Let me start by thanking all of you for your warm welcome. I’m honored to be here for my first official Security Council briefing, and I’m looking forward to working with all of you. I also join you, again, in thanking the United Kingdom for their successful presidency.
Thank you, Special Representative Shearer, for your briefing today. The United States deeply appreciates your service and accomplishments as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. You have greatly contributed to the pursuit of lasting peace in South Sudan and we owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for your dedication. Thank you, sir. We also welcome the Secretary-General’s appointment of Nicholas Haysom as your successor.
And thank you, Ms. Nasiwa, for your briefing on the situation in South Sudan from the perspective of civil society. It’s so good to see you again and to see that you’re still working hard to bring peace to South Sudan. You and your colleagues continue to inspire peacebuilders around the world. You’re making the world a better, more peaceful place, and we are in awe of your courage. Thank you.
Voices like Jackline’s are so important. Civil society, particularly women in civil society, must be heard during our discussions in the Council on issues of international peace and security. Their ears are on the ground. They see and understand what no one else does. And at times, they suffer like no one else does. So, during our Presidency this month, and beyond, we are putting civil society front and center at the highest levels of international diplomacy and decision making. The United States unequivocally condemns acts of intimidation and reprisals against civil society briefers who engage with the Council or any part of the United Nations.
This is a personal issue for me. When I was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, I visited South Sudan many times and worked with its leaders to help support the nascent nation. I care deeply about the forward progress of this nation.
So, I was pleased when, one year ago, South Sudan’s leaders announced their commitment to form the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity. In doing so, they reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation of the 2018 peace agreement. This was a critical step toward restoring stability, peace, and prosperity in South Sudan, and we acknowledge the actions South Sudan’s leaders have taken to advance the peace process.
Nevertheless, we know that this peace is fragile, and we need to see more steady progress toward a lasting power-sharing agreement to keep that peace intact.
Today, I want to discuss three aspects of the situation in South Sudan: deep, serious concerns about increased violence and hunger, necessary next steps in place in the peace process, and, finally, the vital role of UNMISS in advancing South Sudan toward peace.
First, we must talk about the violence and hunger in South Sudan.
Although the direct conflict between parties to the peace agreement is currently diminished, the violence has not stopped. Sub-national fighting has simply surged in South Sudan and, worse, we are extremely concerned by indications that political actors are directly involved. That’s not peace, and that is not acceptable.
This violence exacerbates an already devastating humanitarian situation. An estimated seven million people face severe food insecurity. Conflict, severe floods, a microeconomic crisis, and the impacts of COVID-19 have compounded to make the hunger situation dire. These shocks disproportionately impact women and girls, who are also subject to increased violence and exploitations. They are suffering from the food crisis more than anyone.
In late December, global experts publicly warned about a likely famine in one area of Jonglei State – the second time in four years the country has experienced starvation and extremely critical levels of acute malnutrition at scale.
Experts also warned that populations in other areas, in the absence of humanitarian assistance, are in immediate danger of starving to death. South Sudanese government officials have blocked the timely release of credible food security data, delaying warnings of this catastrophe and putting lives at risk.
Worse, government officials and other parties continue to impede humanitarian access to populations in need of assistance. This cannot be tolerated by the international community.
We call on South Sudan’s leaders to stop the violence and ensure the immediate de-escalation of sub-national conflict. We call on them to prevent human rights abuses and violations, and we call on them to allow unimpeded humanitarian access to those in need – especially those who are starving or staring death in the face.
Second, we must discuss the necessary next steps in the South Sudan peace process.
Accelerating implementation of the 2018 peace agreement is essential to ensuring South Sudan. Stalling on the peace agreement risks the return of widespread political violence. We are committed to working together with the transitional government, the region, the international community, and the Security Council, to encourage progress on the full implementation of the peace agreement, paving the way for credible elections and a peaceful transition.
To make progress toward peace, the leaders of South Sudan need to take urgent steps forward on governance and security arrangements.
In terms of governance, it’s far past time to establish the Transitional National Legislative Assembly. Its absence prevents South Sudan from advancing the legislation necessary to support lasting peace. It is also imperative that the transitional government make progress on drafting the constitution and strengthening the electoral commission.
Proper governance, and real transition out of the civil war, must include the full, effective, and meaningful participation of women. We welcome the appointment of three women deputy governors, but we’re worried about South Sudan’s failure to ensure 35 percent women’s representation in the transitional government. This peace agreement stipulation must be respected. We remain alarmed by the continued high incidence of gender-based violence, including by members of the security services and other armed groups. That is simply unacceptable. Gender-based violence cannot be used as a weapon of conflict.
On security, the peace process requires security services to be vetted, trained, and unified under a single chain of command. Until that happens, the people of South Sudan will not believe fully in the 2018 peace agreement.
We will always recognize when we see progress, too. We welcome the recent announcement by the transitional government to proceed with implementing Chapter Five of the peace agreement, including establishing the Hybrid Court for South Sudan; the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing; and the Compensation and Reparations Authority. By implementing these three mechanisms, with engagement from local civil society, South Sudan helps support truth-telling. And truth-telling is necessary for holding those responsible for atrocities accountable.
Finally, I’d like to address the role of UNMISS in furthering the peace process. The United States is currently working with South Sudan, the UN, the Security Council, and other stakeholders on the renewal of the mandate for the UN Mission in South Sudan. As South Sudan navigates this fragile transition period, UNMISS remains a critical component of the security, humanitarian, and human rights architecture in the country. The Mission is essential for supporting the transitional government to fully implement its peace agreement.
Restrictions on UNMISS patrols and movements by South Sudan’s security forces are an affront to the Security Council. They violate obligations under the Status of Forces Agreement and they endanger the safety and security of peacekeepers. UNMISS operations protect civilians and save lives. We call on South Sudan’s leaders to cease obstruction of the Mission and to work with UNMISS as a full partner in the process of transition.
The protection of civilians in South Sudan remains an essential task for UNMISS. Given the alarming levels of violence and hunger across the country, and lack of progress in the implementation of the peace agreement, we believe any force reduction for UNMISS should be gradual and importantly, conditional-based too.
The ongoing re-designation of protection of civilian sites demands continued close attention by UNMISS, as well as ongoing coordination and transparency with the humanitarian community and displaced persons. The mission must be prepared to respond rapidly should security conditions deteriorate.
So, let me close by making our position unmistakably clear. We see the situation in South Sudan as precarious. We are worried about the slow pace of the peace process and the levels of violence, and we believe UNMISS has a critical role to play in protecting civilians and supporting peace.
So, we call upon the leaders of South Sudan to accelerate the peace process, the peace agreement. Lower levels of violence. Work with UNMISS. Open the gates for humanitarian access, especially to help with hunger and starvation.
This is a critical moment for South Sudan. We, the United States, remain committed to the country and its people, and we will continue to work with the transitional government, the Security Council, UNMISS, humanitarian groups, and all stakeholders to bring peace to South Sudan.