Statement at Security Council briefing on South Sudan

Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Security Council Briefing on South Sudan, 18 March 2014, New York.

Date: 18 Mar 2014

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Madame President, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Two years ago, the international community celebrated with the people of South Sudan their independence, new statehood, and entry into the United Nations.

Today South Sudan has lost its peace and the international community is called upon to support the restoration of their hard-won peace, as violence by conflicting parties continues.
This has caused a serious humanitarian crisis that has had a disproportionate impact on women and girls.

Since the current conflict began in December, I have met with women from civil society and representatives from South Sudan inside the country, as well as in Addis Ababa during the African Union summit, and this week here in New York in the course of the Commission on the Status of Women.

One month ago, I had the opportunity to visit Juba. On my arrival, I was greeted by nearly 100 women wearing T-shirts that said, South Sudan Women for Peace.

These women come from all parts of the country, from all sides of the conflict and they are partners of UN Women. And they are also your partners for peace and security in South Sudan.

During my trip, I met with President Salva Kiir, key Cabinet Ministers, including Ministers for Cabinet Affairs, Justice, Education and Finance. I also met with donors, UN agencies, the Speaker of Parliament, Members of the National Legislative Assembly, women leaders and displaced women living in the UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites.

The onset of the rainy season has exacerbated an already critical situation.

I was appalled at the conditions of those living in the protection sites. 

The density of people in living spaces was 13 times the recommended humanitarian minimum. These conditions pose significant health, protection and security risks to girls and women.

In some sites there is only one latrine for more than 200 people, and open sewers run through the camp itself.

Women and girls have been exposed to heightened levels of violence and crime, including sexual and gender-based violence.

Attacks are occurring both inside the camp and outside the camp when they leave to search for food to feed their families.

The population in the camps I saw were overwhelmingly women and children. The women I spoke with were often distressed and traumatized. 

Data from one of the sites indicates that 58 per cent of households are female headed and 34 per cent of households are missing one or more family members.

Some women did not know where their children are; some have husbands who are missing or killed. Many had experienced violence themselves. 

All expressed a feeling of not knowing their own or their family’s future, and were struggling to survive.

The current conflict has exacerbated already dire conditions of poverty and violence.

In addition, South Sudanese women experience the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world.

More than eight in 10 women are illiterate. A recent UN study found that as many as 40 per cent have been affected by physical or sexual violence.

This is a matter of extreme emergency, of life and death.  

The response from the international community has so far been vastly insufficient, with only 24 per cent of the appeal funded. Our colleagues from the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations have worked very hard with very few resources.

Madame President, I urge the Council to use its voice to ensure a more immediate and decisive response to support the people of South Sudan.

For our part, and together with our partners, we are doing our best to make sure that the humanitarian response fully takes into account the special needs of women and girls and facilitates their full participation.  

During my visit, I made a commitment to initiate UN Women's humanitarian efforts in the Juba-based UNMISS civilian protection sites, which support the commendable efforts by our sister agencies.  

Our focus is on providing safe spaces and psychosocial support, as well as income-generation and skills training. We are also engaging in startup literacy courses for adults and exploring ways to support education so that children and youth do not miss out on their education during the current crisis.  

Madame President,

The women I met in the protection sites shared the impact of the current humanitarian crisis, their concerns for the future, and their demands for inclusion.

Their resilience is striking. And so is their overwhelming desire for peace.

They have mobilized across divisions, and built inclusive coalitions. They are demanding a voice in the decisions being made to resolve the crisis, and also to build their country.

I also engaged the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, on the representation of women in the peace talks.

Today I commend Ambassador Mesfin as the chief mediator for the IGAD peace talks for his efforts to ensure the inclusion of women.

I applaud the efforts of both sides to ensure women’s participation; each has had three women mediators. 

President Kiir has also expressed his commitment and has asked UN Women to support women’s representation in Addis, in addition to women who are in the delegations.

However, more remains to be done. 

To be sustainable, negotiations must reach beyond the confines of the two parties to the conflict. Equal representation of women at the talks, a robust role for civil society, and gender expertise and analysis are needed.

UN Women has offered a senior gender adviser to the IGAD mediation team and looks forward to supporting their efforts through this and other means of support.

I also welcome the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement and its inclusion of rape as a recognized violation. 

The commitments on paper will need to be translated into action. The monitoring and verification mechanism must be established and deployed to enforce the ceasefire.

UN Women is ready to offer any support necessary to the IGAD efforts to increase the numbers of women in monitoring and verification efforts, to link to civil society efforts, and to provide dedicated expertise on the monitoring of sexual violence.

I echo the voices and demands of women in South Sudan that urge both sides to return to the peace table as a matter of urgency: 

  • To renew their commitment to a ceasefire;
  • To find a political solution that allows the displaced to return home and for South Sudanese to continue to build their new country. 

Women told me of their desire to go back to their homes and communities.

Madame President,

While negotiations are needed to resolve the immediate political crisis, accountability and reconciliation are equally needed to ensure that we build the foundations towards a sustainable peace.

I welcome the efforts of the African Union in establishing a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the conflict-related human rights violations in South Sudan and to make recommendations on accountability and reconciliation. 

I was particularly pleased by the announcement last week of five commissioners to head this body and in particular the appointment of two women commissioners, one of whom is the AU’s own Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, Ms. Bineta Diop. 

This enables greater efforts to be focused on ending impunity.

UN Women stands ready to offer the support of a dedicated sexual and gender crimes investigative expert to form part of the Commission’s team.

This is in line with the support we have provided for all UN Commissions of Inquiry since 2009, largely with good impact.

Madame President, the last time I stood before this eminent body was last October during the Council’s adoption of resolution 2122.

In resolution 2122, and past resolutions, the Council has made very significant promises to women to address their needs and to deliver on the commitment to women’s participation.

These commitments are being tested now in places such as the Central African Republic, Syria and South Sudan. 

UN Women benefits from the attention and the support that the Security Council provides as we take the resolutions to people who need them the most. This includes the briefing today and briefings by envoys.

We can demonstrate to the women of South Sudan, who continue on in the most desperate of circumstances, that our courage and our determination will match theirs, through stronger support for the implementation of all Security Council resolutions dedicated to women, peace and security.

Once again, Madame President, Distinguished delegates, I thank you for this opportunity and I look forward to our discussions.

Watch an archived webcast of the Executive Director delivering her statement at the Security Council briefing: