UN: South Sudan must halt fighting, move faster to elections

FILE - Military trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan on June 27, 2020. The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, demanded an immediate end to all fighting in South Sudan and swift progress by the government to ensure that delayed elections are held peacefully and freely in December 2024.(AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (Maura Ajak, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TANZANIA – The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday demanded an immediate end to all fighting in South Sudan and pushed for swift progress by the government to ensure that delayed elections are held peacefully and freely in December 2024.

The council resolution, which was approved by a vote of 13-0 with Russia and China abstaining, also extended the more than 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan until March 15, 2024.

Last week, U.N. special envoy for South Sudan Nicholas Haysom, who heads the peacekeeping mission, called 2023 a “make or break” year for the world’s newest nation, which has been beset by civil war.

Haysom told the council it’s possible the country can keep its commitment to hold elections in 21 months but only if there is political will. Most people would argue that at this stage that the political environment doesn’t exist “in which the country can withstand a robust political competition,” Haysom said.

There were high hopes when oil-rich South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long conflict. But the country slid into civil war in December 2013 largely based on ethnic divisions, with forces loyal to President Salva Kiir battling those loyal to Vice President Riek Machar.

Tens of thousands of people were killed in the war, which ended with a 2018 peace agreement that brought Kiir and Machar together in a government of national unity.

The resolution expresses urgent concern that 2.2 million people are displaced within the country and for the ongoing humanitarian crisis, which has resulted in 9.4 million people currently in need of assistance.

South Sudan was supposed to hold elections before February 2023, but that timetable was pushed back last August to December 2024.

The Security Council resolution underscores “that elections should be viewed as a phased approach.”

It calls for South Sudanese authorities to make immediate progress on key milestones toward peaceful elections, including adopting a constitution and required legislation, approving transitional security arrangements, and establishing an independent electoral commission.

The council said the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as UNMISS, should focus in the near-term on key conditions, among them preventing further escalation of political violence, creating conditions for an inclusive constitutional drafting process, and helping establish "the inclusive civic space that is a prerequisite to the conduct of free and fair elections."

The resolution reaffirms UNMISS’ primary mandate of protecting civilians as well as creating conditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid, supporting implementation of the peace agreement, and monitoring, investigating and reporting on violations of international humanitarian law and human rights including rape and other forms of sexual violence.

New text authorizes peacekeepers “to use all necessary means to ensure effective, timely, and dynamic protection of civilians under threat of physical violence” and “to prevent, deter, and stop violence against civilians, including politically driven violence, particularly in high-risk areas.” It also authorizes them to promptly engage any actor preparing or engaging in attacks against civilians, camps for the displaced and sites where UNMISS is protecting civilians.

Ghana’s U.N. Ambassador Harold Agyeman, speaking on behalf of fellow African council members Gabon and Mozambique after the vote, called UNMISS “a stabilizing factor” in South Sudan and critical to addressing South Sudan's socioeconomic, political and security challenges.

Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva said Moscow supports UNMISS’ contribution to stabilizing the situation in South Sudan but abstained because the resolution is “intrusive" and "risks undermining the peace process at a very important stage for the country where it’s finalizing their transition and moving forward to the elections in December 2024.”

China’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dai Bing commended UNMISS’ efforts to maintain peace and help accelerate nation-building in South Sudan but said the “harshly worded” and “unbalanced” resolution contains elements “designed to exert lopsided pressure on South Sudan” and so abstained.

South Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Akuei Malwal told the council that “consent” is essential in any U.N. peacekeeping resolution – and if the U.S. had considered proposals from his government and other council members “the text just adopted would have been more balanced and reflective of facts and realities on the ground.”

The government recognizes that protecting civilians “is of utmost importance,” he said, and South Sudan also needs humanitarian and economic support in its journey toward lasting peace

As for preparations for the elections, Malwal said South Sudan sought help from the United Nations and is grateful for the U.N.’s acceptance. But he criticized the council for making electoral assistance “conditional" in the resolution, "which does not conform to the spirit and letter received from the United Nations.”