Peace Is About Choices, UNMISS Shearer Reminds S. Sudanese Leaders

"It comes down to political will. The willingness to make concessions, to ultimately sit around a table within a transitional government and make it work for the people."

Statement of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General David Shearer
Briefing to the Security Council on South Sudan
18 December 2019

As I speak to you today, one-third of the 100-day extension of the revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan has already passed.

 While this second extension has eased anxiety – at least temporarily – because it maintains the ceasefire, it has also disillusioned many citizens who feel more progress should have been made.
Politics is all about choices.

By choosing to sign the peace agreement last year, parties kick-started a transformative process that has already paid dividends.

The country has witnessed a steep decrease in civilian injuries, abductions and casualties. While sexual violence remains an abhorrent problem, the 295 victims recorded in 2019 is substantially fewer than the almost 1300 hundred reported in 2018.

Improvements in security have also prompted at least 645,000 displaced people to return to their homes.

But the choice to twice delay a transitional government has dampened initial hopes, eroded some trust and confidence and caused people to suspect that the political will between parties is waning.
The choices that South Sudan’s leaders make now will determine this country’s future for generations to come.

There has been no shortage of outside support to encourage South Sudan to head along the right path. In the past three months, there has been a Tripartite meeting hosted by Uganda and direct follow up from them, IGAD meetings, efforts made by the IGAD Envoy, visits by the South African Deputy President. Sudan has remained engaged with the most recent discussions.

The AU has kept the country under constant review. And, of course, the full 15 members of the UN Security Council visited Juba to engage and hear directly from the parties.

What has been most striking is that, amongst international partners, there has been unity of purpose and I am confident that will continue.

That international engagement, together with Dr Machar’s presence in Juba over the past week meeting face-to-face with President Kiir has led to positive statements from both leaders in the past 24 hours.

Reasons can always be found for further delay. After all, there is no definitive or objective point where progress on the peace process can be agreed to be completely sufficient.

But, if the parties want to fully implement the agreement and form a new government at the end of this 100-day period, they certainly can.

It comes down to political will. The willingness to make concessions, to ultimately sit around a table within a transitional government and make it work for the people.

Again, it’s about choices.
The first test of whether that political will exists will be known when the 50-day review is held in early January.

At that point, there needs to be measurable progress in several areas:
First, the reunification of forces. It’s unlikely to be complete before the deadline. Today’s commitments by the two leaders have given further impetus to the process.

Substantial progress will give all parties enough trust and confidence to continue with the process within a transitional government.

More than 76,000 have already gathered at cantonment sites. A careful vetting is needed to verify their status as ex-combatants. Another 12,000 are registered in government barracks.

However, until now, supplies to cantonment sites have been patchy and, in many places, combatants have abandoned them to seek food, shelter and a means of income elsewhere.

Inevitably, any concentration of forces anywhere can also create uncertainty and suspicion that each side is mobilizing forces for war rather than preparing for peace. The only way forward to overcome that suspicion is to accelerate training and unification to maintain trust and confidence.

The job of the National Pre-Transitional Committee is to ensure resources get where they are needed. UNMISS has signalled our willingness to provide additional logistical support on request.
Last week it was reported that government funding has been made available to various security committees, which is welcome. However, the exact amounts delivered and how it will be spent remains opaque.

Transparency is needed to quell suspicion – a point made strongly by the AU, IGAD and the UN. This could take the form of a trust fund or a similar mechanism to provide independent oversight of finances.

The agreement between the government and opposition to establish a mechanism is encouraging. The UN will offer its support to establish it as it has in many other conflict settings internationally.
Dr. Riek Machar’s presence in Juba over the past five days for face-to-face discussions has been encouraging and essential to resolve differences. As yet, however, there is no resolution of his uncertain status and he is yet to be given a South Sudanese passport.

Where the sides do remain apart is on the second critical issue, that of states and boundaries, despite the determined mediation efforts by David Mabuza, the South African Deputy President.
This issue is one that has the potential to anger some and gratify others depending on the outcome.
Because power and access to resources is heavily vested in the states and, in turn, often linked to ethnic groups, means that this particular issue is politically charged.

Resolving this highly sensitive issue requires leadership, a willingness to examine contentious areas with open minds and accept a solution, which might not be ideal for any party or every party.

It needs courage. To defer its resolution to a referendum will cost millions of dollars and face immense logistical difficulties especially with one-third of the South Sudanese population displaced. It also runs the risk of widening ethnic divisions.

Over the past weeks I have talked to many people about the peace process during recent visits to the field. Whether it’s in Koch, Lankien, Pibor, Bentiu or Bor, the message is the same.
No one I spoke to wants to go back to war.

One of those is Bul Deng, a 24-year-old who returned to Lankien after six years in a UN protection site because he believes peace is coming. He told me:

“I want people to be a peaceful family and to live freely across the whole land. That’s all we need. Peace.”

But, privately when I speak to people, some admit they will take up arms again if ordered by their leaders.

The good news is the ceasefire has been largely respected. But we must remain vigilant.
A recent spike of intercommunal clashes has raised tensions and risks spilling into more serious political violence.

Fighting around Maiwut in the north-east of the country, for example, has turned overtly political when SPLM-IO and government forces both backed different sides.

Meanwhile, improvements to the humanitarian situation have been partly negated by flooding which affected at least 900,000 people, washing away crops, destroying homes and contaminating water supplies.

To their credit, the state government, humanitarian agencies and donors responded quickly.
WFP’s quick response used supplies prepositioned for 2020, but those stocks need to be urgently replenished and transported throughout the country.

And, with an estimated 72,000 metric tons of cereals lost, animals that have perished, and pasture destroyed, the fear is for the longer-term food needs The floods compounded pre-existing needs. The recently released Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020 aims to meet the needs of 5.6 million people at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion dollars.

Sadly, after brief respite that accompanied peace these natural calamities have again caused concern about hunger in areas affected.

In just two months, the leaders will choose whether to form a transitional government.
Preservation of the ceasefire is absolutely critical. Those choices coincide with the dry season – a period historically associated with increased fighting.

The joint meetings in the past days between President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar are encouraging with both sides recommitting themselves to the peace process. It has restored some of the optimism and momentum that was lost with the delays.

All parties now need to choose to follow on with their words. And the international partners need to remain resolute in their support.

The parties need to move to a transitional government so they can start planning for South Sudan’s long-term future and, ultimately, elections in the next three years.

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