwise, individual sanctions might have to be considered against those hampering the process, she cautioned.  Turning to the catastrophic humanitarian conditions, she said the blockade of UNMISS patrols and intimidation of its staff were also unacceptable.  The Mission must be able to carry out its mandate, she said, urging the Government to meet its commitments.  The international community must be ready to take all necessary measures to reduce violence and an arms embargo would contribute to that.

IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD (Egypt) said the languishing conflict and its regional ramifications had demonstrated that a comprehensive political settlement was the only option.  That settlement must go beyond power sharing by political elites with a view to resolving the underlying issues of the conflict.  The revitalization forum was an opportunity that must not be missed.  All efforts should be taken to unify opposition groups and forge a united front to create a political partner that would represent society as a whole, without bias.  To that end, it was imperative to support the 2015 Agreement on the Reunification of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (Arusha Agreement) so that the opposition became a full-fledged partner in the peace process.  Highlighting the signing earlier in November of the Cairo Declaration, which was based on the Arusha Agreement, he said such efforts supported other regional attempts to find a comprehensive solution.  He also underlined the importance of rebuilding the institutional structures in South Sudan.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said the current fragile situation required that all parties must be allowed free access to deliver humanitarian assistance to affected civilian populations and called on the Government to ensure the security of such operations.  He condemned human rights violations perpetrated by both the Government and opposition groups in camps across the country.  Welcoming the regional leadership that had been increasingly active in reinvigorating the peace process, he expressed support for the revitalization forum.  Tackling the worrisome economic situation in South Sudan was also crucial, as it contributed to the displacement of people and undermined the Government’s ability to function.

ZHANG DIANBIN (China) said that given the challenging political situation, it was a pressing priority for the international community to continue moving the political process forward.  Expressing support for IGAD and its work to prepare broad consultations with stakeholders in the region and to make the dialogue more inclusive, China also appreciated Ethiopia’s efforts.  Calling on the international community to continue intensifying support for the mediation process, he said it should also respect the Government in exercising ownership and motivate it, actively encouraging all parties to participate in relevant processes.  Also, necessary humanitarian assistance should continue to advance the country’s reconstruction.  China commended UNMISS actions and would continue to support the Mission in carrying out its mandate.  As the main troop-contributing country in South Sudan, China had been committed to bilateral and multilateral channels in that regard.

BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) expressed grave concern about the persistent clashes and growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons.  The humanitarian situation could worsen in the upcoming dry season, he said, voicing hope that the recent presidential decree would be instrumental in facilitating humanitarian access.  He appreciated IGAD’s efforts to organize the much-awaited revitalization forum and highlighted the importance of ensuring that political negotiations were accompanied by implementing comprehensive assistance strategies, such as sustainable economic growth, health care and protecting the agricultural sector.  Also critical were intercommunal reconciliation and fully engaging women and youth.  For its part, Kazakhstan would work with others to foster constructive understanding among various parties to the conflict.

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) condemned the recent clashes in South Sudan and noted the President’s order to tighten security operations in the country.  The onset of the dry season could lead to more clashes, so it was vital that all parties ceased hostilities.  Ukraine looked forward to the outcome of the IGAD forum and welcomed the tangible progress of the Regional Protection Force.  However, his delegation was concerned by the harassment of humanitarian actors on the ground.

INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said the tragic humanitarian situation, where men and women were doomed to flee or die, was the opposite of the promises and commitments made by the new country in 2011.  Noting President Kiir’s commitment to remove restrictions on the movement of humanitarian organizations, he said UNMISS must also be allowed to operate in all regions under its purview.  Expressing support for IGAD efforts, he said that regional guidance was also essential.  In closing, he encouraged all South Sudan stakeholders to invest in the peace process.