The political transition in Sudan is moving forward, though formation of the legislative council and other important milestones have yet to be achieved, the head of the new UN mission in the country told a virtual meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday.
Volker Perthes delivered his first briefing to ambassadors after five weeks at the helm of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), whose mandate includes supporting progress towards democratic governance.
The ongoing transition to democracy began following months of street protests which led to the overthrow of longstanding leader, President Omar Al-Bashir, in April 2019.
Last October, Sudanese authorities and several armed groups from Darfur signed an historic peace agreement to end decades of conflict. A new cabinet, announced in February, is built on power-sharing between civilians, the military and armed movements.
New Government in place
Mr. Perthes said the new Government has been able to agree on national priorities such as addressing socio-economic conditions, implementing the peace agreement and resuming negotiations with two non-signatories, and reforming the security sector.
However, formation of the Transitional Legislative Council, where women must represent at least 40 per cent of the 300 seats, remains outstanding.
“The swift formation of an inclusive and representative Legislative Council is indeed critical to broaden the support for the political transition. There are fears that the gains achieved for women’s rights in the Constitutional Document, such as a Gender Commission to be established or the 40 per cent, might not be realized”, he said.
“And Sudanese youth have also expressed frustration over their lack of representation. I can only underscore that an inclusive political process, including all segments of Sudan’s diverse society throughout the political transition, is essential for the success of this transition.”
Civil society ‘buy-in’ critical
Kholood Khair, Managing Partner at a think tank in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, outlined considerations for the UN mission’s engagement with the authorities, wondering how UNITAMS will build consensus but also manage “the very great expectations of both the Government and the public.”
She emphasized the importance of civil society as a “key partner” in the transition process, as it has played a continuous role in the country since before the revolution that led to the toppling of President Al-Bashir.
“I believe that in order to be effective and to aptly support the transition, and have the buy-in of civil society as a key transition partner, UNITAMS should consult regularly and meaningfully with different and diverse civil society actors, across the country in its planning and strategizing for its work during the transition”, she said.
UNAMID drawdown on track
UNITAMS follows on from a joint UN-African Union operation in the country, that protected hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the brutal fighting in Darfur.
That mission, known as UNAMID, ended in December, and complete withdrawal of all personnel is on track to meet a deadline of 30 June. A skeleton team will stay on for the liquidation, which is estimated to take up to 12 to 18 months. A police guard unit will also remain, though Sudan has primary responsibility for protecting UN premises during this period.
Atul Khare, UN Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, said the already complex task of closing 15 bases and repatriating more than 7,000 peacekeepers and civilians has been made even more challenging as the Sudanese authorities recently requested a delay in the closure and handover of two team sites this month.
“We intend to respond positively to the Government’s request, particularly in order to facilitate a smooth handover”, Mr. Khare said, adding: “Nevertheless, I remain concerned about the continued presence of uniformed personnel in those two sites.”
Madagascar: Severe drought could spur world’s first climate change famine
More than one million people in southern Madagascar are struggling to get enough to eat, due to what could become the first famine caused by climate change, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
The region has been hit hard by successive years of severe drought, forcing families in rural communities to resort to desperate measures just to survive.
Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, has a unique ecosystem which includes animals and plants found nowhere else on the planet. The country experiences a dry season, usually from May to October, and a rainy season that starts in November.
Daily life disrupted
However, climate change has disrupted the cycle, affecting smallholder farmers and their neighbours, said Alice Rahmoun, WFP Communications Officer in the capital, Antananarivo, speaking to UN News on Thursday.
“There is of course less rain, so when there is the first rain, they can maybe have hope and sow some seeds. But one little rain is not a proper rainy season,” she said.
“So, what we can say is that the impacts of climate change are really stronger and stronger….so harvests fail constantly, so people don’t have anything to harvest and anything to renew their food stocks.”
Ms. Rahmoun was recently in southern Madagascar, where WFP and partners are supporting hundreds of thousands of people through short and long-term assistance.
The impact of the drought varies from place to place, she said. While some communities have not had a proper rainy season for three years, the situation might be even worse 100 kilometres away.
She recalled seeing villages surrounded by dried-out fields, and tomato plants which were “completely yellow, or even brown”, from lack of water.
Surviving on locusts
“In some areas they are still able to plant something, but it’s not easy at all, so they are trying to grow sweet potatoes. But in some other areas, absolutely nothing is growing right now, so people are just surviving only eating locusts, eating fruits and cactus leaves,” said Ms. Rahmoun.
“And, just as an example, cactus leaves are usually for cattle; it is not for human consumption.”
The situation is even more dire because, she added, “even the cactus are dying from the drought, from the lack of rain and the lack of water, so it’s really, really worrying”.
Families barely coping
The plight of families is also deeply troubling. “People have already started to develop coping mechanisms to survive,” she said.
“And that means that they are selling cattle, for example, to get money to be able to buy food, when before, they were able to get food and feed themselves from their own field production, so it’s really changing the daily life for people.”
Valuable assets such as fields, or even houses, are also put up for sale. Some families have even pulled their children out of school.
“It’s also a strategy right now to gather the family’s forces on finding income-generating activities involving children, so this has obviously a direct impact on education,” Ms. Rahmoun said.
Providing life-saving aid
WFP is collaborating with humanitarian partners, and the Malagasy Government, to provide two types of response to the crisis. Some 700,000 people are receiving life-saving food aid, including supplementary products to prevent malnutrition.
“The second one is more long-term response to allow local communities to be able to prepare for, respond to and recover from climate shocks better,” said Ms. Rahmoun. “So, this includes resilience projects such as water projects. We’re doing irrigation canals, reforestation and even microinsurance to help smallholder farmers to recover from a lost harvest, for example.”
WFP ultimately aims to support up to one million people between now and April, and is seeking nearly $70 million to fund operations. “But we are also involving more partners to find and fund climate change solutions for the community to adapt to the impacts of climate change in southern Madagascar.”
COP26: Prioritize adaptation
In just over a week, world leaders will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 UN climate change conference, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called the last chance to “literally turn the tide” on an ailing planet.
Ms. Rahmoun said WFP wants to use the conference to shift the focus from crisis response, to risk management.
Countries must be prepared for climate shocks, and they must act together to reduce severe impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, which includes the villagers of southern Madagascar.
“COP26 is also an opportunity for us to ask governments and donors to prioritize funding relating to climate adaptation programmes, to help countries to build a better risk management system, and even in Madagascar, because if nothing is done, hunger will increase exponentially in the coming years because of climate change,” she said, adding: “not only in Madagascar, but in other countries.”
‘Overzealous’ security services undermining South Sudan peace
State security forces in South Sudan have been responsible for imposing new and potentially arbitrary restrictions against the country’s most prominent civil society leaders, issuing “credible” death threats that have undermined peace efforts, UN-appointed independent rights experts said on Wednesday.
In an alert, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan alleged that “overzealous” security forces had prevented dissent so dramatically, that civic space was now eroding “at an accelerating pace”, forcing rights defenders to flee and discouraging others from taking their place.
“The State’s targeting of high-profile human rights defenders will have a chilling effect on civil society and will discourage public participation and corrode confidence in the important processes of transitional justice, constitution making and national elections, which are essential for the success of the transition envisaged by the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement,” said Commissioner Andrew Clapham.
The actions of the National Security Services (NSS) have included detentions, raids, a likely internet shutdown and an enhanced security presence on the streets of Juba, the panel said in a statement.
Those targeted by threats, harassment and intimidation have included prominent human rights defenders, journalists and civil society actors. Many have played a key role in the country’s peace and justice processes.
“Jame David Kolok and Michael Wani are among those now sheltering outside the country in fear for their lives,” the UN Commission said, in reference to Mr. Kolok’s membership of the Technical Committee to Conduct Consultative Process on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing – a position reaffirmed in May by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
Mr. Wani had been a youth representative on the National Constitution Amendment Committee, according to the UN panel, which noted that both men’s bank accounts, “and those of the non-government organisations they lead, are among those recently blocked on government orders, with other civil society actors also affected”.
The 2018 Revitalised Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan contains power-sharing arrangements between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader, Riek Machar.
The accord requires the drafting of a permanent Constitution and the establishment of a Commission on Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing.
Although implementation of these and other measures – such as public consultation requirements – have been slow, government leaders have renewed pledges and taken steps toward these in recent months, the UN Commission said.
“These latest restrictions and acts of harassment follow the formation on 30 July of a new civil society coalition whose members planned a public assembly to take place on 30 August,” it explained.
Clampdown in Juba
The UN Commission – which was appointed by the Human Rights Council in March 2016 to investigate crimes linked to civil war that erupted in 2011 – noted that this public assembly could not take place amid “detentions, raiding of premises, an apparent internet shutdown, and an enhanced presence of security forces on the streets of Juba”.
Numerous civil society leaders are still in detention and their wellbeing is unclear, the commissioners said.
“The State’s authorities must respect and protect the rights of human rights defenders; this is an obligation under international law,” said Commissioner Barney Afako. “It would also demonstrate that South Sudan’s commitment to strengthening its systems for the consolidation of human rights is genuine.”
UN’s top envoy warns Great Lakes Region is ‘at a crossroads’
Speaking at a Security Council meeting on the situation in Africa’s Great Lakes region on Wednesday, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Huang Xia, told ambassadors that the countries concerned now stand “at a crossroads”.
For Mr. Xia, the main threat to peace and stability in this region around the Great Rift Valley, remains the persistence of non-State armed groups.
He pointed to “an upsurge in attacks”, whether by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), or those launched by the RED-Tabara against Bujumbura airport, in Burundi, last September.
Since the beginning of this year, in DRC alone, at least 1,043 civilians have been killed, including 233 women and 52 children.
“This violence continues to have serious consequences on the already fragile humanitarian situation, as well as on the socio-economic stability of the affected area”, the Special Envoy said.
He told the Council Members that “these negative forces also remain involved in the illicit exploitation and trade in natural resources, the revenues of which finance their arms procurement and recruitment.”
“How to put an end to it?”, he asked. “This is obviously an old question that haunts anyone interested in the region.”
Despite the challenges, he highlighted several bilateral and regional initiatives, saying they “attest to the emergence of a community aware of the added value of dialogue and cooperation.”
He also noted the overall peaceful transfers of power in the DRC and Burundi, as well as the signing and implementation of peace agreements in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Sudan.
For him, more than ever, “it is necessary to sustainably consolidate these achievements while firmly addressing the challenges that persist.”
“The success of such an approach requires learning from the lessons of the past and showing imagination to support the people of the Great Lakes region in building a better present and future”, he added.
Turning to COVID-19, he said the pandemic has exacerbated vulnerabilities, but also demonstrated the resilience of the region.
Before the pandemic, 15 million people across the Great Lakes were already displaced from their homes, facing rising malnutrition and food insecurity.
Mr. Xia also reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for greater solidarity to facilitate access to vaccines and to strengthen health systems.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), to date, only 36 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in a region of nearly 450 million people.
Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, the Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, also briefed Council Members.
Ms. Pobee informed that the UN is reconfiguring its presence in the region to best address the challenges, highlighting a few areas where the Council’s support is most needed.
For her, the situation requires “a comprehensive approach rooted in enhanced political engagement, encompassing military and non-military interventions, fostering economic cooperation across the borders and building trust between neighbours and among communities.”
She also argued that “armed group activity is a symptom of insecurity in the region”, and therefore “the enabling conditions should be addressed upstream.”
Among those main root causes, she pointed out the illegal exploitation and regional trafficking of natural resources, saying it contributes to the financing of armed group networks but also “creates parallel economy at the expense of States’ budgets whose revenues continue to diminish.”
The Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), João Caholo, and a civil society representative also briefed the Council.
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