Under sunny skies in Juba, the capital city of the world’s newest nation, Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) briefed members of the press.
High on his agenda: Urging this country’s leaders and people to galvanize momentum towards their first post-independence elections.
“Looking ahead, it would be impossible to envision free, fair, and credible elections in December 2024, unless all South Sudanese parties, leaders, and stakeholders grab the bull by the horns, and agree on a critical mass of decisions by the first quarter of 2024,” stated SRSG Haysom.
Vitally, the top UN official stressed that these long-delayed polls must be owned and led by the South Sudanese themselves.
“At the end of this year, the Secretary-General will be reporting to the Security Council on progress towards peaceful elections—the criteria for which should reflect the will and consensus of the South Sudanese themselves, and not a set of externally driven conditions—that is externally driven by the UN,” emphasized SRSG Haysom.
Mr Haysom spoke about his constructive diplomatic engagements in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and South Africa, where he encouraged regional support and international partnerships for South Sudan ahead of elections, as well as his recent address to the African Union Peace and Security, where he urged South Sudan’s partners to work with a shared sense of purpose, commitment, and unified messaging.
“I used this opportunity to call upon IGAD to convene a discussion on South Sudan and assist the Parties to resolve the outstanding contentious hurdles standing in the way of the implementation of the peace process and to enable all Member States to align their support accordingly,” he revealed.
Additionally, SRSG Haysom outlined the international community’s feedback.
“While there remains much international goodwill towards South Sudan, partners are looking to its leaders and, more broadly, to its political class to translate this moment of truth into a vision of shared peace and prosperity for all. Closing this gap requires a collective imagination and a spirit of practical compromise amongst the parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement,” he urged.
In this regard, Mr. Haysom welcomed the reconstitution of the National Elections Commission, the Political Parties Council, and the National Constitutional Review Commission, while highlighting that these bodies need to be resourced and operationalized urgently to execute their mandates, and calling on the government to address concerns about gender and political representation, given that the credibility of these institutions rests on the trust and confidence of the public that they serve.
“Let me underscore that elections are not a one-day event, but a process that incorporates deliberate and thoughtful decisions before, during and after the polls. All these processes must have the full buy-in and support of the South Sudanese, and especially in the case of a country emerging from divisive conflict,” he stated.
This, according to SRSG Haysom, is a whole-of-society effort that necessitates the mutually reinforcing participation of political parties, civil society, faith-based leaders, security institutions and the transitional leadership.
“Today, the honest assessment of many observers and stakeholders is that the current political and civic operating space does not offer a level playing field. Therefore, it is imperative for the parties to agree on a code of conduct around free, fair, and transparent competition. UNMISS cautions against the temptation towards unilateral actions that undermine the trust that is needed amongst all stakeholders,” he stated, and highlighted the role played by political parties, civil society, and the media in this critical undertaking.
Vitally, the Head of the UNMISS highlighted the high cost of inaction, given that South Sudan remains in a humanitarian emergency as UN agencies and other humanitarian partners grapple with funding shortages as they struggle to respond to people in need. The situation in the country’s northern neighbour—Sudan—has made things more complex with tens of thousands of refugees and returnees entering the country in past months. Adding to this, risks to the lives of aid workers continue.
“South Sudan remains one of the deadliest environments for humanitarians to operate in and I condemn, in the strongest terms, attacks against aid workers, which only prevents assistance from reaching those in need,” he stressed, while also expressing concern over reports of recent violence in the Abyei Administrative Area and Warrap State and urging the Government to action peaceful dispute resolution.
UNMISS, reassured SRSG Haysom, is continuing to protect civilians and support state authorities to the best of its capacity and resources but called on the government to complete transitional security arrangements.
As his briefing came to a close, Mr Haysom shared recommendations from the Trilateral Mechanism, which brings together the UN, IGAD and the African Union, on the way forward for this young nation as he reiterated the need for South Sudan to complete its democratic transition.
“Let’s work together to honor the sacrifices of the founding mothers and fathers of this nation, who envisioned a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future for all. UNMISS remains with you in this journey.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).