Dispatches from the Field: Council Visit to Wau and Meeting with President Kiir
Today (4 September), the Council delegation had a busy agenda, which began with a 50-minute flight to Wau in Western Bahr el Ghazal state for meetings with UN representatives and visits to protection sites. After returning to Juba in the afternoon, members met with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, and then concluded the day with a meeting with Festus Mogae, the chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), the body responsible for overseeing implementation of the August 2015 South Sudan peace agreement.
Visit to Wau and Meeting with UN Representatives
Soon after arriving in Wau, Council members met with UNMISS senior civilian staff; representatives of UN agencies, funds and programs; and the UNMISS sector commander. During the meeting, UN representatives presented an overview of the access restrictions imposed on UN entities working in and around Wau, where violence since February has led to widespread displacement. It seems that the written permission required for UNMISS patrols was discussed, a challenge that UN staff raised with Council members on the first day of the visit. Severe restrictions on humanitarian access were also highlighted, with food and supplies unable to reach people in need, particularly in areas southwest of Wau. It appears that government forces have restricted this access because of fears that aid and supplies would reach opposition areas.
In his briefing to Council members, the UNMISS sector commander underscored three main difficulties faced by the mission: violations of the Status of Forces Agreement, including obstacles to UNMISS’s freedom of movement; the vastness of the area of operation in relation to the number of personnel in the mission; and the burden of managing the protection sites, which has tied up a large number of personnel, limiting the ability of the mission to patrol outside the protection sites.
Visit to Wau Protection Sites
The protection site next to the UNMISS base in Wau shelters over 24,000 people, mainly from the Fertit/Balanda ethnic group, although several other groups are also in the camp. Council members listened as several internally displaced persons (IDPs) spoke about their experiences. They described the killing and looting that had happened in Wau in recent months, and expressed gratitude to UNMISS for its protection. One of the speakers said that the displaced could not leave the camp because they were afraid of being targeted by government forces, adding that the military in the area were from the Dinka ethnic community and that members of the Fertit community should be integrated into the army in the area. Another IDP representative said that in spite of the fact that the peace agreement had been signed over a year ago, it had not been implemented. Following the presentations, Council members walked through the camp, and talked to the some of the IDPs.
Council members were then driven across town to Wau’s Catholic Cathedral which shelters some 10,000 IDPs. Ambassador Samantha Power of the US, one of the co-leads on the visiting mission, made brief remarks to IDP representatives on behalf of the Security Council. In addition to thanking the Catholic Church for opening its doors to those in need, she said that the Council had come to South Sudan in an effort to help improve the protection of the people of the country. She added that the Council would urge the government to stop its forces from committing acts of violence, and would call on it to hold accountable those who have carried out these acts.
Meeting with President Salva Kiir and Joint Communiqué
Council members met with President Kiir in the evening. They discussed issues including the envisioned Regional Protection Force, restrictions on humanitarian access and on the freedom of movement of UNMISS, and the proposed Hybrid Court for South Sudan, outlined in the August 2015 peace agreement. Kiir emphasised that he was the leader of all South Sudanese (i.e. the multiple ethnic communities in the country.) He indicated that an effort would be made by the government to remove restrictions on UNMISS’s freedom of movement, maintaining that he had not authorised such restrictions. Council members sought to allay Kiir’s concerns about the Regional Protection Force, as the government maintains that it had not been properly consulted prior to the adoption of resolution 2304 authorising the force. Council members emphasised that they respect South Sudan’s sovereignty, and that the government of South Sudan would have input in the development of the operational details of the force’s deployment. With regard to the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, Kiir said that South Sudan would consider next steps in implementing a hybrid court but first the AU needed to make progress in its establishment. (Under the August 2015 peace agreement, the AU Commission is entrusted with establishing the hybrid court.)
In a press conference following the Council’s meeting with Kiir, Martin Elia Lomuro, South Sudan’s Minister of Cabinet Affairs, read out a statement which was issued later in the evening as a joint communiqué between the Council and the government of South Sudan. While there was no formal negotiation process among Council members, it seems that Council members on the ground in South Sudan had agreed amongst themselves on the content of the statement.
According to the statement, the UN Security Council and the government agreed to “work in a fresh spirit of cooperation to advance the interests of the South Sudanese people, particularly their aspirations for justice, liberty and prosperity.” The government also gives its consent in the document to the deployment of the Regional Protection Force as a part of UNMISS, agreeing that troop contributing countries, UNMISS and the government would continue to “work through the modalities of deployment” building on previous consultations and anticipating “imminent discussions”. Previously it had only consented to the force “in principle.” The government further commits in the statement to allow UNMISS’s freedom of movement in keeping with its mandate, and in pursuance of this goal, it commits to create by the end of September a plan with UNMISS “on concrete steps to remove impediments on UNMISS’s ability to implement its mandate including reviewing procedures” relevant to movement and “streamlining of bureaucratic processes.” UNMISS, in turn, will commit “to inform the Transitional Government of National Unity of all movements.” In relation to humanitarian access, the statement says that the government will “eliminate illegal checkpoints” and review with the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan “modalities for strengthening bureaucratic processes and access to populations in need.”
A significant portion of the statement focuses on the operations of UNMISS, although precise details on how to implement the measures agreed are lacking and still need to be negotiated. Power acknowledged during a press conference later that the evening that the key now would be to turn what was written in the statement into concrete improvements in the lives of South Sudanese.
On accountability issues, echoing Kiir’s remarks in his meeting with Council members, the government makes clear its readiness to work with the AU on the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan once the AU provides proposals for how it will work.
Meeting with Chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission
The day concluded with a meeting with Festus Mogae, the chair of the JMEC, which comprises international and regional actors, as well as South Sudanese stakeholders. Mogae emphasised the importance of making progress with transitional security arrangements in South Sudan.
Tomorrow the Council concludes its visiting mission with a stop in Addis Ababa, where it is expected to meet with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, in his capacity as chair of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Plus, which spearheaded the mediation leading to the August 2015 peace agreement in South Sudan, and with the AU Peace and Security Council.