UN Security Council: Briefing UNMISS (South Sudan)

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 17 November 2016

As we have heard, the situation in South Sudan is appalling.  The peace agreement, so-called, negotiated last year, is moribund if not dead. There is no political process occurring and the key actors are not inclined in any serious way to join one.

We had the horrific outbreak of violence in Juba in July, and the UNMISS  response which is the subject of a searing report by the Independent Special Investigator appointed by the Secretary-General.  Since then, SPLA and SPLA-IO troops and other militias skirmish with each other and maraud about the country, committing atrocities to each other and to innocent civilians to the point we are now being warned of the real risks of full-scale civil war and even genocide.

Responsibility for this state of affairs rests principally with South Sudan's leaders, who have prioritised power and self-enrichment over the needs of their peoples. But some responsibility also lies with those who have offered sanctuary to such people and their assets; to those who have supplied arms to fuel a crippling war in the world’s poorest country; and indeed to those who have constrained this Council from taking effective action in response to a situation that has been brewing for many years.

So now we are being warned that a very real and serious disaster is looming at a time when UNMISS is ill-equipped to deal with it.  As we know, UNMISS is operating in a non-permissive environment, is beset by deep systemic and political problems, and is in a state of flux - facing changes in leadership in the field and indeed in New York next year.

UNMISS, it is sometimes forgotten, has four key tasks: the protection of civilians, monitoring and investigating human rights abuses, creating the conditions for delivering humanitarian assistance and supporting the implementation of the peace agreement.  But the only task that UNMISS has really been able to undertake in the past six months and longer has been the first - and as has been cruelly demonstrated, that has not been done very well when the pressure has come on. Responsibility for this situation also lies primarily with the South Sudanese parties, especially the government which has used its position as host government and its military strength to prevent UNMISS from carrying out its mandate.

So what do we do?  We cannot abandon South Sudan.  But neither can we magic up an instant change in the behavior of South Sudanese leaders or indeed, in the way UNMISS is constituted and operates.  Despite the scale of the problem, we need to be focused and realistic in our immediate objectives until longer term arrangements can be developed and put in place.

Right now, we have to heed the warnings of Adama Dieng about the dangers of genocide, and make it clear to South Sudan's leaders that they will be held to account if events deteriorate further.

Second, we need to implement without delay the recommendations in the Independent Report which are capable of immediate implementation and the Council should be kept updated regularly on the progress of implementation.  The Secretary General and his team need to ensure that this happens.

We also need to set clear guidance and expectations for the new SRSG  and Force Commander and require them to ensure that the civilian and military components of UNMISS work in support of each other’s operations, particularly with respect to implementation of the mandate, rules of engagement, and the use of force.   The Security Council and Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) also have a shared responsibility to address the systemic issues in UNMISS.  We need to be having more frank conversations with each other to clarify expectations and to highlight TCC decisions not to follow orders.  We should also be working with Council members and troop contributors to document benchmarks and violations of the Status of Forces Agreement, to build a shared understanding of the picture of non-compliance.

At the level of the Council, we the Security Council and the international community need to take steps to change the calculus of the South Sudanese Government and the SPLA in particular, to give UNMISS the room it needs to conduct its basic mandate.  As a Council we need to send a clear signal, including through targeted sanctions and an arms embargo, that the status quo will no longer be tolerated. 

The argument that sanctions must be linked to a political process to be effective, or that it might complicate the political process, only holds in our view when there is a realistic prospect of a political process and at the moment there is not one.  In this case, aside from at least reducing the importation of weapons, especially heavy weaponry, the purpose of the embargo would to be to signal the end of the line in terms of international tolerance in terms of what is going on in South Sudan.   For these reasons New Zealand looks forward to working with the United States and other members of the Council on the draft resolution that has been foreshadowed.

Thank you.


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