The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has claimed that the South Sudanese Government is ignoring the current famine crisis which is occurring as a result of the prolonged civil strife in the country. Making remarks to the Security Council on March 23rd, Guterres stated that “the Government has yet to express any meaningful concern or take any tangible steps to address the plight of its people”. The leadership has refused to “even acknowledge the crisis” and is not fulfilling its “responsibilities to end it”. He stressed the dire situation as continuing to “generate profound suffering” for South Sudan’s civilians.
These remarks follow from prior statements made on March 21st by Herve Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, labeling the situation as “very worrisome” and advocating for a political solution. He made note of the importance of the 2015 peace agreement signed between President Salva Kiir and the opposition rebel leader Riek Machar. The peace process, however, has been fraught with difficulties and the current famine crisis has ensued.
In February, the UN officially declared famine in South Sudan’s Unity state. The situation is considered to be man-made, due to the intense conflict occurring in the country since 2013. Currently more than 1.9 million people are internally displaced, with 100,000 experiencing famine and 1 million on the brink of famine. It is expected to rise to 5.5 million within the next few months. This has presented a challenge for world leaders to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict without the use of force.
The US deputy representative to the UN, Michele Sison, again raised the possibility for the implementation of an arms embargo and sanctions on officials responsible. In December 2016, such a resolution failed to be adopted. The UN has implemented non-violent conflict resolution ever since the fighting erupted. The United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) was established in 2011 to reinforce peace and security, with its mandate updated in 2014 to help protect civilians, monitor human rights and provide humanitarian assistance. Whilst UNMISS peacekeepers have provided vital support towards the peace process, more cooperation between South Sudan’s leaders and the wider international community is required to achieve a solution.
Guterres underlined collective action as necessary going forward, stating that “the region and the Security Council must speak with one voice”. This involves the UN and South Sudan working closer with the African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development to “reinvigorate the political process and resolve long-standing inter-communal disputes”. Future plans for the Security Council also include the deployment of a Regional Protection Force, approved last August, but which has been delayed by South Sudan’s government.
The Secretary-General further outlined three immediate objectives to be achieved. First, immediately end the hostilities; Second, resume the peace process to include “the opposition, civil society and all South Sudanese; and Third, ensure “unrestricted humanitarian access, including freedom of movement for UNMISS and for the future Regional Protection Force”. Support for these objectives will hopefully place pressure on their implementation by leaders.
South Sudan’s Deputy Ambassador, Joseph Malok, responded by denying that the Government was responsible for the famine, and that any sanctions or arms embargo would further aggravate the situation.
Further cooperation must be implemented to end the hostilities and come to a solution to increase food security and eradicate famine. Collective action to ensure the stability of the country is necessary to uphold the peace agreement and end the violence currently perpetrated against civilians. Political will towards peace needs to be reinforced to save the millions of lives which will potentially be affected by the famine.