As we sit safely in this Council Chamber, villages in South Sudan are being raided and plundered and set ablaze. Thousands of men, women and children are being driven from their homes, separated from their families and forced to endure terror and hunger as they seek safety in squalid camps.
The toll of suffering in South Sudan has grown inexorably. At the close of 2015, some 2 million people had been displaced. Today, that figure has risen to 3 million, almost half of whom are refugees in neighbouring countries, including up to a million in Uganda. Last month alone, the brutal cycle of raiding, retaliation and counter-retaliation compelled another 80,000 people to flee. And, most tellingly of all, famine has been declared in areas of Former Unity State – the first famine in the world for six years.
Any visitor to that region of South Sudan will know that its green and fertile plains are watered by the tributaries of the White Nile. Nature and geography therefore cannot explain why famine has struck; only the avarice and folly of human beings are to blame. And I’m reminded of the hymn of Bishop Heber: “Though every prospect pleases, only man is vile.” And we should be in no doubt that famine could blight other areas if the fighting does not stop. Against this background, no member of the Security Council can escape our responsibility to renew our efforts to restore peace in South Sudan. Today and each day afterwards, we must demonstrate the unity of this Council over what needs to be done.
The Peace Accord of 2015 must be revived in order to deliver a genuine political process, embracing all the people of South Sudan, and beginning the task of reconciliation and healing. There are three key steps to achieve this. First, there can be no real dialogue for as long as South Sudan is ravaged by fighting. All parties must respect an immediate cessation of hostilities. As President, Salva Kiir is responsible for taking the first step – and others must follow. Second, there must be impartial leadership of the effort to revive the political process.
Finally, any talks will only bring long-term peace if all South Sudanese are represented.
That means including not only the opposing forces, but also other armed groups, political parties, displaced people, refugees, youth and women. President Konaré, the AU High Representative for South Sudan, Prime Minister Hailemariam, the Chair of IGAD, and António Guterres, the Secretary General, have resolved to drive this forward together. I also welcome President Mogae, the Chair of the Joint Management and Evaluation Commission, who is responsible for enforcing implementation of the peace agreement.
We, as the Security Council, must demonstrate our wholehearted support for their efforts. And those responsible for atrocities must be brought to account through the establishment of a Hybrid Court. Given the scale of the suffering, all of the opposing forces have special responsibility to allow the delivery of aid wherever required, anywhere in the country. I am deeply concerned by reports that the Government of South Sudan has denied its own citizens the help they so desperately need by blocking humanitarian deliveries – including in Unity State, where famine has struck. We should all make clear that denying food to the starving is simply unconscionable. Nor can we accept a situation whereby the Government or any armed group obstructs the efforts of aid agencies to deliver emergency supplies or of UNMISS to protect civilians.
We should also spell out, with unity, clarity and conviction, what progress we expect from the Government. And we need to back this up by resolving that this Council will consider alternative measures – including an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on individuals – if this progress fails to materialise. The UK remains convinced that an arms embargo would serve to protect ordinary South Sudanese from the worst excesses of military power and on a future occasion we will ask the Council to reconsider this measure.
Our strength of feeling arises, partly from Britain’s profound ties of history and friendship with the people of South Sudan. We were a guarantor of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 which paved the way for South Sudan to achieve independence. The UK was a witness to the Peace Accord of 2015 that sought - unavailingly – to end the current conflict. We are now the second biggest bilateral donor to South Sudan. And we are strengthening UNMISS peacekeeping by deploying almost 400 British military engineers, medics and a field hospital.
The Council will know that over 200,000 civilians are sheltering inside UN sites across South Sudan, unable to leave these barbed wire confines in case they are murdered for no other reason than their ethnicity. Day after day, UNMISS tries to protect these civilians – and I know that British peacekeepers will help UNMISS fulfil this task. But South Sudan’s people should not have to rely on outside protection. And if our efforts falter, the Council should be in no doubt that South Sudan’s tragedy could become yet worse.
There is an urgent need for collective action, particularly by neighbouring countries who already host 1.4 million refugees. As Ms Sunday has just told the Council today, the innocent and the most vulnerable are enduring the greatest suffering in this war.
We’re all here today because we have an obligation to act and we cannot leave this meeting believing that our work is done. And we should acknowledge that a terrible failure of political leadership lies behind the bloodshed. At every level we must therefore place pressure on the leaders of South Sudan – both in Government and in opposition – to act in the best interests of their people.
We – the Security Council, the UN, IGAD and the AU - must help the South Sudanese to come together to agree on a common vision of their country’s future. And we should all stand ready to make that vision a reality.