U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
April 25, 2017
I want to thank Mr. Shearer for his briefings. I’d like to thank the leadership of Ambassador Seck and the briefings of Ambassador Ciss that you gave us today.
The BBC recently ran a report with a headline that asked the question, “Why are there still famines?” It’s a good question. The United Nations has declared that we are facing the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II due to famine in Africa and Yemen. Twenty million people are at risk for starvation. In South Sudan, five and a half million face life-threatening hunger if nothing changes soon. That’s fully half the population of this young and troubled country. How can so many people be facing starvation given the technological and humanitarian capabilities we have today?
Last month in this Council, Ambassador Sison gave the best answer there is to famine in South Sudan: “The famine is not the result of drought; it is the result of leaders more interested in political power and personal gain than in stopping violence and allowing humanitarian access.”
The famine in South Sudan is manmade. It is the result of ongoing conflict in that country. It is the result of an apparent campaign against the civilian population. It is the result of killing humanitarian workers – 16 in this year alone. It is the result of denying starving people access to the food and medicine that will save their lives. That is the reason there is famine in South Sudan.
I commend the United Nations for continuing to shelter over 200,000 South Sudanese civilians at sites across the country. It is thanks to this effort and the dedication of aid workers that there is at least some relief for the people of South Sudan. The UN has also made some progress with our peacekeeping mission there. In response to failures by the mission last year, we are doing a better job protecting civilians. The mission succeeded in establishing weapons-free zones around civilian protection sites in Juba, contributing to a significant drop in reported crime and violence, including sexual violence against women.
In contrast, the parties to the conflict in South Sudan have little to no progress to report. Last month, we issued a Presidential Statement that called on all parties to take several urgent steps. As we meet here today, none of these steps have been taken. Not one. We called on the warring parties to immediately adhere to a ceasefire. There is no ceasefire in South Sudan today. Instead, there are reports of serious human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law – many at the hands of government forces. Thousands of civilians continue to pour out of the country to escape the conflict. So many people have fled the violence that Uganda is now home to the world’s largest refugee camp.
We called on South Sudan to allow our peacekeepers to do their job – a job that includes protecting civilians, monitoring and investigating human rights, and creating conditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid. We called on the warring parties to allow humanitarian organizations to do their job. Neither of these things has happened. The government continues to obstruct the peacekeeping mission from reaching those most in need.
Aid workers continue to be killed trying to help the victims the fighting has created. In fact, South Sudan is the most dangerous country in the world for aid workers today. More people die trying to help in South Sudan than in any other country. It’s not even close. In addition, the government has still not taken any meaningful action to punish the soldiers responsible for the July 2016 attack on aid workers at the Terrain Hotel in Juba.
Finally, we called on the parties to the conflict to support the efforts of the UN, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority of Development to reach a political settlement. That, too, has not happened.
It is obvious that our Presidential Statement now joins the long list of other statements and resolutions from this Council that have been ignored by the warring factions in South Sudan.
We have shown patience, and our patience has been rewarded with continued fighting and deepening suffering of the South Sudanese people. We have shown faith that certain steps by the South Sudanese government would help end the fighting and lessen the humanitarian crisis. But the opposite has happened.
How long can we continue to make statements that are ignored? Or issue calls to action that fall on deaf ears? How many more selfless, dedicated aid workers can we watch being murdered with impunity? It is clear that the warring parties do not have the political will to end this conflict on their own. And so it falls on us to consider our next steps carefully, and without any illusions.
Once more, we call on all parties to stop the violence, allow aid groups to address the humanitarian crisis, and return to the negotiating table. We urge all parties to seriously engage with the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and the UN to achieve a ceasefire and immediate humanitarian access. And we ask our regional and international partners to respond with appropriate urgency to the situation in South Sudan, and we call on the AU and UN envoys to put forward an operational plan of active engagement for peace in South Sudan. And I call on this Council to move forward with the tools available to it, such as with further sanctions and an arms embargo, or the violence and the atrocities will continue. We must not wait for more deaths, more displacement, and more destruction before we have the courage to act. This is unacceptable. We must see a sign that progress is possible.
The first sign we must see is South Sudanese government abiding by President Kiir’s promise to fellow heads of state, one month ago today, to announce a unilateral ceasefire. We must see that ceasefire implemented with orders for Sudan People’s Liberation Army troops to immediately return to their barracks. We must see a dramatic change in the treatment of humanitarian workers in South Sudan. Since the outbreak of the civil war in December 2013, we’ve all said 83 humanitarian workers have been killed. On April 10, Peter Alex, a World Food Program aid worker, was detained. The government should heed calls for his release. Moreover, the government must cease obstructions to humanitarian assistance.
We cannot and should not continue on the path we are on without some reassurance that South Sudan’s leaders are willing to commit to the hard work of peace. It is time for South Sudan’s leaders to show they are willing to put their people ahead of personal and political self-interest. And it is time for this Council to acknowledge that our requests have been disregarded and ignored.
I sat here, and I watched the many statements that were given in thanks to Mr. Shearer, and it was nice, and they were genuine. But you gave him no help whatsoever to do his job, because you’re allowing President Kiir to continue to do what he’s doing. We’re continuing to talk about how sorry we are for the people of South Sudan. We’re continuing to talk about how we wish there was national dialogue, but yet there’s no dialogue to be had. We talk about how we wish we could get humanitarian workers in there, but we’re not doing anything to force the government. We talk about how much more needs to be done in South Sudan, yet no one is stepping up and saying, “Let’s do it.”
If you truly appreciate the work Mr. Shearer is doing, if you truly care for the people of South Sudan, then we must tell the South Sudanese government that we are not going to put up with this anymore. If you care about the leadership of this Security Council, we should not allow a Presidential Statement to be totally ignored. And the person that’s benefitting from the division of this Council is the South Sudanese government. So if you want them to continue to harass the people of South Sudan, if you want to continue to see starvation in South Sudan, doing nothing is exactly what you need to keep doing. But if we’re going to stop it, and if we’re really going to truly say we want to help the people of South Sudan, that’s not about dialogue. That’s not about hope. That’s not about wishes. That’s about action, and I call on this Security Council to act.
And I thank you.