Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on South Sudan

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
July 20, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you also to Assistant Secretary-General Wane and President Mogae for your briefings.

When it comes to South Sudan, we hear lots of promises. We hear promises from South Sudan’s leaders that they will finally get serious about pursuing peace. We hear promises to allow aid to reach the starving and the sick, and promises that humanitarian workers will not be harassed when they try to do their jobs. And on the basis of these promises, the Security Council waits and waits. We wait for things to change in South Sudan.

But nothing is changing in South Sudan. The violence continues. Horrific atrocities are reported so often that they become almost routine. People continue to flee across South Sudan’s borders to neighboring countries. UN peacekeepers continue to face obstacles in carrying out their mandate to protect civilians. Humanitarians are blocked from delivering life-saving assistance. For the people of South Sudan, life is worse than ever before.

This Council needs to hold the parties on the ground accountable for their broken promises. Start with the violence. This Council has been calling for a ceasefire in South Sudan since fighting escalated more than a year ago. In May, the government declared a “unilateral ceasefire.” But rather than hold their fire, government forces are opening up new battle fronts. These military operations are forcing thousands of people from their homes. The fighting has forced dozens of humanitarian workers to be evacuated, leaving even more civilians without any help. It is a travesty, truly a travesty.

Committing to a ceasefire is just one broken promise. Protecting civilians is another one. A few weeks ago, UN peacekeepers tried to reach an orphanage to help get 250 kids out of harm’s way. The UN was doing its job. But the authorities would not allow the peacekeepers to pass. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Fortunately, the UN was eventually able to get there after a delay. But thousands of other civilians can’t be reached. They remain trapped by fighting and unable to receive any assistance whatsoever.

Humanitarian aid has eased famine in certain parts of the country, but the overall trend is getting worse, not better. Hunger in South Sudan has reached unprecedented levels. More than 6 million people are now severely food insecure – that’s half of South Sudan’s population. 1.7 million people are on the brink of starving to death because aid agencies can’t reach them. According to UN statistics, June was the worst month for access by aid workers so far this year. Despite promising to stop, the government is still asking humanitarian groups to pay expensive fees just to continue operating in the country. The humanitarian community is in a position to help, but the government and fighters on the ground need to allow them to get there.

In short, another month has passed with no improvement on the ground. In March, this Council adopted a Presidential Statement with a number of specific demands. We called on the parties to stop fighting, commit to a political process, and allow for unfettered humanitarian access, but virtually none of these steps happened. So this Council must be prepared to hold the parties accountable for their inaction and for the continued suffering of South Sudan’s people. The Council must put real pressure on the parties to change their behavior.

That should start with additional targeted sanctions and an arms embargo. These measures would show that this Council is serious about pushing for an end to this fighting and a return to the negotiating table.

The United States appreciates that the region has appointed a new special envoy and will convene a High-Level Revitalization Forum to support a ceasefire and a political process. This Forum has broad support from South Sudan’s international partners, including endorsement from the African Union. Tragically, this support for a new Forum shows that international partners do not have confidence that South Sudan’s leaders are taking meaningful steps to live up to their obligations as signatories to the 2015 peace agreement.

It is high time for action. The revitalization process is the last chance for salvaging the peace agreement. The United States expects that it will lead to a realistic and meaningful outcome. If South Sudan’s leaders do not participate in this High-Level Forum in good faith and stick to its deadlines, the United States will need to review our position and priorities on support for the peace agreement and its implementing bodies. The bottom line is that we want this regional mediation to succeed, and we need to see South Sudan’s leaders engaged in it, at long last.

South Sudan’s people deserve leaders who live up to their promises. Even facing extreme hardship, the people have not given up hope of something better. There is one town a few hours south of the capital, where 70 percent of the population reportedly fled after fighting broke out. But a small group of children, including many orphans, stayed and found shelter at a local Catholic school. At that school, according to a report from the UN, 14 teachers are volunteering to help the kids. The school’s motto is, “We can’t surrender.” When these young kids were asked what they want, one child put it very simply: “I want to beg our leaders, let them bring peace to South Sudan so that [the] children will enjoy their life like the one of long ago.” These kids are facing impossible challenges, and they have not given up on a dream of peace for South Sudan. Neither can we. We in the international community can, and must, act to make the promise of peace a reality.

Thank you, Mr. President.