Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Ms. Keita, for your briefing.
Every member of this Council is familiar with the horrifying statistics being produced by the violence in South Sudan. Millions of South Sudanese are facing famine and have been driven from their homes. Tens of thousands are dead. Thousands of children have been forced into conflict as child soldiers. I, too, knew these statistics before I traveled to South Sudan in October. But that knowledge did not prepare me for the suffering that I saw there.
I saw a civilian population that is deeply traumatized by the violence they have experienced. And a population that is unacceptably vulnerable to further violence. I saw families living under tarps, on mud floors. I lost count of the number of women who told me they had been raped – often repeatedly. I heard more stories of husbands being shot and babies being taken and killed than anyone should ever hear.
But maybe the most disturbing thing I saw was the seed of hate being planted in future generations. In the refugee camps, children roam around, malnourished and uneducated. Young boys are traumatized and bored. But soon they will be adults. And they will be uneducated, untrained, and resentful of the conditions they’ve been living in. If we don’t do something about the way South Sudanese kids are being raised, we will be dealing with them as adults on the battlefield.
I took pictures of these children and showed them to President Kiir when we met. I told him he could not deny what the pictures represented. To his credit, he didn’t try and deny it. But that’s not enough – it wasn’t then and it isn’t now. Simply acknowledging the problem is not enough. President Kiir must act.
It is the government that bears the primary responsibility for the killing, raping, and torturing in South Sudan. And it is the government that bears the primary responsibility for ending the violence, easing the suffering, and saving future generations of South Sudanese. President Kiir said all the right things in our meeting. He made promises that he’s made before. But now things are different – and I told him so.
Going forward, the United States will judge President Kiir and his government by their actions, not their words. And the actions needed are clear. There is a way to end the violence in South Sudan. As a first step, President Kiir needs to adhere to the ceasefires he has declared many times. No more promises. We need action.
There is a way to reinvigorate the peace process in South Sudan. The country’s leaders – both government and opposition – must take responsibility and seize the opportunity presented by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
No more pointing fingers. The process must be inclusive. The parties must be willing to reconsider the parts of the 2015 peace agreement that aren’t working. And the leaders must now lead.
And there is a way to provide for and protect innocent civilians in South Sudan. It’s not complicated. It’s actually very simple: President Kiir and his government must end the violence and allow the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan to do its job.
Every month we continue to receive a report that shows restrictions being placed on the peacekeeping force. Government security forces stop peacekeeping patrols at checkpoints, ask for documents that are not required, and deny UNMISS personnel entry into South Sudan in violation of the status of forces agreement. Every month we see reports detailing how peacekeeping personnel are deliberately and repeatedly harassed, threatened, and even physically assaulted by government forces. The government has stooped so low as to impede peacekeepers from providing water to their own personnel and the people they are supposed to protect. It’s petty, it’s cruel, and it must end.
Words are no longer sufficient. The United States is prepared to pursue additional measures against the government – or any party, for that matter – if they do not act to end the violence and ease the suffering in South Sudan.
That means putting down their weapons, coming to the negotiating table through the High-Level Revitalization Forum, and ending the harassment and obstruction of UNMISS and other organizations that are trying to help the South Sudanese people.
President Kiir’s recent order requiring free and unhindered access for humanitarian groups in South Sudan was a good sign – it was a welcome sign. We encourage him to follow through on his commitment. And to help encourage him, we make this commitment in return: we will be watching. We’re not interested in one-time concessions or a stop-and-go approach to allowing humanitarian access in South Sudan.
The South Sudanese need sustained access to food, water, and basic supplies. We are encouraged by the government’s promise to provide sustained humanitarian access. Again, only actions will prove whether this intent is genuine.
In the midst of all the suffering I saw, I was struck by the hope and the dignity of South Sudan’s people. They want nothing more than to live normal lives. They want to be productive and self-sufficient.
In every camp we visited, we asked the children: if there was one wish they could have come true, what would it be? In each and every case, they said they wanted to go to school.
Most amazing of all were the mothers. With all the physical and emotional hardship they have suffered, and the constant fear of being raped, they did what mothers do. They were still more worried about their children than they were about themselves. They see the promise of their young country slipping away. More importantly, they see their children’s futures being lost to chaos and hate. These mothers’ desire for their children to have a better life should motivate us to act.
It should make us intolerant of more promises and impatient for results. Because these mothers know better than any of us ever could that time is running out for the children of South Sudan.