Dispatches from the Field: Council Meetings in Juba and a Visit to Protection of Civilians Sites
Juba– Today (3 September), Council members had a full schedule of activities that included meetings with South Sudanese civil society representatives, government officials, and UNMISS contingent commanders. Members also had the opportunity to visit and hear from internally displaced people in protection of civilians sites in Juba.
Meetings with Civil Society
Council members began the day with two meetings with civil society. They first met with youth representatives and women groups, as well as religious leaders. The importance of safety and security of the civilians was an important aspect of the discussion, as it was noted that the people of South Sudan had been traumatised by the recent violence.
The Council engaged with a second group of civil society representatives, who were close to the government. Some members of this group expressed concern about resolution 2304, especially its authorisation of a regional protection force, with one speaker even calling for the revocation of the resolution. It was argued that an additional 4,000 troops ( the envisioned size of the force) would not provide safety to the people of South Sudan, and that the government needed assistance with security sector reform, rather than additional foreign troops in an “intervention” force. Appeals were made to the Council to help South Sudan obtain additional humanitarian assistance and to support implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement.
Meeting with Government Officials
After the civil society meetings, Council members went to the Cabinet Affairs Secretariat, where they engaged with several high-level government officials, including the Ministers of Defence, Information, the Interior, Federal Affairs, and Transport, among others. Government officials presented their views of the political situation and the status of implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement. The ministers reportedly maintained that the replacement of Riek Machar with Taban Deng Gai as First Vice President had made it possible for the government to act in a more unified way.
The Regional Protection Force, authorised in resolution 2304, was a key element in the discussion. Council members stressed that they were united in support of resolution 2304, and even China and Russia, which had abstained on the vote on this resolution, said that the government needed to implement the resolution. Council members underscored that the Force would be deployed for the purpose of protecting the people of South Sudan in a spirit of cooperation with the government. In the press conference after the meeting, South Sudanese Interior Minister Martin Elia Lomuro reiterated that the discussion had focused on the Force as a means of helping the people of South Sudan through partnership with the government.
During the meeting with government officials, Council members voiced their concerns about impediments imposed on the operations of UNMISS. Members highlighted the fact that the mission required permission from the government to conduct armoured patrols and stated that such permission should not be needed. One of the ministers agreed during the discussion that the government would explore better facilitation of the mission’s operations.
Justice and accountability issues also featured prominently in the discussion. In response to a question about the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, government officials maintained that the matter was being handled by the AU.
Visit to Protection of Civilians Sites in Juba
In the afternoon, Council members visited protection of civilians (POC) sites 1 and 3, located on an elevated position at the southwest edge of Juba. Together these sites shelter some 35,000 people, and they consist largely of Nuer inhabitants, the ethnic community to which deposed First Vice President Riek Machar belongs. Walking along the northern berm of POC site 1, members saw the location where two Chinese peacekeepers were killed and several others were wounded on 10 July, when a rocket propelled grenade struck their armoured personnel carrier. At POC site 3, they met with civil society leaders, including women and youth. During these meetings, Council members were told that women were afraid to leave the camps to collect food and firewood for fear of being raped, and that men feared leaving the camp because they might be targeted as fighters against the government. Not far from the site where members of the Council met with the civil society leaders, members witnessed a small demonstration by camp inhabitants calling for the reinstatement of Riek Machar as First Vice President.
Meeting with Contingent Commanders
Council members concluded their activities for the day with a meeting with UNMISS contingent commanders. Commanders spoke of the bureaucratic impediments to getting equipment such as vehicles and ammunition into South Sudan. They also discussed the restrictions on movement created by the need to get permission for armoured patrols, echoing the concern raised by Council members during its meeting with government officials earlier in the day. It was noted that such restrictions on the mobility of the mission hinder efforts to project protection capabilities outside the camps.
Tomorrow Council members are expected to meet with President Salva Kiir.