By Matthew Schaller
On September 5, the United Nations Security Council concluded a three-day visit to South Sudan by reasserting their commitment for peace in the world’s youngest country.
“The fact that we are getting on the U.N. plane and going home does not mean that we are going to forget about them,” said Ambassador Samantha Power, the United States permanent representative to the United Nations, who served as a co-head for the council delegation.
According to the U.N. News Center, the Security Council’s visit to the war-torn country followed a renewal of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan’s (UNMISS) directive, which was bolstered by the recent approval of a 4,000-man regional force to assist with protecting the capital, Juba.
Ambassador Power said there was strong commitment to the implementation of a regional protection force from both parties, but noted that the commitments would be measured by how much safer the people of South Sudan feel.
In addition to holding high-level talks with President Salva Kiir and other members of government, the delegation met with displaced people living in camps. Also known as “protection of civilians” sites, the camps highlighted the dire need for political leaders to come up with a solution to the turmoil.
The delegation also met with women who became victims of sexual assault after leaving the camps to find food and supplies for their families. “As a mother, I can imagine that choice,” Ambassador Power said. “I will go and take that risk for my children, I think any mother would.”
Yet even before the U.N. Security Council delegation touched down in South Sudan, criticism was already mounting for UNMISS to clean up its act after its failure to adequately protect civilians during the recent renewal of fighting.
According to Matt Wells, senior adviser on peacekeeping for the Center for Civilians in Conflict, warring parties continue to obstruct UNMISS’s objectives in the region. Civilians continue to be the target of abuse and humanitarian aid workers are constantly harassed.
To tackle this issue head on, Wells believes that condemnation should not be the Security Council’s only option; instead, the utilization of an arms embargo is paramount.
Although the Security Council delegation’s arrival offered a glimmer of hope for a struggling nation in its infancy, its departure has led to increased government intimidation among civil society groups, with some even fleeing the country.
So far the South Sudanese government has told three local civil rights organizations to pack their bags. Donald Booth, the U.S. Special Envoy to South Sudan, however, estimated that the figure could be as high as 40 organizations.
South Sudan has struggled to distance itself from a civil war along ethnic lines that broke out in December 2013 and has since resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Fighting has been sporadic since then, but an outbreak of violence in July led the Security Council to approve an additional 4,000 regional peacekeepers.
ABC News reports that the additional peacekeepers may take more than two months to arrive in the country. President Kiir, however, has signaled that no forces will be able to enter until the South Sudanese government can determine which nations can contribute troops.
Through it all, Ambassador Fode Seck of Senegal, the co-head of the Security Council delegation, expressed hope that South Sudan “is so blessed by nature and it can become the giant of Africa, feeding Africa, exporting and contributing to the continent’s development.”