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Africa Regional Media Hub / Remarks Following a UN Security Council Visit to a Protection of Civilians Site in Juba, South Sudan

AMBASSADOR POWER: Thank you, so much. And thank all of you for coming here today to be part of such a gracious welcome. It’s a great honor for me as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations to join my Senegalese colleague in co-leading this trip to South Sudan and to visit South Sudan alongside the full 15 members of the UN Security Council who are completely united in our desire to see peace in South Sudan and to see the people of this country live with the security and the dignity that they have craved for a very long time.

For me, personally, it’s great to be back in South Sudan. I was last here roughly two years ago. We are here, unfortunately, not in a celebratory frame of mind but because of our deep concern about the fighting that has degraded the security environment and that has exacerbated a devastating humanitarian crisis for the people of this country. The international community is extremely frustrated with the obstruction of UN peacekeeping operations – that has gone on for too long. It has been extremely difficult for the UN to do its work here, whether that’s the work of being out and about and patrolling on the streets in the hopes of protecting civilians who might be vulnerable, or just the work of having humanitarian access so that you can feed people who are, in certain parts of this country, at grave risk of famine.

More than 40 percent of the population face life-threatening hunger – that is enough to get the whole world’s attention. It is a siren. And we’ve seen, of course, since December 2013, a very large number of people displaced within South Sudan, but also 900,000 refugees who have fled the country alongside the 1.6 million IDPs. So with the poverty and the extreme hunger, the international community has tried to step up. We have tried to make very substantial contributions in terms of food – but we have to do this in partnership in order for people who need that food to be reached, again, in very difficult security conditions.

We’ve all been very alarmed by the killing of civilians that has occurred, and a surge in the reports of sexual assault being carried out against people in South Sudan – South Sudanese – in very large numbers and, also of course, international personnel. Some of those reports, as you know, have been filed on the basis of claims made about attacks that occurred right outside some of the UN protection of civilians sites. And given how deeply committed we are to supporting the UN and its efforts to keep people safe at those sites and around those sites and to perform UNMISS’ mandate of civilian protection, we have a lot of questions about how those attacks can have occurred and why there has been no visible accountability for the perpetrators of those attacks.

The peace agreement, of course, is the framework that the Security Council and the regional actors, who Fodé will speak to momentarily, we are all here in support of that peace agreement. It is extremely important that an enabling environment be created here by all stakeholders to allow for the implementation of that agreement.

We have also come to make clear that the best way forward, the best way of averting further destabilization and giving that peace agreement a chance to take hold, giving the civilians a chance to receive the food that they vitally need, but more importantly to get back to planting and taking care of their own destinies. One of the most important ways to do that is to allow the Regional Protection Force that has just been authorized to be deployed. This was the force with a set of tasks specified in Resolution 2304, providing for free and safe movement in Juba, supporting the protection of vital infrastructure, and preventing threats against civilians.

UNMISS, of course, has long had a mandate to protect civilians and to use all necessary means to do so. But we’ve seen that UNMISS has dedicated huge resources to these protection sites that have grown up at UN bases, and that was never envisaged when UNMISS was mandated with civilian protection – it was not understood that you’d have 200,000 South Sudanese at those bases. And that requires a huge amount of resource in order to just do what they call “static protection.” So this Regional Protection Force can be very important in enhancing the sense of security and building confidence, and in allowing UNMISS to have capacity to go out and about and go beyond the protection of civilians sites.

We’re very eager to hear from the government about what its intentions are as it relates to the force. We’re pleased that they have accepted the force in principle, and we know that the details are being worked through, but we are also here to underscore that time is of the essence. And Resolution 2304 makes that very clear. There really is no time to delay, given the acute humanitarian needs of the population and the insecurity that has plagued too many parts of the country.

The Council has received continuing disturbing reports about impediments being placed that interfere with UNMISS’ ability to do its work and humanitarian actors’ ability to do their work. And this is a message that we will deliver to all of the parties that we meet with, including the government. It is so important to let the UN do its work, to let it do its job, and to allow the UN to be a partner in the effort that many leaders are trying to make to bring peace back to this country. The negative rhetoric about the UN doesn’t help anybody, it just makes the UN a target and it endangers South Sudanese civilians, so it has to stop.

Finally, I just want to close by stressing that there’s a convergence here of very dire circumstances: economic circumstances that I know the government is very focused on – very alarming inflation, very alarming economic deterioration; security circumstances – I gather there has been, again, a return to some sense of normalcy here in Juba but in large parts of the country, of course, fighting persists even as recently as today; and the humanitarian conditions for the displaced and for those that haven’t even been reached by South Sudanese authorities or by the international community. Those conditions are so dire. We have a lot of dire situations in the world – this is one of the worst. And we are prepared, as the international community, to continue to invest in standing with the people of South Sudan, but we need the Government of South Sudan to do its part and allow the UN and the humanitarian community to be the partners that they really want to be, again, to the South Sudanese people.

So we’re here to listen and to learn. I agree very much with what my colleague has said – that we will come out of South Sudan knowing much more than we know right now. But we also really want to move the ball, and we really need to see progress on the deployment of the Regional Protection Force, on lifting obstruction of humanitarian actors and of UNMISS, and hopefully moving forward on the political agreement which is going to have to be the foundation for stability going forward.

I thank you all and I turn the floor to my colleague form Senegal.

AMBASSADOR SECK: Good afternoon, everybody. I was tempted to speak in French because French is my official language, but I try and say a few words in English. Samantha has laid out the purpose of this visit. I just want to remind my South Sudanese counterpart that we, from Senegal, at least the tribe to which I belong, history has emigrated from here to Senegal. The former president of my country has a book where you can find similarities – languages here and in Senegal. I told you and I told my former counterpart in Geneva, so it’s a pilgrimage for me coming here for the first time in South Sudan. That being said, as we were negotiating the Resolution 2304, we – the African members of the Security Council, namely Angola, Egypt, and Senegal – did discuss the actions among ourselves. We talked to you. We received briefings from different sectors of this great country’s populations, the government – not directly, but through you; UNMISS; but also your very vibrant civil society. I was surprised, at least [inaudible] how vibrant the civil society is in this country. We also received briefings from those people, not to mention the whole UN family and the humanitarian organizations.

So when we were discussing this resolution, we took into consideration all of that. Senegal, being an African country, Angola, Egypt – national sovereignty is paramount for all our countries. I want to make it very, very clear. So when IGAD Plus came up the resolution, the communique, asking for this protection force – because we resisted the intervention force – the word intervention in Africa rings very, very unpleasant bells. So this is a protection force. That’s why the resolution has been adopted unanimously.

When we were explaining our votes, after the vote, this South Sudan sovereign integrity was paramount. You accepted, in principle, the deployment. One paragraph of the IGAD Communique made it abundantly clear this deployment would be done in collaboration with South Sudanese government. I think, as we speak now, we have reviewed the recent developments here. I think the Chiefs of Staffs of the (inaudible) region and yourself have been working and progress has been made. I think this is the spirit in which the Security Council come to see you. I don’t have much to add. Wishing that the meetings we have with government tomorrow, also with civil society, and I understand the president himself, will help us understand more and accompany better. The UN is here to accompany, we’re not going to be here to impose. (Inaudible.) Merci à tous.

AMBASSADOR POWER: Thank you, Fodé.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador Power and thank, you Ambassador Seck. Thank you also for his excellency, Abdul Agau, the Secretary-General of the Republic of South Sudan, and other representatives from the government. We can only take a few questions because, obviously, the delegation are very tired. There will be other opportunities throughout the course of the few days where you’ll have some other media interactions, so if you could please keep your questions short, I would be grateful.

QUESTION: Ladies first.

MODERATOR: Ladies first. We have a microphone.

QUESTION: Thank you. Michelle Nichols from Reuters. Ambassador Power might be best placed to do this one. Do you believe the government of South Sudan has provided enough cooperation to avoid further discussion among the Security Council of the decision of an arms embargo?

AMBASSADOR POWER: Thank you. What is very significant about Security Council Resolution 2304 is that we have very clear benchmarks in the resolution, and there is a timeframe attached to it. You know, I don’t think the negotiations have moved briskly, but they are moving, as my colleague from Senegal indicated. And I think it is significant that the Chiefs of Defense have engaged, as I understand it, a couple times, with their South Sudanese counterparts. It is going to be essential that South Sudan welcome this force, which has such a critical role to play in supporting South Sudan’s peace process. So since we haven’t yet moved past the time period allotted in the resolution, I think it would be premature to assess whether the level of cooperation is sufficient, but I think it is extremely important. And it is one of the reasons that we have taken the visit precisely when we have – for us to convey to the government of South Sudan that time is of the essence, because we are very quickly running up against the deadline, and the Secretary-General is going to need to be able to report back that cooperation has been forthcoming, that the Regional Protection Force is going to be deployed, that consent at a tactical level is being achieved.

I want to stress one other point, which is there’s a lot of focus in the UN Security Council resolution about the Regional Protection Force because we heard concerns articulated from the government of South Sudan, and people understandably want to understand what the force is going to do and get comfortable with it. I do agree with Fodé that the early references to the force as an intervention brigade may have left a bad taste in some folks’ mouths, and so part of the reason we’re here, also, is to clarify what the force is here to do. And it is very deliberately, as Fodé said, described as a Regional Protection Force, in that it’s comprised of forces from the region in order to enhance protection here.

But the second element of the resolution that gets less attention is that UNMISS – which is already here – is being obstructed. And so part of what needs to happen right alongside those negotiations with the RPF is that some of the restrictions on patrolling, the harassment, the rhetoric that treats UNMISS as something other than a partner to peace – that also has to stop. And so it is not on the Security Council to report about whether the conditions laid out in the resolution have been met. Ultimately that’s going to be up to the UN to report. But we really hope to see substantial improvement in the relationship between the government of South Sudan and UNMISS, and we hope that this visit can help facilitate that improvement, and it is a critical part, again, to the Secretary-General’s reporting that he will have to do here in a couple weeks.

MODERATOR: Okay, a couple more questions. A gentleman here at the back on the left.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. I’m Danny (inaudible) from (inaudible). I just wanted to know – this visit, what would you like to – you see that it’s a key to achieve during this visit?

AMBASSADOR POWER: I think, as I just indicated, we would like to see better understanding between the government of South Sudan and the UN – and the UN being UNMISS but also the UN Security Council. We would like to see progress made on the Regional Protection Force and we would like to see very concrete commitments with regard to accountability. There have been, again, a very significant spike in attacks not only against South Sudanese people, not only against international aid workers who are part of the lifeline here to keeping a hungry population afloat, but also attacks against UN peacekeepers. We have as part of our delegation the representative from China whose country suffered horrible causalities in July. There has got to be accountability when civilians are targeted, when UN personnel are targeted. It is very significant, I think, that the AU is moving forward with its plans to set up a hybrid court, so we also want to engage the government on that and encourage full cooperation with that court. Until there is an end to the sense of impunity that people who kill and block humanitarian aid and commit sexual assault – until that sense of impunity that they have ends – it’s going to be very difficult for there to be lasting peace here in South Sudan.

So commitments as it relates to UNMISS and the RPF. Commitments as it relates to accountability. And I think a spirit of partnership we would like to try to recapture. Many of us were intensively involved in the effort to bring about South Sudan’s independence. And the unity of the Council – the fact that all the permanent members of the Council and the non-permanent members united around the effort that the region was making to bring about South Sudan’s independence – that unity was so important. We have unity as well today on behalf of South Sudan’s peace and on behalf of the importance of the people of South Sudan having protection. And we would like to see that same spirit of partnership that helped bring South Sudan into being as the most recent member of the United Nations – that spirit recaptured in the relationship between UMISS, and the humanitarian community, and the government of South Sudan.

AMBASSADOR SECK: Ambassador just invited us to visit Juba by night today because security is here in Juba. But South Sudan is not only Juba. It’s other part of South Sudan. How security can also be extended to those parts of the country. But also, many mechanisms – joint – have been in visit over a peace agreement – how those mechanisms are functioning or being reorganized to function better. Because at the UN, we engage South Sudan and also regional organizations. You have IGAD, you have the AU, all those also making their own benchmark as to how the South Sudanese authorities are cooperating with the UN.

MODERATOR: Gentleman here on the left with the grey suit – behind you.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible). My question is – you say you will deploy the UN forces with the cooperation with the government. My question is, if the government refuses to deploy the UN forces in South Sudan, what is your Plan B? Because we know there are South Sudanese who don’t want UN forces to enter into South Sudan. So what is your Plan B?

AMBASSADOR POWER: Well, as I mentioned, there are a lot of people who have been acting with impunity, carrying out killings and rape, looting, stealing humanitarian aid, looting – as we saw in Juba – even a World Food Program warehouse that had food for innocent, hungry people in this country – looted, just like that. So people who are operating with impunity don’t want to cooperate with UNMISS and don’t want to cooperate with a Regional Protection Force. They don’t want to see UNMISS strengthened. That stands to reason. They want to operate with impunity.

So, I think what’s really important about this visit is that we are focused on Plan A. We are united around Plan A. We expect the government of South Sudan, as the newest member state to the United Nations, to want to end the culture of impunity, to want to end killing and sexual assault and ethnically-based attacks and political attacks. So, we are here as a Council to not have to get to Plan B. It would be a grave disappointment – not merely for the UN Security Council – but for the people of this country who count on the government.

So, I think that we each have a lot to listen and learn from one another, but ultimately, again, we think this Regional Protection Force – when properly understood, and I think we’re already seeing progress in this regard – is something that the key leaders in South Sudan will see as being in the interest of the South Sudanese people.

If they don’t, and if that doesn’t happen, the UN Security Council resolution is itself very explicit about what Plan B will entail, and the Council will have to come together and consider the steps that we’ve laid out in the resolution, which include targeted sanctions and an arms embargo. But our objective, I want to stress, is to not to have to get to that and for the government and for all relevant actors in this country to embrace the Regional Protection Force – and embrace the UN family generally – as partners in the effort to ensure the dignity and security of the people of this country.

MODERATOR: I think ladies and gentleman. That brings us to the end. We are running out of time. As I said, there will be other opportunities over the next few days where you will have face time interaction with other members of the Security Council. Thank you very much.

Distributed by APO on behalf of U.S. Department of State.