Briefing to the Security Council on Resolution 2046
Thank you for the opportunity to, once more, brief the Security Council on progress in the implementation of Resolution 2046 which concerns outstanding bilateral issues between Sudan and South Sudan and the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
This briefing is taking place at a time when the world community is facing a deadly global pandemic in the form of COVID-19. In Sudan and South Sudan, the COVID-19 pandemic has wide-ranging health, human and socio-economic implications compounded by plummeting oil prices, a desert locust invasion and climatic vagaries. Allow me to echo the multiple calls of the Secretary-General in favor of the countries of the region, including those on today’s agenda, in view of the unfolding dire socio-economic impact that affect them. I am particularly worried by the exponential increase in a number of COVID-19 related deaths in Sudan. Urgent external support will be needed to help both countries offset these unprecedented challenges. The pandemic will also likely have a negative effect on the peace processes in the two countries, including by significantly slowing down engagements. My office is currently coordinating a UN-wide technical support to enable IGAD Secretariat to formulate a regional strategy and develop an action plan in response to the pandemic pursuant to the decisions of the IGAD virtual Summit meeting of 30 March chaired by Prime Minister Abdallah Handok.
Since my last report to the Council in October 2019, I have had opportunities to engage with authorities in Sudan and South Sudan, as well as with regional actors. My joint visit with Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix to Abyei last February in the aftermath of the tragic Kolom incident was part of these efforts. Undeniably, both countries have been consolidating their improved relations, notably by the constructive roles played in each other’s peace process. In this regard, South Sudan has continued to host and facilitate the Sudanese peace process under the aegis of President Salva Kiir. Conversely, the Government of Sudan’s mediation contributed to the compromise between President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar that led to the formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity on 12 March 2020. These commendable efforts do not in any way diminish the tremendous diplomatic push by other regional actors, including by South Africa.
Furthermore, having inherited the South Sudan file as new IGAD Chairperson at a time when the opposition and the incumbent government were deadlocked on the number and boundaries of states, Prime Minister Hamdok, alongside his co-guarantor President Museveni of Uganda, is credited for having helped resolve the issue by encouraging President Kiir on the sidelines of the AU summit in early February to return South Sudan to 10 states. Prime Minister Hamdok thereafter congratulated the South Sudanese leader on “the courageous decision” he took on 15 February, which espoused the IGAD position. Demonstrating the changed spirit of the relationship between the two countries, President Kiir strongly condemned the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Hamdok in Khartoum on 9 March. In the same vein, while guaranteeing the security of Dr. Machar in Khartoum, Sudan ensured that General Hemedti accompanied him to and from Juba for consultations, including during his face-to-face meetings with President Kiir between September 2019 and February 2020.
The strength of the improved relations between the two countries was put to the test by two sad developments. The first was a deadly armed attack perpetrated by Misseriya herdsmen in the Kolom locality of Abyei on 22 January against a community of Ngok Dinka, and the second was the sudden death by natural cause on 25 March in Juba of the Sudanese Minister of Defence, late General Gamal al-Din Omar, after jointly chairing the meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM) with his South Sudanese counterpart. Admittedly, the emphasis put by both parties to deepen their cooperation and to support each other’s stability and peace is very commendable.
In Sudan, where Prime Minister Hamdok is leading a challenging transition, his attention is largely directed at defusing tensions and finding consensus between political players in Khartoum, including on issues resulting from the increasingly dire economic situation. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is also seeking to deliver on his commitment to peace through negotiations with the armed movements. In this regard, the recent statement by General al-Burhan, the President of the Sovereign Council, on the unity of the leadership of the transition is very encouraging. In South Sudan, President Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar are striving to re-establish a partnership that has twice shown its limits, while doing everything possible to overcome the political stalemate on the sharing of states and allocation of governors.
Otherwise, cooperation in oil management between the two countries has continued to remain strong. After a decision to extend the agreement on oil beyond its December 2019 deadline to March 2022, South Sudan has been steadily making payments relating to the Transitional Financial Arrangement by providing Sudan with 28,000 barrels of oil per day. Out of the initial amount due of $3.02 billion, South Sudan now owes approximately $500 million and will continue to use the facilities based in Sudan and export its oil through Port Sudan against payment of a fixed processing, transit and transportation fee. The effect of the drastic fall in oil prices this month on this cooperation has yet to become clear.
As most Sudanese armed opposition movements settled for President Kiir’s facilitation of their negotiations with Khartoum, and with the possibility of moving them to a third country ruled out, the talks resumed in Juba in January and are ongoing. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 the talks have proceeded in a virtual format. Prime Minister Hamdok remains open to discuss all issues and the root causes of Sudan’s many conflicts in the hope of reaching an agreement that unites all Sudanese. Encouragingly, opposition movements have also re-stated their irreversible determination to achieve peace.
Crucially, despite disagreements between the parties on issues such as secularism, autonomy and self-determination which have resulted in several extensions to the initial deadline for concluding the talks, significant progress has been achieved globally as evidenced, inter alia, by the renewed commitment to unilateral ceasefires by armed movements. At the behest of President Kiir, the South Sudanese lead mediator travelled occasionally to Khartoum to brief Sudanese authorities on progress in the peace process. The talks are now scheduled to end on 9 May, but it remains to be seen whether this deadline will be met under the current circumstances.
So far, the government has signed framework agreements with the SPLM-North (Agar) as well as with armed movements from Darfur and Eastern Sudan. The agreements address the key concerns pertaining to marginalization, lack of development and participation in governance institutions. However, they do not completely address the issue of separation between religion and the state which SPLM-North (Agar) sees as critical. The next negotiation phases will be concerned with security arrangements and participation in transitional institutions.
Negotiations with Darfuri armed movements delivered a major outcome as agreement was reached with the government on 11 February to establish a special court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur and to seek justice through the ICC. Notwithstanding progress on the Darfur track, the absence from the talks of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-AW) of Abdel Wahid Al-Nur is a source of grave concern.
Similarly, talks with SPLM-North (Al-Hilu) do not appear to have made any headway. Although present in Juba, Abdelaziz Al-Hilu has refused to engage with the government unless it agrees to a secular Sudan and self-determination for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The government’s position is that these issues should be addressed by the constitutional conference and not through the negotiations in Juba. A joint committee on reforms established on 6 April has been mandated to, inter alia, meet with Al-Hilu in a bid to break this impasse.
Despite their support to each other, Sudan and South Sudan have had minimal bilateral engagements within the framework of their Cooperation Agreements but continued to focus on their internal conflicts. However, they have stopped accusing each other of supporting or hosting their respective rebels. Instead, they are mutually reinforcing each other’s efforts to end internal conflicts. While both countries are careful to avoid dealing with any points of conflict amid the challenges of their respective transitions and COVID-19, it is hoped that the rapprochement and consolidated relations will subsequently provide the incentive for them to address the outstanding issues under the Cooperation Agreements, including the situation in Abyei. In this regard, the announcement on 23 January by President Kiir and Gen. Hemetti of the establishment of a joint mechanism to protect civilians and the deployment of a disengagement force to the area, as well as the establishment of a committee to investigate the Kolom incident are all positive steps. It is hoped that these issues will feature on the agenda of the next Joint Political and Security Mechanism session in Khartoum, which was postponed to an unspecified date due to concerns over COVID-19 and the sudden death of the Sudanese defence minister in Juba.
Regarding the Two Areas, Prime Minister Hamdok’s visit to the locality on 9 January and his openness to discuss all issues have raised hope that conflict there may soon be a thing of the past. However, the wrangling between the two SPLM-North factions must cease and forward movement is required on the negotiation track involving the SPLM-North (Al-Hilu).
At my meeting with President Kiir on 17 January, I congratulated him on his mediation of the Sudanese peace process which was beginning to achieve concrete results and stressed the importance of sustained engagement with Sudanese authorities on various bilateral issues. The President agreed, and assured me that, once peace is achieved in both countries, they would be in a better position to discuss outstanding issues in view of a mutually beneficial relationship. The foreign minister advised that the two countries would also prioritize reconciliation in Abyei for now. Accordingly, during the meetings with Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities in Abyei on 12-13 February in the company of USG Lacroix, I stressed on reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.
My Office will continue to engage with the authorities of both countries and, as appropriate, with all key regional actors, including the African Union and IGAD, to encourage them not only to consolidate peace and stability within their territories but to also advance the implementation of all biding cooperation agreements.
Thank you for your attention.