‘Untold suffering’ of South Sudanese people must end, UN envoy tells Security Council

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Ellen Margrethe Løj, briefs the Security Council. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

New York, 14 May 2015 – The security situation in South Sudan deteriorated further during late April and early May, the head of the United Nations mission in the country warned today as she briefed the Security Council on the “very worrying” developments that have had a devastating effect on civilians.

“The untold suffering of the people of South Sudan must stop,” Ellen Margrethe Løj, head of the UN Mission (UNMISS) declared today, as she presented to the Council the latest report of the Secretary-General.

“Every day without a political agreement contributes to a further deterioration of the situation on the ground, leading to greater displacement and human misery, and risks regional peace and security,” she added.

Ms. Løj, who also serves as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, said that the most serious situation is currently in Unity state, where there are reports of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) advances and fighting as they push into southern areas of the oil-rich region towards Koch, Leer and Adok.

In all, over 2 million people remain displaced, with more than 1.5 million internally, and some 500,000 in neighbouring countries. More than 2.5 million people face severe food insecurity, especially in the greater Upper Nile region, and this figure will most likely increase significantly.

What’s more, the economic situation continues to deteriorate, particularly with a drop in oil revenues, heavy expenditure on defence and the inability of the Government to secure external financial support. The situation will continue to decline if conflict continues and external aid is not forthcoming, she warned.

The flow of internally displaced persons (IDPs) into the UNMISS camp in Bentiu, capital of Unite state, some 2,400 so far in May, and the general displacement of innocent civilians has continued. Serious human rights violations persist as well, she said, reiterating to all their responsibility to abide by international law, and take all measures to ensure the safety of civilians and aid organizations.

“Not only are more IDPs arriving but incidents of ethnic, political and tribal clashes have grown during the last two months,” she said.

Fighting between Dinka and Shilluk militias, both affiliated with the SPLA, has occurred in Malakal, Fashoda and Akoka, Upper Nile state. The origins of the tension lie in an historic land dispute, but this has developed into a situation which has gone out of hand, said Ms. Løj.

Outside of the traditional conflict zone of the greater Upper Nile region, UNMISS is also paying close attention to repeated inter-communal violence in other states involving cattle-raiding incidents and revenge attacks in which women and children are often targeted.

Ms. Løj highlighted the multitude of challenges in UNMISS civilian protection sites, including crime, gang-related violence, and ethnically based disturbances. As of 6 May, UNMISS provided protection to nearly 120,000 displaced persons in seven sites, including about 53,000 in Bentiu, 34,000 in Juba, and now nearly 29,000 in Malakal following the latest fighting in the area.

While the arrival of additional troops has permitted the Mission to expand its reach, capacity and resource constraints limit protection activities by its military personnel.

UNMISS continues to receive reports of gross violations of human rights, indicating the unsafe conditions faced by civilians in many parts of the country. In the greater Upper Nile area, the mission investigated allegations of civilians killed in hostilities in Malakal, Akoka and Fashoda during April. It is also monitoring closely the aggressive posture of the SPLA towards IDPs sheltering in the UNMISS site in Bentiu, where several people have been killed and injured.

On a more positive note, some 1,757 children linked to the Cobra Faction have been demobilized, she said.

“As important as the release of child soldiers is, it is equally important to support vocational training and livelihood related efforts to ensure that they don’t relapse into joining another armed group,” Ms. Løj added.

She urged the Government and the opposition to renew their commitment to facilitate the work of the UN in South Sudan, and expressed concern of the continued incidence of unlawful arrests, detentions and abductions, including targeting of UN and humanitarian personnel. Three World Food Programme (WFP) national staff went missing on 1 April and have still not been found.

“There is no alternative to silencing the guns and concluding a comprehensive peace agreement in order to turn South Sudan towards the path of peace and stability,” she said.