Briefing by Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, at the Security Council meeting on the situation in Sudan and South Sudan

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5 Mar 2024

Mr. President,

Thank you for the opportunity to brief the Security Council on the report of the Secretary-General and my recent visit to South Sudan to make a first-hand assessment of the situation on the ground.

During my visit (19-23 February), I met President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar along with senior leaders of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity, members of the civil society as well as representative of the diplomatic community. I undertook a field visit to Kuajok in Warrap State to assess the ongoing intercommunal clashes on either side of the Abyei Boundary between Dinka Twic and Dinka Ngok communities, and also visited Abyei where I consulted with UNISFA leadership and met with local authorities and community leaders. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Hanna Tetteh accompanied me throughout these visits and engagements.

On Abyei, while the political process remains stalled, clashes between the Dinka Ngok and Misseriya communities have decreased, with UNISFA continuing to provide support to reconciliation efforts. The Mission is now focusing its civilian protection efforts on the southern part of the Abyei box, where tensions involving the Dinka Twic, Dinka Ngok and Nuer communities have resulted in civilian casualties and displacement, along with the killing of two UNISFA peacekeepers in January. Both UNMISS and UNISFA are committed to working with the Government of South Sudan and concerned communities to de-escalate tensions and work towards peace.

Mr. President,

Throughout my visit to South Sudan, I conveyed to my interlocutors that the implementation of the peace agreement remains the only framework through which the United Nations would support the parties achieve long term peace and stability in the country. Elections, I impressed upon everyone, must be deemed credible by the people of South Sudan and should be a unifying exercise and not a divisive one. Accordingly, a confluence of political will, methodical planning and adequate resources is necessary to address the aspirations of the people of South Sudan vis-à-vis elections.

As stated in the report of the Secretary-General on South Sudan, the implementation of the peace agreement and the Roadmap remains significantly behind schedule. While establishment of key institutions of transition such as the Constitutional Review Commission, the National Elections Commission and the Political Parties Council is a step in the right direction albeit after significant delays, these institutions continue to lack adequate resources and expertise to fulfil their mandate. While leaders of SPLM expressed confidence on achieving a critical mass on implementation towards credible elections, SPLM-IO, including First Vice President Machar, expressed its doubts and insisted that all pre-requisites for elections particularly the passage of a permanent Constitution and completion of the Transitional Security Arrangements must precede the conduct of the electoral process. Amongst the population, there is a strong desire for elections as well as for peace and stability.

A myriad of factors will likely affect elections in South Sudan. A fledgling economy has intensified fights over resources and led to high unemployment particularly impacting the youth. In addition, political competition amongst the ruling elite, increased inter communal clashes and the added strain inflicted by the influx of returnees and refugees escaping the conflict in Sudan have all combined towards an assessment that elections, when held, are going to take place in an environment of elevated tensions and a constrained civic and political space in the country. Therefore, if not managed carefully, they carry the potential for violence with disastrous consequences for an already fragile country and the wider region.

The impact of the conflict in Sudan deserves special attention. Over two-thirds of South Sudanese citizens remain dependent on international assistance for their basic needs with women and children being the most vulnerable. South Sudanese economy is overwhelmingly dependent on the oil revenues that will stall should the conflict in Sudan affect the flow of oil to Port Sudan. Global competing priorities have already curtailed international resources for South Sudan and a loss of oil revenues in this context could have catastrophic humanitarian and security consequences for the entire region.

Mr. President,

As I mentioned earlier, the peace agreement remains the only viable framework to achieve peace and stability in South Sudan. While the United Nations has the space and lead in three of its four pillared mandate (POC, HR reporting and humanitarian assistance), it is mandated to support IGAD and the African Union when it comes to the peace process and the implementation of the peace agreement. It is, therefore, imperative to harmonize the United Nations position on key political issues with those of IGAD and the African Union while maintaining its impartiality and independence. Both IGAD and the African Union have voiced their support for elections in South Sudan and the United Nations will, therefore, offer as much support as possible in line with its mandate. It is, however, important to note that the United Nations cannot opine whether South Sudan should have elections or not but can only assess if the Transitional Government has put in place the requisite architecture for them to be peaceful and credible, and in accordance with the terms of the peace agreement. Failure to do so not only threatens the desired credibility and peacefulness of elections, but also the overarching framework, the peace agreement itself.

As things stand, South Sudan is not ready for elections and a lot needs to be done. But as stated in the Secretary-General’s report, if the parties display political will and timely invest adequate resources, credible elections can still take place before the end of the transition period.

Mr. President,

We must all acknowledge that despite the shortcomings in implementation, the peace agreement did instil a period of stability at the national level and brought opponents who fought two civil wars to the table and enabled them to govern from within a Government of National Unity. It is now time for all to come together to build on this achievement. Peaceful conduct and implementation of the outcome of the elections should, therefore, be a shared strategic goal of all stakeholders.

Moving forward, the Government of National Unity needs to take urgent measures to resource institutions of transition, reach political decisions to complete transitional security arrangements and the constitutional review process as a matter of priority and ensure a level playing field for all parties to participate in elections in a much more open civic and political space than what currently exists in the country. Legitimacy through elections can only be secured if the people of South Sudan believe that their voices were heard.

The people of South Sudan have suffered far too much and for far too long. It is time for them to finally receive the peace dividend they deserve.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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