Dispatches from the Field: Council Meetings in South Sudan
Juba and Malakal— Yesterday (12 August), Council members traveled to South Sudan, where they had a full schedule of activities. The day included briefings from senior UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) officials, meetings with President Salva Kiir and the cabinet, a tour of the UNMISS Protection of Civilians Site in Malakal that included a meeting with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the camp, a meeting with civil society representatives and a videoconference discussion with rebel leader Riek Machar, head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Opposition.
Briefing from UNMISS leadership
During the briefing, which was held at the UNMISS compound in Juba, senior UNMISS staff emphasised several key messages. They told Council members that the cessation of hostilities agreement that the government and the opposition signed continues to be violated by both parties, with fighting again reported in Nasir, Upper Nile State, on 9-10 August. High-level government officials have expressed a desire to improve relations with the UN that have been strained in the recent past but restrictions continue to be imposed on the movement of UN peacekeepers and on the activities of humanitarian actors. The scope of the humanitarian crisis is massive, with a famine likely by the end of the year, according to the UNMISS briefers.
Council members expressed their gratitude to the mission for its efforts to serve people under very difficult circumstances, as UNMISS staff have been harassed and intimidated by government security forces. Council members noted that learning about the mission’s work was very helpful to their efforts to address the situation in South Sudan.
Meeting with the South Sudan Cabinet
Council members held a meeting that was open to the press in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs in Juba. Remarks were made by Foreign Minister Benjamin Barnaba, Minister of Cabinet Affairs Martin Elia Lomuro and Deng Nhial Deng, South Sudan chief negotiator at the Addis Ababa peace talks.
After Barnaba welcomed Council members to South Sudan, Lomuro gave an overview of the structure of the government and discussed the security, humanitarian and political situation in South Sudan. In his remarks Lomuro placed the blame squarely on the opposition for the dire situation the country is in, arguing that they continue to violate the cessation of hostilities agreements of 9 May and 10 June. He also stated that while South Sudan faces significant food insecurity, the problem is more limited in geographical scope than the international humanitarian community has suggested.
Deng discussed the status of the peace talks in Addis Ababa. He said that the parties had agreed to a format where they would negotiate directly with one another while civil society actors would also be given a consultative role. He said that rebel violations of the cessation of hostilities agreements would continue to inhibit the peace process, and that they needed to be persuaded or compelled to stop these violations.
Ambassador Samantha Power (US), who is co-leading the South Sudan leg of the Council visiting mission with Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana (Rwanda), spoke on behalf of Council members. Power said that the Council had invested a great deal in the success of South Sudan, and that it was proud of the role it had played in helping South Sudan to hold a referendum that led to its independence. Now, however, she stated that Council members had come to South Sudan with “heavy hearts” in “an emergency visit” because of the crisis situation facing the country.
She added that the Council had come to deliver some messages. First, the Council was fully supportive of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) efforts to mediate the conflict between the government and the SPLM in Opposition. Second, the Council urged the government to develop in earnest plans for a transitional government of national unity. (In the 10 June agreement the parties agreed to finalise negotiations on the creation of a transitional government of national unity within 60 days.) Third, she said that there is no military solution to the conflict, which means that it must be resolved at the negotiating table. She argued that while the Council is aware of the SPLM in Opposition’s violations of the cessation of hostilities agreements, it is aware of government violations of them as well. Fourth, she urged the government to signal that it will hold the perpetrators of human rights violations accountable for their actions. Fifth, she said that the situation for UN peacekeepers, and other UN staff and humanitarian actors, is challenging in part because of impediments placed on them by the government. She noted that attacking UN peacekeepers is a war crime. She concluded by warning that the Council was prepared to impose “consequences” on spoilers to the peace process. (The Council’s presidential statement adopted on 8 August expressed its
readiness to consider, in consultation with relevant partners, including IGAD
and the African Union, “all appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions,
against those who take action that undermines the peace, stability, and security
of South Sudan”.)
Meeting with President Kiir
Council members met with President Kiir following their discussion with cabinet members. Apparently at this meeting Council members reiterated many of the messages that Power had made to the cabinet. Kiir reportedly said that he remained committed to the peace talks in Addis Ababa, but that Machar had failed to demonstrate the same level of commitment. In a press briefing following the meeting, Gasana said that the people of South Sudan have suffered enough, and that the parties must adhere to their agreed upon commitments. While noting that the parties were negotiating in Addis Ababa, Power said that the Council had not seen the urgency expected from the leaders given the current circumstances.
Trip to Malakal
In the late afternoon, Council members made the 50 minute flight to Malakal, where they toured a UNMISS protection of civilians site, which is currently home to over 17,000 IDPs. Council members were moved by the appalling conditions under which people are living because they are too afraid to return home, fearful of being attacked because of the insecurity gripping the country. Several IDPs expressed their anger at Kiir and Machar for the current plight they (and South Sudan) are facing. The consistent plea from the IDPs was for peace.
Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant (UK) responded on behalf of the members of the Council. He underscored that the Council was “distressed and angry” that South Sudan was not able to develop in peace and stability after independence. He added that during the current visiting mission Council members were sending both Kiir and Machar a clear message that they must engage in a proper process of peace and reconciliation or there would be consequences. He concluded by saying that he hoped that the IDPs had some relief in the camps, but he hoped that conditions would soon be created to allow them to return home.
Meeting with Civil Society Representatives
Council members also held a meeting with civil society, including women’s representatives. Council members also were also interested in discussing how women could be included more in peace processes and were given ideas from participants on how to improve women’s representation in South Sudan’s peace talks. A spokesperson from one of the women’s groups said that sexual violence and abuse had been used as a “weapon of war in this conflict” and advocated for the IGAD mediation team to include at least one woman among its members and for female participants to make up at least a third of the delegations to the peace talks.
An important theme stressed by the civil society groups was the need for an end to impunity. One of the participants also noted the repression against them, referring to attacks against civil society members, ostensibly by government security forces. A spokesperson for the women’s civil society groups emphasised that the parties must adhere to the cessation of hostilities agreements they have signed and stop the violence, while urging the Council to advocate for more humanitarian assistance, especially with respect to food aid.
Meeting with Machar
Council members spoke with Machar via videoconference. It appears that members of the Council conveyed a strong message of concern about the deteriorating situation in the country, emphasising how important it is that Machar engage in the peace talks in earnest. Machar insisted that the current conflict, which began on 15 December 2013, was sparked by a fight within the presidential guard, and not as a coup attempt that he had orchestrated, as alleged by Kiir. He apparently strongly implied that IGAD is not an impartial mediator as it consisted of two of his adversaries, South Sudan and Uganda, and that Uganda’s military presence in South Sudan hindered the peace process. He noted that in spite of this he continued to participate in the peace talks.
Today Council members are in Somalia where they are expected to meet with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, senior members of the Government and the Federal Parliament, and the leaders of the Interim Jubba Administration and Galmudug, Ahmed Islaan Madobe and Abdi Hassan Awale Qeybdid. They will also have meetings with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and members of Somalia’s civil society. In the evening Council members will meet with IGAD foreign ministers in Nairobi before flying back to New York.