It is worrying that there has been no progress on an issue as critical as security sector reform. Without real integration of forces under a singular command structure, as well as strengthening and training the national police force as part of the preparations, elections risk bringing with them a return to the horrors of the past.
Less than 14 months before elections are scheduled to take place and with 15 months left in the transitional period, our concern is growing. Let me touch upon three areas of particular concern.
First of all, Mr. Chairperson, we are concerned that preparations for elections are moving too slowly.
According to the timelines in the Roadmap and the Peace Agreement, South Sudan will hold its first post-independence elections in December 2024 nine years behind the original schedule, two years behind the schedule in the most recent peace agreement.
Elections are not easy. Advanced democracies with well-established institutions dedicate ample amounts of both time and resources to election preparations, even when they have done it many times before. A legitimate election result depends entirely on a fair, transparent, and credible process that allows eligible individuals to cast their votes freely without coercion or manipulation. It is only when the process adheres to fundamental expectations of the people and to international and regional norms, that the process rends a legitimate result.
The power-sharing mechanisms of the current peace agreement gave authority to the leaders in Juba to make appointments to executive and legislative positions both at national and state level. In a transitional period, this might be acceptable. But this is not a sustainable governing structure for the long term. A credible election process is crucial to restore the link between government representatives and their constituencies, at all levels of government.
We acknowledge the reconstitution of the National Elections Commission and the Political Parties Council. Both institutions are crucial elements in the electoral architecture. But we also need to see that the election bodies are provided with the resources and authority they need to deliver in accordance with their mandate. Only then will their appointment amount to a meaningful step towards free, fair, and credible elections.
At the last RJMEC plenary the Troika called for a comprehensive strategy from the transitional government to ensure elections in line with the aspirations of the Peace Agreement. We reiterate this call today. Time is scarce, and the need for compromise grows by the day. A plan for the next 13 months is necessary to get the electoral process on a credible track. The transitional government has committed to it, the people deserve it, and any future government will depend on it.
Secondly, Mr. Chairperson, we are concerned about the lack of an open and vibrant political and civic space.
A precondition for any successful election process is a conducive environment where all stakeholders are allowed to meet the voters and freely share their views and visions for the country.
If anything, South Sudan is moving in the wrong direction. Recently, a report by the UN Commission on Human Rights documented “systemic curtailment of democratic and civic space”. In its report the Commission details how the security sector censors the press, interferes with civil society, and suppresses opposition parties. Sadly, this report only serves as confirmation of what we see and hear, from civil society, from journalists, and from political parties yet to be recognized and respected as such.
We await action from the transitional government to open the civic and political space. A revised legal framework for the security apparatus would be a start. In February, we noted the agreement between the principals on a revised NSS act. A key aspect was the removal of the power of arrest without a warrant. Presenting a warrant for arrest is and should be a fundamental requirement of any security organ abiding by the most basic principles of the rule of law. It is disappointing to see that the draft legislation has yet to be enacted by the transitional legislature.
Revising legislation can only go so far in addressing the true conditions for civic and political discourse. However, its responsibility rests squarely on the transitional government, and no financial resources are needed for its enactment. Sadly, the lack of political will and sense of urgency to implement incremental changes to improve the space for disparate opinions and opposition views, reflects poorly on the Parties’ commitment to a free, fair, and credible election process.
Thirdly and finally, Mr. Chairperson, we are concerned about the lack of an enabling environment for delivery of services and assistance to the People of South Sudan.
Extreme poverty in South Sudan is expected to increase in 2024. Humanitarian needs are expected to increase. The arrivals of returnees and refugees from Sudan are expected to increase. At the same time, international humanitarian funding will shrink substantially. We need more efficient delivery. An enabling environment will be crucial.
Unfortunately, not only is South Sudan the most dangerous country in the world for humanitarian workers. It is also a country where humanitarian organizations are overwhelmed with bureaucratic demands that hamper their ability to deliver humanitarian relief.
We call on the transitional government to take concrete steps to remove checkpoints and other illicit efforts to extract revenue from humanitarian aid operations.
Also, we observe, and we see reports from the humanitarian organizations, of very creative bureaucratic impediments set up by local authorities, sometimes bordering on extortion. Part of the problem is opaque legislation and regulations that allows for manipulation to benefit certain people and groups. This must be stopped.
An often forgotten, but crucially important, chapter of the Peace Agreement is chapter III on humanitarian assistance. According to art. 3.1.1 the Parties shall create an “enabling political, administrative, operational and legal environment” for delivery of humanitarian assistance and protection.
The transitional government should also significantly increase its financial contribution to humanitarian assistance to the refugees and returnees. Indeed, we call upon the transitional government to use public revenue for a range of unfunded public needs, including timely payment of civil service and security sector salaries, basic services to South Sudan’s citizens, and for electoral institutions.
Mr. Chairperson, we remain deeply concerned about the persistent lack of political will and lack of a sense of urgency to implement the Parties’ own peace commitments. The Troika calls on the parties to demonstrate political will to overcome differences, reach compromises, and accelerate progress throughout the remaining transitional period.
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