Make or break year for South Sudan

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South Sudan is at a critical crossroad with action needed to quell inter-communal clashes, ramp up assistant to ever more communities in need and advance progress toward a durable peace senior United Nations (UN) officials told the Security Council (SC) this week.

“We see 2023 as a ‘make or break’ year and a test for all parties on the peace agreement,” Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said.

Briefing the Council on the UN Secretary-General’s latest report on South Sudan, he outlined a priority action plan for implementing the nation’s milestone 2018 peace agreement designed to end a devastating civil war.

He shared progress and reflections during the reporting 1 December to 15 February reporting period, which saw escalating humanitarian needs amid violence, displacement, hunger, climate shocks and public health.

“The leadership of South Sudan faces a stark choice. They can embark on a path of mutual co-operation and reconciliation in urgent implementation of their peace agreement or they can take a low road which privileges self-interest and conflict over nation building,” Haysom said.

Reporting limited progress in implementing the agreement and its road map to peace, he welcomed the transitional government’s commitment, adding current “slippages” in meeting agreed timelines remain a concern. On the heels of parties extending timelines by two years, he said “neither stakeholders nor the international community are of a mind to contemplate further extensions”.

“We believe there are key hurdles the parties must clear to successfully position South Sudan to complete the final leg of the transitional phase,” he added, pointing to several areas for action.

Drafting a new constitution is a critical opportunity to foster harmony and prevent a repeat of the civil conflict that defined the last decade. This requires an inclusive process that gives a voice to all South Sudanese, including marginalised communities.

The final hurdles pertain to humanitarian conditions and security according to Haysom. Appealing for an urgent start to strengthen and deploy the so-called “necessary unified forces” – a national army, police and coherent security operation – he said they “can either be an asset or a liability during the transition”.

Concerned about spates of intercommunal violence, where ethnic or tribal dimensions threaten to unravel peace gains, he expressed shock at a recent cycle of revenge killings, the unacceptable practice of kidnappings and use of gender-based violence as a tool of war.

With civilian protection the “heartbeat” of the UN mission, he noted seven human rights reports published by UNMISS, which include recommendations for improving justice, accountability and reconciliation.

In addition, UNMISS requested UN Headquarters to conduct a capability study to consider whether a case for strengthening uniformed deployments within its authorised mandate ahead of the electoral cycle.

“These priorities are all mutually reinforcing. There is still sufficient time to achieve the ideals, goals, and timelines set out in the peace agreement. We want to believe the South Sudanese will make the most of this opportunity.”