South Sudan: UN official cites will of the people to achieve peace despite ‘bleak’ situation

Children at a protection of civilians site in Juba, South Sudan, run by the UN Mission, perform at a special cultural event in March 2015. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Children at a protection of civilians site in Juba, South Sudan, run by the UN Mission, perform at a special cultural event in March 2015. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

South Sudan, 17 July 2015 – The outlook for South Sudan is not completely bleak, a senior United Nations has said in Juba, noting that travelling throughout the country, he has repeatedly heard the phrase: “we want peace now.”

“It is important for us to use this time now to make this phrase a reality,” the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for South Sudan, Moustapha Soumaré, told a press conference in Juba, where he also decried continuing fighting that had resulted in increased numbers of internally displaced persons.

Speaking to reporters, he said he had repeatedly heard in different meetings, at all levels, and during extensive travels in the different states of the country, since he arrived four months ago, the phrase “we want peace now”.

Noting concerns that warring parties were yet to sign a peace agreement, he noted some recent positive steps, including the return of some former political detainees and continuing efforts by the international community to support peace negotiations.

“The message is how we can move forward, as the President Salva Kiir said in his speech during independence celebrations,” he stressed. “We hope that the next step will come soon.”

Mr. Soumaré also emphasized that the crisis could only be solved by South Sudanese themselves, although the international community would continue to provide support.

“It is clear that the humanitarian situation is still dire,” he said. The more fighting there is, the more displacement. For that to stop, the fighting has to stop and there has to be a peace accord.”

The Deputy Special representative explained that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is not directly involved in negotiations, but would have a role to play in implementing a peace agreement, if one was signed.

Currently, the Mission’s mandate is still limited to protecting civilians, monitoring and investigating human rights, creating conditions for delivery of humanitarian assistance and supporting implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, he explained.

“What is really important to remember is that UNMISS is really engaging the Government to ensure that we can implement our mandate effectively,” he said. “Although we have more than 160,000 displaced persons, we have to engage the Government to create conditions where they…can voluntarily return to their homes.”

Mr. Soumaré listed some challenges the Mission faces in carrying out its work, such as restriction of patrols and lack of flight safety assurance.

“Protection of civilians is not just for those living on UNMISS sites, but also in places outside,” he noted. Yet, at times, the ability to do this in such places is impeded by restrictions.
Nonetheless, he reiterated the Mission’s willingness to continue to work with the Government.

“We might not always have the same views, but we have to sit, discuss, agree and work on the things on which we disagree,” he said. “Political dialogue with the Government is key.”

In that regard, Mr. Soumaré noted the revocation of a decision to expel the UNMISS Unity state Coordinator May Cummins from the state as a “very encouraging” measure and an “example of a positive outcome of engaging government both at the local and national levels.”

The security situation in South Sudan has deteriorated steadily over the past year since political in-fighting between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President, Riek Machar, and their respective factions erupted in December 2013. The hostilities subsequently turned into a full-fledged conflict, resulting in reported atrocities and possible war crimes.

According to the latest estimates released by the UN refugee agency, more than 730,000 people have fled into neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, which has seen the highest arrival rate this year. Meanwhile, another 1.5 million remain internally displaced, often relocated to increasingly overcrowded ‘protection-of-civilians’ sites run by UNMISS.