I wish to welcome everyone to our first press conference of this new year and greetings to everyone who’s tuning in live to Radio Miraya.
I also wish everyone a peaceful and productive and happy New Year, 2023.
Let me begin with some of the key points from my recent briefing to the UN Security Council in New York, and exchange views on the current situation in South Sudan, and I would also like to outline the challenges and priorities facing the country and UNMISS in the upcoming year.
This year is a particularly important year for South Sudan and its people. I know we say that every year, but this year will actually determine whether the transition to peace, outlined in the Roadmap, can actually be achieved. As I told the Security Council, several key milestones were reached in the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, but it will be crucial that South Sudan meet all its critical benchmarks, particularly those that are time bound, and this would require a sense of urgency in the coming year.
As I shared with the Security Council, my fear is that slippages in meeting the timeframes will have a domino effect on key benchmarks that will be crucial down the line. Progress needs to be accomplished this year, 2023, not next year, and benchmarks that have been missed need to be recovered.
However, I think it is also necessary to highlight some of the progress that has been made last year. The graduation of the first phase of the Necessary Unified Forces took place. I’d also like to commend the Government of National Unity for the passage of essential bills, such as the Constitution Making Bill, and the ratification of the Roadmap by the national legislature. The 6th Governors Forum in Juba, supported by the United Nations family, was also noteworthy.
As I said before, discernible progress in the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement presents a real opportunity and a compelling reason for the international community to renew its support and assistance to the people of South Sudan at this critical time in the peace process. And as I repeat frequently to our international visitors, this is not time to forget South Sudan.
Let me turn to the challenges that 2023 holds.
Earlier this week, I met with President Kiir to discuss how to fast-track the implementation of the outstanding tasks in the Revitalized Peace Agreement in order to create a conducive atmosphere for the conduct of free, fair, and credible elections in December 2024.
We also deliberated on strategies to end the worrying intercommunal fighting in several parts of the country. This violence and fighting, disturbingly characterized by tribal undertones in many areas, is particularly damaging. It poses a real threat to the gains achieved so far and could even derail the peace process. Every one of these conflicts leaves behind a legacy of bitterness and division.
We have identified five conflicts or hotspots that require our continuing and continuous attention and that remain as challenges for the country: the Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area; the Upper Nile; the legacy of the conflict in Tambura in Western Equatoria; in Warrap State the conflict between the Twic and Ngok Dinka; and the conflict now being experienced in Central Equatoria as a result of tensions between Bor cattle keepers and host communities, amongst other potential conflicts.
We have taken action, and continue to act, to mitigate and reduce the impact of all these conflicts and their long-term effects. We will share with you the steps we are taking, by referring only to our actions in Jonglei.
The escalating violence in Greater Pibor Administrative Area and Jonglei State that began in late December is of special concern. Shocking has been the number of women and children who were abducted, and those who have faced grave rights violations, including conflict-related sexual violence and abuse. While a temporary pause in the cyclical clashes had been observed, as armed youth around the vicinity of Bor returned to their counties of origin, violence was reported only recently in Uror and Nyirol counties, resulting in more deaths, injuries, abductions, and cattle raided. On 11 January, a high-level delegation comprising of UNMISS officials, humanitarians, and development partners, government officials from Juba as well visited Pibor town to assess the humanitarian situation and to identify measures to foster peace and to respond to the humanitarian crisis developing there.
We commend the Jonglei authorities for their efforts, in which we participated, that led to the release of 68 abducted Murle women and children. Protection actors are providing them with interim care and humanitarian services until they can be reunited with their families. We reiterate that the barbaric practice of abductions has to stop. This scourge contributes to continuing insecurity and undermines the very integrity of communities.
This week, WFP and their partners started distributing food to thousands of internally displaced people in Pibor — with plans to assist 20,000 people who have gathered in that area. It is vital that the access routes are passable and safe to allow for the movement of commodities and humanitarian aid.
UNMISS is accordingly conducting patrols along several key axis routes and in the vicinity of the peacekeeping base in Pibor to ensure a safe environment for internally displaced people and for aid workers responding to their needs. In addition, UN Police have been working side-by-side with the Pibor police.
UNMISS has also been carrying out human rights investigations, to document violations in GPAA and Jonglei. The Mission is considering setting up additional Temporary Operating Bases in the area to project a greater level of security and deter further violence. From the perspective of the Mission, we will be continuing to highlight the prospect of accountability for those who have participated in these acts.
Since the start of the conflict, we have been engaging in regular and frequent political and civic consultations with national and state authorities, faith-based and community leaders, and representatives of the Murle community. This is occurring on a daily basis, and we will continue to engage so that we can quell tensions and help resolve the situation.
On another but related dimension – on a separate issue – even as we engage in conflict resolution efforts here – and elsewhere – the humanitarian situation in South Sudan remains dire, made worse by conflict, climate shocks and extensive flooding. This year’s projections estimate that over 9 million people will need humanitarian and protection assistance. This is an alarming figure for a country of roughly 12 million people. Aid workers continue to respond to the needs of affected people, despite being stretched and our diminishing resources, due to competition from other emergencies across the globe.
In this difficult context, South Sudan continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for these aid workers. Barely two weeks into this year, three South Sudanese aid workers were killed while providing aid to vulnerable people. I join the Humanitarian Coordinator in expressing our condolences to the families and colleagues of the aid workers. We take access to humanitarian aid very seriously and continue to call on the authorities to protect aid workers. It is clear that to make progress in both our conflict resolution and humanitarian ambitions, South Sudan must succeed in implementing the Peace Agreement faithfully, by adhering to the Roadmap timelines. So let me turn to those and indicate the prioritized crucial milestones for 2023, of which I would want to highlight at least three.
First is the drafting of a new constitution where some progress has been made. This “tasking” of the South Sudanese people by the Peace Agreement expresses the hope that South Sundanese can come together to agree on the arrangements by which they can live sustainably together in peace and harmony and create, as it were, a new social contract. This challenge cannot be undertaken by the international community. Only South Sudanese can do this.
In my recent meeting with the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, he pledged to redouble efforts on the implementation of the constitution-making process. He also reported on progress regarding the chapters of the peace agreement on accountability, reconciliation, and healing. I offered the UN’s technical support in this regard and emphasized that the views of all segments of South Sudanese society are vital, both to the constitution and to the reconciliation process, specifically referring to the importance of inclusivity of all sectors of the society, notably women, and reaching all four corners of South Sudan, while also including the refugees who remain outside of the country.
Secondly, UNMISS is engaging with the National Election Commission and other relevant national interlocutors in the preparations for elections. Much work needs to be done, such as, establishing a legal framework and preparing the ground and environment for the conduct of elections. It is important to ensure that the electoral process is transparent and fair, South Sudanese-owned, and that the results will be acceptable to all segments of the population. Additionally, the electoral process must be carried out in a secure environment, free from violence and intimidation. It must be complemented by the necessary political and civic space to allow for open dialogue, debate, and campaigning. This requires dealing with the fault lines and divisions that have fueled violence over the last decade. Self-evidently, those conditions are not here yet.
Creating the environment where elections can take place requires South Sudanese to engage each other, putting the interests of the country first. And the media has a big role to play in creating that environment by holding stakeholders to account.
This leads to the third milestone, which is the creation and deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces. “Phase two” of the graduation of the forces must receive urgent financial, logistical, and political support from the government, so that they can begin to serve as a truly unified national army under one command. We are hopeful that the outcome of the graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces will increase the capacity to deal with intercommunal violence.
In addition to what I have outlined above, I wanted to highlight certain contributions that the UN family and UNMISS made to peace and stability in 2022, and that we aim to continue in 2023. We have undertaken thousands of violence-deterring patrols by land, air and river to difficult areas, and have established and will continue to establish temporary operating bases in all hotspots, thereby curbing deadly violence in many areas.
To date, we’ve cleared 4,792 kilometres of roads and 1,300 square kilometres of land mines and other explosive remnants of war, protecting civilians, and enabling the UN and partners to deliver life-saving aid. This includes, of course, communities involved in agricultural production, schoolchildren attending school and communities going about their everyday business.
Our peacekeeping engineers are building and improving over 3,000 kilometers of significant roads.
They are also constructing and repairing dykes to keep flood waters at bay – even as we prepare for the forthcoming rains of 2023.
This year, the Mission is investing in 60 Quick Impact Projects, building clinics, courts, police stations, and prisons.
We are building hospitals and providing healthcare for internally displaced people, such as those in Pibor.
We will also be continuing our support to strengthen judicial accountability by rolling out our mobile courts and by providing training for police and prosecutors.
We are conducting patrols specifically aligned with the delivery of food and non-food aid across the country which will reach tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people.
We have increased our efforts to promote human rights and ensure the protection of children.
Importantly and additionally, we will continue to host national-level political dialogues, constitution-making and electoral workshops, and continue our engagements at the grassroots level, by leading conflict resolution activities among communities that have resulted so far in many local peace agreements.
I believe that all these efforts have contributed to the overall reduction in the number of civilian casualties in 2022, although that overall reduction will need to be looked at once the account is taken of the most recent violence.
In 2023, UNMISS will continue to enhance its tools and methodologies to prioritize what we call protection of civilians and appropriately respond to the most serious protection concerns based on our response capabilities. Improving our efficacy and speed of action remains our priority. We will continue to strategically place peacekeepers in positions to best protect civilians, especially IDPs and the most vulnerable, which is our most important purpose. However, it must be recognized that the Mission has finite resources and does not have the capacity to respond to all physical threats to civilians across the vast geographical expanse of the country.
This is why effective use of partnerships continues to underpin our overall strategy in 2023 — particularly with the Government of National Unity, with multilateral institutions in the region. UNMISS will continue to work closely with the AU, IGAD and the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) through the Trilateral Task Force, in addition to other partners in Juba, such as the Troika and the European Union, in good offices and conflict prevention efforts.
The critical challenge facing South Sudan is to build an understanding that South Sudanese share a common destiny, one that can only be achieved if they put aside sectional interests. This is key to the way forward – the determination of the South Sudanese to build a peaceful and prosperous future and establish a true sense of nationhood, recognizing that there is more that unites them that that which divides them.
Thank you for listening and I am ready to take any questions you may have.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).