Speech by Minister of State Michael Roth to the German Bundestag on the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)

10.11.2016 - Speech

--- Translation of advance text ---

Mr President,
Fellow members of this House,

The people of Africa, our neighbouring continent, long for peace and stability. Let us do whatever we can to help them achieve this. We in Europe will also benefit. After all, every conflict in Africa forces more people to flee and thus swells the flow of refugees across the Mediterranean to Europe.

South Sudan remains one of the trouble spots in Africa. Sadly, the hopes we placed in the peace settlement there a year ago have not been realised.

On the contrary, in July we saw heavy fighting in the capital Juba, which involved massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Many crimes were committed, including sex crimes against civilians ‑ all of this in the heart of the capital.

The renewed escalation of violence has made everyone aware once more that the people of South Sudan have been suffering so much for such a long time as a result of the conflict. The figures speak for themselves: of the around 12.5 million inhabitants, there are 1.6 million internally displaced people and more than one million refugees in neighbouring states. Six million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance, of which 4.8 million require food aid.

Nor does the political situation give cause for much hope: former Vice-President Riek Machar left the country after the hostilities in Juba and has issued a call for war from exile. It is thus impossible for the situation in the country to settle.

We are still far away from an effective implementation of the 2015 peace agreement. Although so far there hasn’t been a return to civil war, like the one that engulfed the entire country in the past, we are seeing a steady increase in local hostilities.

Fellow members of this House,

It’s in this difficult environment that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), in which 15 German soldiers are participating at present, is operating.

I don’t want to make the situation out to be better than it really is: during the last few months, there has been a very critical debate about UNMISS ‑ and for good reason. For the mission made mistakes and proved to have shortcomings and all of this has to be thoroughly investigated. An independent commission of inquiry sharply criticised UNMISS in its recent report. It stated that the mission wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the crisis in July, which meant there were no peacekeeping troops on the ground when the situation escalated.

The allegations are serious. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was, and I quote, “deeply distressed” and immediately removed the military head of the mission from his post. But that alone will not be enough. The report contains a number of concrete proposals on how the mission can be better organised in future. Ban Ki-moon himself has pledged to work determinedly to advance these plans.

One thing is for sure: the mission’s top priority must always be to protect civilians. The UN Security Council also called for this when the mandate was last extended on 12 August 2016. We expect it too, should we continue to participate in UNMISS.

Fellow members of this House,

The transparent and unsparing manner in which the United Nations has highlighted its own shortcomings and taken the necessary action deserves respect. However, it’s also clear that when those providing assistance make mistakes this in no way lessens the responsibility of the perpetrators. The parties to the conflict and thus also the South Sudanese Government are responsible for the hostilities and atrocities.

And South Sudan continues to place many obstacles in the way of UNMISS. Time and again, the mission’s freedom of movement is unlawfully restricted. Time and again, the work of humanitarian aid workers and NGOs is obstructed. This is not acceptable and must stop.

And it’s equally unacceptable that while the Security Council decided on 12 August 2016 to strengthen UNMISS by creating a four thousand-strong Regional Protection Force, the South Sudanese Government is using irresponsible delaying tactics at the expense of the civilian population. We support the appeal by the United Nations to the Government in Juba: it must now signal its agreement so that Security Council Resolution 2304 can be implemented in full and UNMISS effectively strengthened.

Fellow members of this House,

Perhaps you’re asking yourselves now what role UNMISS and our soldiers can play in this situation?

The civilian population suffering in South Sudan have answered this question. An increasing number of people, now more than 200,000, have fled to the protection zones set up by the United Nations. Since the summer of 2016 alone, the number has increased by 30,000.

These people hope that we can strengthen UNMISS together so that the mission can better perform its functions in future. They hope that the international community will keep up the pressure on South Sudan and all parties to the conflict to return to a political peace process. We have to ensure that we don't give up on South Sudan and leave it in the lurch only five years after it gained independence.

The 35 million euros which Germany has provided for humanitarian projects in 2015 and 2016 show that we have no intention of doing so. This is also highlighted by our development cooperation, which ‑ in so far as it is possible in the current difficult security situation ‑ we will continue. We’ve made available a total of 84 million euros to help alleviate the immediate impact of the civil war.

I would like to thank our soldiers who are working under extremely difficult conditions in South Sudan.

By extending this mandate we’re also sending a political signal: we’re strengthening UNMISS at a difficult time and thus supporting the further stabilisation of South Sudan. On that note, I ask you to lend your support to the extension of the mandate by a further year.

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