Beset by enormous challenges in extending the Government's authority, deadly inter-communal conflict, and human rights abuses by the security forces, South Sudan is "travelling a bumpy road" despite some positive signs, the top United Nations envoy for the world's youngest nation warned today.
"South Sudan is at a crossroads," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative, Hilde F. Johnson, told the Security Council in an open briefing. "As an international community, we cannot afford to see the newest country in the world fail.
"UNMISS (the UN Mission in South Sudan) - and all of us - only have one option, and that is to try to help South Sudan take the right course, consolidating peace and building the foundation of democracy and respect for fundamental human rights."
She noted that progress has been made in some key areas, opening up new opportunities to strengthen state-building and accountability. "While significant challenges continue to confront the world's newest country and impede progress in several fronts," she said, "recent developments do give reason for cautious optimism."
Ms. Johnson stressed that the vicious cycle of violence in Jonglei state, with inter-communal tensions between the Lou Nuer and Anyuak and conflict with the David Yau Yau armed group, risks intensifying with the approach of the dry season.
"With this in mind, UNMISS has developed a series of contingency plans to address emerging security threats and protection of civilian needs, especially in the high-threat states of Jonglei, and the tri-state area of Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile and Warrap," she said.
"The behaviour of the security forces continues to be a cause for grave concern, whether with regard to human rights abuses or incidents of violence and harassment affecting UN personnel, diplomats and ordinary citizens," she added.
It is imperative to increase the Mission's early warning and rapid response capability to enable timely access to hot spots, she said of UNMISS, which has 7,632 uniformed personnel on the ground.
Ms. Johnson cited "prolonged and arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and arbitrary killings by ill-disciplined security forces and agencies" among the serious challenges of concern.
But on the positive side, she cited as "an encouraging sign" the fact that the highest levels of Government are speaking out publicly of the need to address human rights abuses by members of the armed forces.
"Partly as a result of UNMISS' active engagement and strong political advocacy, the SPLA (South Sudan army) has ordered several boards of inquiry into allegations of murder," she noted.
She also cited violations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) governing the Mission's presence in the country, including 67 such incidents in the last six months alone involving threats, assaults, arrests and detention of UN personnel.
"Key to a durable solution to these problems, however, is security sector reform and transformation of the armed forces," she added, noting continued progress by the national police in such a transformation.