The situation in South Sudan – Press Conference (26 June 2020)

UN Special Representative David Shearer said the country was at a very low period in terms of progress on the peace process and emphasized that what is needed “is a unity government functioning as a unity government and not as a series of parties in one administration.”
Shearer said South Sudan was facing a very steeply increasing rate of COVID-19 cases. He reported that of the 10,000 tests, some 2,000 were positive cases were identified, including 40 deaths but noted that the expectations are that the number higher than that.

The Special Representative said he was obviously worried about the spread of the disease but was also worried about making sure that the UN and humanitarian agencies’ work can continue without disruption.

“We have health centers right across the country. They treat preventable diseases like diarrhea, malaria, help with childbirth etcetera. If those centers close, the risk is that the death rate will be higher than that which we are projecting on COVID-19. And that is taking a lesson out of the playbook of Ebola on the west coast of Africa, where about 11,000 people died there, but far more died from preventable diseases so while we don’t have a cure for COVID-19 we must, must keep those health centers open.”

Shearer told reporters that there had been 54 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), leading to the death of one person.

The Special Representative said South Sudan was at a low period in terms of progress on peace. HE said while parties on the allocation of States among them, Governors had not yet been appointed.

He said the “vacuum” created by this “has allowed a really high increase in sub-national conflict and violence. Now, a lot of this is between ethnic groups, but more and more we are seeing uniform personnel joining in and our worry is that the ceasefire that has been holding since the end of 2018 will start to falter and unravel as this continues to get out of control.”

Responding to a question about the integration of irregular forces, Shearer said a number of forces transferred into training sites to be unified with the South Sudanese military, but this has not progressed as well as UNMISS would like. He said, “A number of people are stuck in training sites, and they are starting to run short on supplies. And we are starting to see young fighters, if you like, walking away from them because they are simply not being fed, or they don’t have supplies there. And that is worrying as well. And in a couple of areas in South Sudan, we’re seeing an uptick in criminal activity which we are putting down to some of these people who are desperate but have a gun, and obviously, they present a real problem.”

The Special Representative said UNMISS stepped in on a case by case basis to provide supplies to some of the training sites where peace and security are being affected. However, he stressed that this was a job for the national unity government and not the peacekeeping mission, and as such UNMISS did not want to establish this as a rule moving forward.