On the eve of South Sudan's second anniversary as an independent nation, the U.N. envoy to the country urged the government on Monday to tackle increased fighting in the southeast and human rights violations by armed groups and its own security forces.
Hilde Johnson told the U.N. Security Council that the government has made progress since independence, but she said the government needs to address the underlying causes of perennial violence and make progress in improving relations with neighboring Sudan, which is key to the country's development.
Johnson also expressed deep concern at cases of arbitrary arrest, detention, abuse and killings by security forces, and the inability of government authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
"Many of us witnessed the outpouring of euphoria that greeted the dawn of independence of South Sudan," Johnson recalled. "The mood of that day now seems like a fading memory. We have since seen many setbacks and problems, and tensions with Sudan."
South Sudan won independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011 as part of a 2005 peace treaty that ended decades of war between the mainly Muslim north and Christian and animist south that killed 2 million people. But the two countries drew close to all-out war in early 2012 over their disputed border and sharing oil revenues.
While oil is flowing again, relations recently faced a new setback.
Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, a rebel group fighting the Sudanese military. In turn, South Sudan accuses Sudan of backing rebels led by David Yau Yau, a former colonel in the South Sudanese military. Both countries deny any support for rebels, but an independent Swiss research firm called Small Arms Survey says it has found evidence to the contrary.
Johnson said that while most parts of the country remain stable, the security situation, especially in the southeast of eastern Jonglei state — the country's largest — has deteriorated as a result of fighting between government forces and David Yau Yau's rebels.
In an encouraging sign, she said South Sudan's President Salva Kiir issued a statement on May 17 condemning the violence by armed groups in Jonglei as well as abuses by ill-disciplined elements of the government's security forces.
South Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Francis Deng told the council the past two years have been "very difficult," particularly because of violence in Jonglei and five other states as well as ongoing tensions with Sudan.
"These situations have severely constrained our ability as a government to improve our capacity for the delivery of much needed basic services, respect for human rights, protection of civilians and to the general consolidation of peace, the provision of peace dividends," he said.
Deng said the government is determined to address the challenges raised by Johnson and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which include drafting a new constitution, conducting a census and preparing for 2015 elections.
The United Nations has nearly 6,900 military personnel and 650 international police in its peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. But Johnson said the mission is facing enormous challenges in carrying out its mandate to protect civilians.
The mission has only three military helicopters. Johnson urged the council to support additional air, heavy lift, and river assets.
In a report to the council, Ban raised the possibility of supplying unarmed surveillance drones, helicopter gunships and other assets to South Sudan but said drones will only be considered after a pilot project on their use in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo is evaluated.